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Monday's plan to become the operating system for work

A new "Apps Framework" will allow third-party developers to start building their own apps on top of Monday.

Monday Work OS

Monday was originally a project management tool, but it's now becoming an operating system for work.

Image: Monday

For a while, Roy Mann and Eran Zinman just wanted to build a good project management tool. The two Israeli techies co-founded Monday.com (Mann is the CEO and Zinman the CTO) to fix what they perceived as a universal problem with productivity tools: They all make you work a certain way. "You find one that supposedly solves your problem," Zinman said, "and then your team needs to adopt and use the software, and then you outgrow it or you change the structure of your team or the way you work, and then you need to move on to the next software and the next software."

Their goal was to build a tool that worked for all parts of a company — from tech-head engineers to fusty finance folks, tiny teams to company-wide installations. So they built a modular tool that starts as a prettier-looking spreadsheet but ultimately can become a store of information and tasks that can be organized and used in countless ways. You want a Gantt chart? You got a Gantt chart. The tool starts and seems simple, but comes with plenty of power and customization. It's working for people: More than 100,000 organizations around the world now use the product, and Monday's now reportedly valued at $2.7 billion.

The Monday team has always thought of the iPhone as a useful metaphor for their product. "It's very simple to start using," Mann said, "and it's not more complex because there are 2 million apps in the App Store. It's just more versatile. You see the options, but you don't have to use them." Everyone's iPhone can work differently, which is exactly what they hope for Monday.

Actually, the more they worked on Monday, the more Mann and Zinman thought about the iPhone. To really stretch the metaphor: What's the iPhone for work? There are plenty of tools for plenty of jobs, but nothing that brings them all together in one usable place. Over time, that's what Monday decided it wanted to be.

Monday co-founders Roy Mann and Eran Zinman. Monday co-founders Roy Mann (left) and Eran Zinman.Photo: Courtesy of Monday

Monday's been testing a new feature called the Apps Framework for the last few months and is launching it publicly Tuesday. It gives third-party developers access to build their own apps on top of Monday, without needing to do much coding or build their own productivity tool from scratch. "Basically, people can add their own integrations, add their own automations, create specific views for any specific industry," Zinman said. Rather than working in a dozen apps and tabs, everything could be inside Monday.Instead of being an app, Monday wants to become a platform.

Of course, every business tool seems to want to be a platform. It's one of the billion-dollar questions being asked in tech right now: Where do you work? Not at what company do you work, or in what location. But when you actually sit down to do work, where do you go? The answer, in many cases, is pure chaos. Okta found in a study that the average company uses 88 software tools, and that number is growing quickly over time. (Already, 1 in 10 companies uses more than 200.) Work happens in CRMs, inboxes, project-management tools, customer-service queues and many other places.

Monday is one of a number of companies hoping to bring that all together. Airtable, Notion, Coda, Basecamp, Asana, ClickUp, Jira, Trello and others are all vying to be the first place you go when it's time to get to work. Each has a slightly different way of describing it: It's the home base, the dashboard, the infrastructure, the back end, the foundation, the source of truth, the place of record. The Monday co-founders like to call it the operating system: The Work OS. "An operating system for a personal computer is what runs the computer," Zinman said. "We want to be that tool for businesses, the backbone for everything."

Whatever you want to call it, there's plenty of competition. (One easy way to tell: Search for, say, Asana on Google, and you get two or three ads for competing products before getting to the results.) ClickUp recently raised $35 million to pursue a similar goal, and CEO Zeb Evans told TechCrunch it plans to become "a highly flexible interface that allows for teams of all sizes and types to work on it." Likewise, Michael Pryor, the head of Trello at Atlassian, told me that he's focused on integrating other apps into Trello. "You don't build an app without an API anymore," he said. "So the ability to integrate with all these apps is front and center for us."

Building an API for integrating with other apps is simple enough. Monday's asking developers to go further: to treat it like a platform, to build and maintain Monday apps like they do for Windows or Android. But Mann and Zinman are hoping that the tools are simple enough, and Monday is popular enough, that developers will jump on board.

While the Apps Framework has been in beta, internal and external teams have been building the first set of apps. KPMG built an app for automatically processing and submitting an invoice just by taking a picture of it. Mann helped build a 3D globe view for anything location-based, so you can look through real estate listings by spinning the globe. Zinman worked with a team on a card-flipping view, sort of like flash cards for your data. In all, there are about 100 apps already available, and Monday's hoping more are coming quickly.

Both Mann and Zinman are careful to not overhype this launch, though. Even when they work, these things tend to grow slowly. "I think the first few apps on the iPhone were pretty lame," Zinman said. Monday's prepared for many of its early apps to be the business tool equivalent of flashlight and fart apps. But eventually, they hope, they'll get the business tool equivalent of Uber and Instagram, which took the available features and built something entirely new.

At first, developers won't be able to make money from their Monday apps. Monday hopes they'll build anyway because they can tap into all the other tools available on the platform and find new users there, too. Companies might even build for themselves. One challenge for every business tool is that while many companies have some things in common — they all use Salesforce, Outlook or Gmail, Slack or Teams — each seems to also have a subset of old or unique tools. And if you solve half a company's information problems, you haven't really solved anything. "We want to connect that legacy software and everything," Mann said, but they're doing so by helping companies solve their own weird workflow problems.

One challenge for Monday will be figuring out where its product ends and its platform begins. It's a slippery slope from integrating a video chat tool to deciding the best solution is to ditch the API and just build yourself a Zoom competitor. Monday's approach, so far, seems to be to try and build the basics and leave the power-user stuff to others. "We have our own form system," Zinman said, "but our mentality is we don't want to build the best form on the planet." They'd rather spend the time deeply integrating with SurveyMonkey or Typeform. Same goes for whiteboard apps, in which users might start with Monday's tools but graduate to Miro when they need more. And because all those other tools can also live in Monday, they might be easier for teams to add to their stack. It gets back to that initial simplicity of the product: Monday wants to make it easy to get started, then get out of the way as users get more sophisticated.

There's one part of the iPhone metaphor that doesn't track, Mann and Zinman admit. On a phone, apps mostly live side by side but don't intermingle, but on Monday, they're hoping to throw every app and every feature into one endlessly rearrangeable set. "It's building blocks," Mann said. "Building blocks can be connected in a hundred different ways." What those ways will be, they don't know, and they're slightly nervous about that but mostly OK with it. "We don't know what our customers are going to build," Mann said, "and they don't know what the users are going to do with it." Everyone's just going to keep building blocks and hope people keep finding new ways to put them together. If they do, Monday might become the first place millions of people go when they get to work, wherever and whenever that is.

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