Executives at some of the world’s biggest tech companies are leaving good jobs to join startups that make tools for communication and teamwork. This is a market that is expected to grow rapidly as more companies switch to hybrid work arrangements.
Raymond Endres used to be the top engineer for Facebook Inc.’s Messenger app. He left the company last month to be in charge of technology at Airtable, which makes spreadsheet collaboration software that is stored in the cloud.
His first job will be to get the San Francisco-based startup ready for a rise in demand from businesses. In the next year, he said, that means putting more money into new product features and infrastructure and tripling the size of his engineering team to about 300 people.
Mr. Endres said, “I’ve done both of these things at Messenger in the past.” When Mr. Endres joined Facebook in 2011, there were about 30 engineers working on Messenger. When he left in 2016, there were over 1,000 engineers working on Messenger.
Before joining Facebook, he worked as a software developer and architect for Microsoft Corp. since the late 1990s.
Mr. Endres said that the need to improve how people in the same office or around the world work together goes back to before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Covid and being able to work from home sped that up,” he said. “We’re all figuring out how remote works as a group.” The company says that over the past year, about 13,000 new paid customers have joined Airtable.
Sarah Cannon, a partner at Index Ventures, said that she knows of at least a dozen recent communication and collaboration startups that were started or led by former top people at big tech companies.
She said that many high-level developers and engineers have been making these kinds of apps for big companies for years, but that the effects of COVID-19 on traditional workplaces are now pushing them to go out on their own.
On the funding side, she said that investors have become less skeptical of tools for productivity, communication, and collaboration, which many companies were reluctant to use on a large scale in the past.
The global market for collaboration and enterprise social software is expected to bring in $4.5 billion this year, which is 17.1% more than in 2020. This is according to the latest forecast from Gartner, Inc., an IT research and consulting firm. It thinks that gains will be in the double digits until 2022.
Gartner says that as the pandemic ends, about 60% of companies around the world are making plans for a permanent hybrid workplace model in which most employees don’t come into the office more than three days a week. Gartner says that more than 1.1 billion people around the world worked from home last year, up from 350 million in 2019.
Tech Its Own to Collaboration Startups
Tony O’Donnell, who used to be vice president of engineering at Shutterstock Inc., said of his move this month to virtual presentation software startup Prezi Inc. as its chief technology officer, “In some ways, I get a bigger seat at the table.” He has also worked at SAP SE in the area of business intelligence and analytics.
Mr. O’Donnell said that good videoconferencing tools have never been more important than after the pandemic. Before COVID-19, he said, most companies top executives were based at their corporate headquarters, even if they did business around the world.
“People thought that being physically present with coworkers was necessary for both getting things done and making people feel confident. “We’ve shown that being there in person isn’t necessary for either of them,” Mr. O’Donnell said.
Ashish Aggarwal, who used to be the director of software development at Amazon.com Inc., helped start the software company Productiv Inc.
Mr. Aggarwal said that when he left Amazon to start Productiv, which makes a tool that helps enterprise IT leaders track how remote workers use business apps, it felt like a natural step for him.
Mr. Aggarwal, who is CTO at Productiv, said that the change gave him a chance to use his skills and experience to build a product that aims to solve a real-world problem.
“As a technologist, I’m interested in hard problems that technology can help solve,” he said.
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