Today, Teachers’ Innovation Platform (part of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan) led the . To celebrate our partnership, I took the opportunity to talk to Coda’s Co-Founder and CEO, Shishir Mehrotra, about his vision for the company. Our conversation took in everything from how to prioritize goals, the value of rituals – and the endless opportunities that begin with a blank page and a blinking cursor.
I’d like to start by asking how you see people using Coda, and what are some of the common misconceptions around it?
Shishir: People come to Coda from different starting points, and that influences their perceptions of what Coda can or can’t do. At Coda, we aim to build a platform with a low floor and a high ceiling — where you can start simple and gradually grow as your needs grow. For some users, Coda starts with a blinking cursor and a blank page, full of opportunity — and to them it may feel like a super-powered Google Doc. Others may dive straight into the rich building blocks and learn about tables that talk to each other, buttons to magically perform actions, packs that connect to your other favorite tools, and the ability to publish your documents to other similar applications. In all instances, our goal is to show a doc maker the building blocks they need so that Coda can grow with their ideas, sort of like levels in a game. What’s your experience been like using it?
We’ve used Coda to run team meetings, track our sourcing and origination, and to monitor performance at the team, region and asset class level. We’re also experimenting with several other use cases, including talent on-boarding and portfolio company monitoring. Browsing the gallery of templates was my a-ha moment and continues to be a source of inspiration.
I read your document on company rituals – a topic that I’m really interested in. What’s the significance of rituals to you?
Shishir: As I spoke about on , the concept of rituals was first coined by entrepreneur and investor Bing Gordon, who said that every company has “golden rituals” defined by three characteristics: (1) they’re named, (2) they’re templated, and (3) every employee knows them by first Friday on the job. Famous examples of this include Amazon’s 6-pagers and Google’s OKRs. At Coda, our most famous golden ritual is , our way of driving an inclusive culture where the best ideas can come from anyone.
The right rituals in the right places will help you build your culture, cohere your team, and achieve your goals. Building your own rituals is as important as building your product. But if you aren't intentional about the rituals you create, you may find that rituals spring up on their own — like invasive weeds in a garden left unattended. And those unintended rituals can hold you back.
“Many current doc platforms are anchored in metaphors from the 1970s - a professor’s slides for presentations, an accountant’s ledger for spreadsheets, and a leaf of paper for the word processor.” As companies adapt to the digital workplace, Coda can be a canvas to craft and codify a company’s rituals, as well as a marketplace and to discover and adapt rituals from other teams. A few great examples are how the rebuilt their culture with “infinite hearts”, how scaled through the hypergrowth years, the unique way that the design team reconstructed 1-1s, and how created an “air traffic control system” to eliminate meetings.
Coda is being recognized as a leader in a new “all-in-one doc” category - what gives you confidence that Coda can maintain this lead as the likes of Google and Microsoft respond?
Shishir: It’s great to see such fast innovation across incumbents and new entrants. And this innovation comes at a time when workplace norms are shifting: an estimated 60% of global companies are developing a hybrid workplace model, where most employees come into the office no more than three days a week, .
These changes are clearly aligned with an all-in-one-doc future we see at Coda. While incumbents may be tethered to legacy systems, our start-from-scratch approach means that we are able to rethink what the document can be and can do. Many current doc platforms are anchored in metaphors from the 1970s - a professor’s slides for presentations, an accountant’s ledger for spreadsheets, and a leaf of paper for the word processor. We start by breaking these boundaries into a unified canvas and adding key new building blocks that enable anyone to make docs as powerful as apps. What do you find most exciting about the future of the all-in-one doc space?
That it’s finally within reach. It’s a simple concept, but one that has been largely unattainable, at least until now. We’ve lived in a world of abstraction when it comes to documents, tables and apps. The idea of adding new tools that aggregate and organize this information into new outputs has always felt counter to achieving real productivity gains. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen meaningful innovation in document platforms and it’s very exciting to see Coda make progress here.
We think that Coda has built one of the most powerful but approachable tools in the market, evidenced by an exponential rise in active users – customers love Coda and are using it more and more.
With an ongoing global transition to digital – and the growth of hybrid work environments – there is an ongoing need to reskill and retool existing workforces. Coda offers greater breadth and power than any of its peers, and we think it is very well positioned to continue benefiting from these macro shifts.
I have one last question for you: what’s your favorite document?
Shishir: My answer to this question varies based on what I’ve discovered lately in the , but one of my all-time favorites is from the co-founder of Intercom, Des Traynor. His doc started with a tweet that said roughly, “When thinking about productivity and its tools, your email is what others think you should work on. Your to-do list is what you think you should work on. Your calendar is (usually) what you actually work on. How much do these overlap in your world?” It was a powerful insight that turned into an actionable doc that anyone could copy and adapt to their workflow. He published a template to organize and measure these things. Pull in email and link to a to-do or create a new one, then link the to-dos to your calendar events or create a new one. Each channel can show you how you're spending your time. At the end of your week, you can see which portion of time was spent on things with a linked to-do vs not, and make changes as needed (e.g. cancel meetings if you can’t think of a purpose).
I like it because it was personally transformational. Last week I hit 45%, this week I’m at 61% and on any given week, if I cross 50%, it’s a good week. This was a humbling observation for me since it means I typically only have control over half my time. But it re-energized me to be cautious of the commitments I take on, and to focus on prioritizing my most important goals first.