Why we're building Flat
Work is a frustrating, chaotic mess for millions of people every day. We think there’s a better way.
Feb 3, 2023
Why is it so hard to get work done… at work? Besides all the meetings, of course.
Maybe because we spend our days bouncing between different apps for different pieces of our work: writing memos in a document editor, updating status in spreadsheets, checking email, following up in chat apps like Slack or Teams.
Actually, let’s talk about chat apps. It’s convenient to be able to shoot a quick question at a colleague and get a quick reply. But what if they were deep in productive flow, and now they’re out of it? It’s fun to share GIFs and react with laughing emojis. But what about the time it takes to scroll through all that noise looking for something you really need to know? And it’s easy to fire off a message to a colleague requesting they follow up on something. But it’s just as easy for those requests to be read and forgotten, pushed out of mind by new messages, on their way to becoming dropped balls. Should quick chats really be the center of our work universe? We don’t think so.
And chat apps are just one example of how software that’s supposed to make work easier can end up making it harder. Conventional wisdom holds that a product should "do one thing and do it well". For many products, the “one thing” is an activity such as writing, emailing, chatting, etc. But it's always objectives that matter – things such as “launch product”, “refresh website”, or “hire new CFO”. And achieving an objective usually involves multiple activities, especially in a team context.
So what happens? The objectives live primarily in our heads, while the concrete pieces of the work like documents, email threads, notes, chats, etc. end up scattered across single-activity app silos. And so we're constantly a) hunting for pieces of our work while b) trying to figure out where things stand and c) interrupting each other over chat. Everyone hates this.
Now, there are certainly tools that try to address this problem, and they take several different approaches. Some are “everything apps”, which try to consolidate many work activities in one tool. Others are aggregators, which connect to all the silos and pull data into one collection point. Others are project management tools, focused on the top-down planning and tracking activities. Still others are wikis, or to-do lists, or note-taking apps. While each approach makes sense in some contexts, we don’t think any of these are a perfect fit. Many are too complicated for most users. Others are too limited or frustrating to use.
What's missing is a simple, lightly-structured system that just lets teams write down everything that needs to be done, stick it on the wall where everybody can see it, discuss it in context, and archive it when it's done. That’s Flat. It’s the missing focal point for all of the context, status, and discussions related to team objectives. It keeps everyone on the same page about priorities, and it facilitates working together to achieve them. And most importantly, it's so easy and delightful to use that everyone on the team can figure it out in just a couple of minutes, from the intern to the CEO.
Our vision for Flat is an app that makes it easy to see everything that’s going on – and to stay on top of your personal priorities. An app that helps your team stay coordinated without imposing extra work. An app dedicated to defending your team’s ability to focus, and freeing up brain space for real thinking, so you can all get your actual work done and go home feeling like you accomplished something.
Work can’t just live in our heads. And it can’t live in chat. Or email, or a wiki, or a complicated project management tool, or a to-do list. That’s why we’re building Flat. No app can fix all the problems we face at work. But we think Flat will fix a lot of them.
Seth Purcell is the co-founder and CEO of Flat. His career has ranged over genomics, finance, and for the past decade, leadership roles in web technology startups.