You’re listening to Spotify while sending emails, and an annoying song starts playing. Only Spotify is buried underneath your various work-related windows: Chrome, Slack, Outlook, ClickUp, you name it. Your Mac no longer has a play/pause button, despite its flashy touch bar. It takes longer than you’d care to admit to find Spotify and finally skip that damn song.
“When you think about your daily workflows, there’s so many little things that annoy you,” said Thomas Paul Mann, co-founder of productivity tool Raycast. “You have friction everywhere. We want to get rid of that.”
Many of the hottest productivity startups are trying to be platforms, home to every possible workplace app and integration. Slack wants to be the “digital HQ,” Monday.com wants to be the “Work OS” and ClickUp wants to be “one app to replace them all.” Raycast is the opposite. It’s a self-described “productivity layer,” and looks a bit like Apple’s Spotlight search bar. You call Raycast up through a keyboard shortcut of your choice. Then you can search for applications or commands, like toggle play/pause on Spotify.
Raycast purposely limits some aspects of user experience to keep things simple. For example, while you can create an Asana task and add a short description in Raycast, you can’t use Raycast to update that description. You’ll need to open Asana to write a deeper, more fleshed-out description. Mann said he appreciates tools that concentrate on one use case.
“Oftentimes we use just a fraction of a tool, and then a ton of the other stuff I don’t really need,” Mann said. “When I think about a tool, I want to have it very focused on something particular and being really really good at that.”
Mann and co-founder Petr Nikolaev launched Raycast in 2020. The two met while working as engineers on Spark Augmented Reality at Facebook, but after three years, decided they wanted to build something of their own. “As engineers, we never really understood why software is slow and not nice to us,” Mann said. What if they could build an app that let engineers access all their tools with just a few keyboard combinations? So they created Raycast. Today, it has more than 10,000 users.
Raycast is similar to connector tools Alfred and Command E, encouraging users to set up hotkeys and keyboard shortcuts for common commands. If you’re hardcore, you’ll never need to use your mouse with Raycast. The goal is to build muscle memory and to make navigation around the computer seamless. You open Raycast with a “global hotkey,” like command + space bar. Then you can search for applications and record hotkeys for the applications you use most frequently. Mann uses option + n to open Notion, and option + i to see his assigned issues in developer tool Linear.
Think of Raycast at the center of your computer’s spiderweb, extending out to your various other applications. The app comes with ready-made extensions, like the ability to browse bookmarks, view calendar events or join a Zoom meeting. But Raycast’s biggest asset is its engineer-heavy community. Mann and Nikoleav zeroed in on developers for its early user base because they can build extensions on Raycast’s open API. Raycast’s store has more than 250 extensions, including integrations with tools like 1Password and Google Translate.
“We knew at the very beginning that this is a tool for community and we need to have a platform where people can build extensions,” Mann said. “There are a lot of them which we might not even know about. The beauty in productivity is that it's very personal.”
The personal plan is free, but the team is working on launching Raycast for Teams. It will cost teams $10 per user per month and will allow for shared extensions. Mann recently opened up early access in the tool’s Slack community; 76 people have already indicated interest.
Raycast’s Slack is very active, as users are prompted to join the minute they download the app. People can report bugs, offer suggestions for extensions and ask for coding advice. To ensure trust from Raycast’s users, Mann is focused on responding to feedback and shipping out updates as quickly as possible. “We don’t do marketing, we just tweet about it, and people share it with their friends and companies,” Mann said.
Bruno Vegreville, CEO of Paris-based calendar app Hera, is a long-time Raycast user. His favorite features are “Set Slack Status,” so he can update his status without visiting the app, and “Snippets,” a library of notes he needs easy access to. His mailing list of investors, for example, is pasted in his Raycast Snippets.
Vegreville likes to play around with new tools, but he’s wary about permanently adopting tools that might complicate his stack. “I try to not over-complexify,” Vegreville said. “I feel like it's often one of the pitfalls of the productivity community, that we try to optimize everything.” But Raycast fit in smoothly with his other tools. The interface is simple, and the application stays in the background, waiting to be called to attention with a quick keyboard combination.
Sometimes Raycast is so good at being an unobtrusive productivity layer, Vegreville forgets it’s there. It’s not in your face when you open your computer, so it’s easy to get absorbed in work, moving between other tools. This is one downside to Raycast’s approach. “It’s hard to build an identity and take space,” Vegreville said. Raycast combats this, he says, by building a vibrant and active user community.
Raycast might not be for everybody — especially if you have trouble remembering keyboard shortcuts. But Mann’s okay with this; Raycast doesn’t need mass adoption right now. Instead, he’s focused on keeping up with suggestions from Raycast’s opinionated community.
“You’re just surrounding yourself with them and observing so many little things you haven’t thought of before,” Mann said. “That’s how Raycast got shaped.”