Our Investment in Glean: A New Paradigm for Workplace Information
There are situations where we are stuck. Just due to the nature of how the world evolved, we are set in a pattern and accept it as it is what it is. I don’t like that phrase. Too often it’s an acceptance for less that what our imaginations can conjure.
Glean is building the new paradigm for how we get at the information we need in the workplace. It will free us from the absurdities that we suffer every day. The absurdities of searching many different productivity apps (was this document in my Dropbox, a Google doc, or a Coda doc?), asking each other where stuff is (hey Katie, can you tell me again where to find that new seed investment onboarding doc?), and not having the right information in front of us when we need it (this meeting is about to start… where is that outline?).
The team at Glean is imagining a better set of experiences that embraces the best-of-breed applications like Coda and Miro, while also freeing us to work across these tools, and work together as teams.
Information at work is a problem space that has been stuck in an eddy. The older on-prem world made indexing and serving information really hard – connectivity, authorization, ontologies, APIs, etc. across file servers and on-premises enterprise applications – all really challenging. We tried to solve it, but failed. And because of how consumer internet search works is so deeply engrained in all of us, we have failed to imagine a better way to access information – one where you just have in your hands the right information at the time when you need it. That world hasn’t evolved beyond the blinking cursor in a text box since Alta Vista (yes, that user experience existed before Google).
Glean is building a search index, yes. But it’s going beyond this. It’s creating software that is proactive about your needs, and also gives you tools to access the information you need how you need it. Not just the ability to find what you need…but to discover what you need, from having the documents you need in front of you before the meeting starts, or having the related materials that you will need as you sit-down to write a briefing. Knowing who else on your team is working on things and when they need things from you. Discovering the expertise in the people around you so you can better collaborate together. This is what a generational step in information retrieval looks like.
While it’s easy to misinterpret this as a failure of imagination, the reality is a lot harder than that. Only recently is it now even possible to think about doing this right, because of the momentum of SaaS software. Most of what day-to-day knowledge workers now use at work has been moving into SaaS software. That software, for IT and governance reasons, needs APIs that allow other independent software to interact with that information. This allows something like Glean to even be built – the information is accessible via modern APIs and we are at the tipping point where most of a business is being run on SaaS software. But that’s not the only thing that makes this hard.
It’s also a hard technical and design problem too. Arvind Jain and his cofounders, T.R. Vishwanath, Piyush Prahladka, and Tony Gentilcore have some very serious pedigree. Distinguished engineer at Google, senior staff engineers from Google, engineering at Facebook, at Microsoft, at Oracle, at Uber. Co-founder of Rubrik. And that’s just the founding team. Building the core search engine that is underneath the experiences Glean is building is hard stuff, and they have assembled a next level team and done an incredible job. They have worked very closely with customers to design experiences that go beyond search, are assistive and proactive in nature. And they have built-in the agility to rapidly build and test to all the experiences we have yet to even imagine.
For years I have been pursuing an idea of leverage – in my operational work, in my investing. There are few others areas where there is as much potential for leverage as what Glean is working on. If we can give everyone the agility to always have what they need in front of them, it helps us stay in focus, in flow, it helps us be better teammates, it helps us be more prepared for everything we do all day long. It has a profound and compounding productivity impact.
And it’s more important today than ever before. As enterprises of all scales are facing a need to get more into alignment with all their stakeholders, they need agility and everyone able to do their best work. Doing one’s best work starts with knowing, and Glean is providing tremendous leverage for that.