Tom is the co-founder and CEO of Command E, an app that provides blazing fast search across all your docs and records in G Suite, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Dropbox, and 20+ more tools via one easy keyboard shortcut.Links:Transcript
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I'm Corey Quinn. I'm joined this week by Tom Uebel, who's the CEO and co-founder of a company called Command E
. Tom, thanks for joining me.
Tom: Thanks for having me, Corey. It's great to be with you.
Corey: It really is because I'm delightful. Just ask anyone who has been on the show and I basically hold at gunpoint, to admit that I'm delightful. So, for a long time, I have been whining for something that doesn't really exist. And when I discovered a post that you had made about a month before this recording or so, I realized, “Oh, my God, someone built it. I got to get him on the show and yell at him about it.” And what you have built is also the name of the company, Command E. What is Command E because there's a near certainty you'll do a better job of telling that story than I will.
Tom: [laugh]. Yeah, so Command E just gives you one keyboard shortcut to get to any of your docs and records in the Cloud. You can think about any tool that you use at work, Command E is blazing fast search across all of that. So, you can be going about your day, and no matter what you need to get to next, you just hit Command E, quickly type in the search box that pops up, maybe it's like, “Corey Quinn, LinkedIn,” and hit enter and we'll get you there as fast as humanly possible.
Corey: I feel like on some level that you're being completely accurate, while also dramatically underselling how magic this thing is. I want to be clear, you are not sponsoring any of my nonsense, yet. This is me more or less fanboying over what you have built. Fundamentally, from where I sit, it’s… I hit Command E, which is the shortcut, and I type in anything I want. And it does the stuff you'd expect, like files on your computer, but then it goes beyond that.
There's a crap ton of services—I don't know if it's metric crap tons or Imperial crap tons, but whatever it is, there's a lot of them—where you integrate with various third-party APIs. I mean, as I'm pulling it up now, I notice Clubhouse on the list, of all things. You integrate with Dropbox, with Gmail, with GitHub—or Jif-up, depending upon pronunciation—JIRA, Slack, Spotify, and the list goes on. I'm not going to read this off; I'm not part of your marketing department.
But it's impressive in that it ties in and solves the problem of you and I were talking about something two weeks ago; where was that conversation? Was it an email? Was it in Twitter DMs? Was it in LinkedIn conversations? Was it in Slack somewhere? Was it in post-it notes or something? And it doesn't matter. I can search and as long as there's an integration, it just shows up. And that's part of the magic. Have I nailed the salient points, or am I overstating the case so far?
Tom: Yeah, that's it. It's really there's been this proliferation of tools as the cost of building great software has come down. It's any category you think of, there's a few great tools in it. And that's awesome. It's great that you can find best in breed tools for anything you want to get done today, but it involves all these switching costs that maybe didn't exist 10, 20 years ago.
And Command E is that layer of glue that pulls all these things together really nicely, and works the way your brain does where the second you think, “I want to go to this,” we just get you there; you don't have to think about, “was it in Gmail? What was the name of that Google Doc that Corey shared with me last week?” Just the second you know what Google Doc you want to go to, Salesforce record, JIRA ticket, whatever it is, you just hit Command E, and we'll get you there incredibly quickly.
Corey: And you're not exaggerating when you say incredibly quickly because I figured, “All right, great. Typical story here. There's a search, everything has a search and it usually sucks.” This doesn't suck. What is that using under the hood?
Tom: Yeah, so there's a few pieces that roll up to something that I think is really compelling. So, one, it's a desktop app, so you can be anywhere on your computer. It's not just browser-based. Anywhere on your computer, hit Command E—Control E, if you're on Windows—and then the other thing is that we are tapping into all those services and we are doing a pretty good job, I think, of knowing what you're probably going to want to get to so that we kind of have it built up where every search should return in 10 milliseconds or less. A lot of people talk about 100 milliseconds as being the speed at which humans can perceive, “Hey, I'm waiting on something or not.” So, we try to keep all our searches to 10 milliseconds or less so it really does feel like your tools are finally moving as fast as your brain can, and it's an incredibly powerful feeling that I think a lot of us just haven't experienced in a while.
Corey: No, it's very clearly not reaching out to anything across the network, which gets to my next part that to be very clear in disclosure here, you and I did have a conversation about this when I first discovered it because honestly, I was convinced you were doing something horrifying and that I do have some level of authenticity in what I tell people on these shows. And I don't want to be advocating for something that is not working in people's interest. And there's a couple things that scared the hell out of me. The first is, you link with a whole bunch of different APIs, Like, I have you linked right now to multiple Gmail accounts; I have you talking to my Evernote stuff that has a bunch of history from back when I used to use Evernote because they used to care about their customers; I have it tied into Spotify, not that I care about that; a whole bunch of local stuff on my own disk, and so on and so forth. There's some sensitive data in there, is the first part.
Tom: Definitely, yeah. So, this is something that we thought long and hard about from day one and made sure we did this right. Candidly, I sleep a lot better at night with the security model we went with. It's been kind of interesting seeing this debate play out with Signal versus WhatsApp and various other tools more recently. But from day one, our security model has essentially been, you control your own data, we don't actually have it on our servers or anywhere else.
Your data is synced from these third-party services and stored encrypted on your own device as well as the connections that you make to services to enable us to do our thing, that's stored securely on your own computer. None of that is going to us, so even if we wanted to we don't have access to your service, our terms stipulate that. So there's no surprises here.
Corey: So, my data never leaves my machine?
Corey: Awesome. I know you’ve said that before, but it's important to get that on the record on these things because it's one of those like, “Well, remember that time we destroyed the company by trusting something?”
Tom: Right. [laugh].
Corey: Which brings me to the next. Like, there's a trope going around that if you're not paying for something, you are the product. On some level that even applies to this podcast. I mean, there are sponsor ads that are put into this, and on some level, the audience listening to it is the product. Now, we take a very restricted view of this; we wind up saying, well, we get this many downloads, and we think GeoIP-wise, this is the generalized distribution globally, and that's all we say because that's all we know.
It's more or less screaming into the void. At the end of that though, it does wind up working because people listen to the ads; if they're compelling and relevant, people will visit them, and it becomes a very valuable thing for the sponsors. So it's not necessarily an inherently awful thing, but it's also the audience here is paying with their attention, for lack of a better term. And with this, I don't see you're doing sponsored ads next to my content of, “Wow, you've just pulled up your W-2, it looks like you should have a new job. Have you considered working at Google?” There could be some horrifying monetization plays here. What is the plan for that?
Tom: Definitely. Yeah. So we're in a fortunate position, we’re early days backed by top venture firms in the Valley. And so right now, the product is free for any individual to try. We'll eventually have a pro tier and team plans in time, so this very much will be traditional SaaS monthly subscription payment at the team level. It's definitely not a data play where we're, even if we had your data, we would be trying to do anything there. This will be a subscription SaaS with team plans, in time.
Corey: One of the things that I noticed about Command E is you could probably view it as something of a weakness—I view it personally as a strength because it reinforces what you've already said—which is, when I installed it on a second computer, it had no earthly idea who I was. It had none of my synced accounts and I had to go through and log back into all of them. Now, on the one hand, is that annoying? Mmm, slightly, but it does validate that if you're stealing my data, you're really bad at it and not using it in any way to benefit the user experience. And credit, where due I not completely as, shall we say, naive as I might appear. I did some packet captures and kept a close eye on this thing and saw what it was talking to, and if you are stealing my data, you have also built one of the best compression algorithms in the universe.
Tom: [laugh]. Yeah, now it's always fun talking to people that say, “Hey, that sounds great, but let me do my own homework and see if that's actually the case.”
Corey: Yeah. Again, I have sensitive data with my clients on the consulting side. I don't want to ever turn this into a story of, “Well, I took it on blind faith, and that seemed like the way to go.” Believe me, if there had been something nefarious, this would not be the conversation we were having right now.
Tom: Definitely, definitely.
Corey: But it's phenomenal, and the problems that I have with it now have extended beyond the, “Oh, the getting up and onboarding, and getting the muscle memory trained,” which in some ways is kind of the hardest part. And now it's going more in the direction of integrating with additional services, limitations of the integrations made available by the various providers themselves. For example, I don't see a Twitter option, particularly to look at DMs because those things are impossible to search natively. I can see that there's a bunch of, in some ways, they look like duplicate services like Gmail and Superhuman, for example; it goes to the same data store. And looking through this, it's interesting, and I'm very curious to know how a lot of these decisions got made. Tell me more.
Tom: Yeah. And I mean, honestly, it's one of the most exciting parts of running a startup, I think, is when you get your product out there and what you keep hearing from people that try it is, “Oh, this is great, just can you please carve off more of my world and support more services?” So that's definitely something we'll continue to work on. We want this to be sort of the command center that you can run your day off. So, continuing to work on supporting more services.
Corey: So I've been whining about this for years, in the fact that this didn't exist. And it turns out that when you have a problem, you can either whine about it, or alternately, you can apparently raise some VC money and go fix it. And you took the path less traveled. Why? I mean, complaining is fun.
Tom: [laugh]. Yeah, so where Command E really came from is my co-founder and I worked together for a few years before this at an early stage VC. And while we were there, we saw a few things. One was, we were on a team of 12, and we counted them up one day, and we were using 26 different cloud systems. So, I think it's become this problem that people are really aware of at this point, but there's just been this proliferation of SaaS tools and great software that I alluded to earlier, and it creates some pain in finding your information.
And then the other piece was that some of our closest friends there, some of the smartest people we've worked with were not in engineering roles; they were living their days between Salesforce and Gmail—multiple Gmail inboxes—LinkedIn, AngelList, Crunchbase, and just, sort of, tearing their hair out at the friction of moving between these systems, quickly getting information in and out. And meanwhile, my co-founder and I were in our code editors. And you're familiar with, you know, anytime you need to move to the next file in your day, it's just this really nice pattern of you hit a keyboard shortcut, a search box pops up, focused, ready for you to type, you type a fragment of the next file name, you hit enter, and you're there, and you move on with your day in less than a second without ever really—
Corey: Well, someone hasn’t configured VIM the same way that I have.
Tom: [laugh]. But it's just really quick; just we didn't experience this problem that they were experiencing because we had great tooling and we realized that some of the underlying tech had shifted in a way that it was possible to build something in the mold of Command E that would just make their lives so much easier and let them be as productive as they're capable of being, and it was just their tools getting in the way.
Corey: One thing that I find a little challenging about the onboarding is not the tool itself and it's not setting up the accounts—I whine about it, but it took me three minutes; not the end of the world. The problem I have is now that it exists, I have to remember that it exists. It's overcoming the learning curve of train yourself to automatically whack Command E. And that took me a little bit of doing. Is that a common thing? Am I just basically a slow learner? What's the deal there?
Tom: Yeah, it's interesting. I think we have more work to do there, but you'll have some people that will just immediately map it to one use case and then expand it to do more things over time. There's some people that it just kind of works for them. Like engineers are really interesting to us, just because it's a pattern that they've experienced before and they don't have to remember this new behavior, it's just mapping it to a few services. But yeah, it's definitely a different way of working, that once you're bought in on and you're ramped, it's impossible to go back. But it does take some doing. You are undoing a decade or so point-and-click muscle memory.
Corey: It's also easy to look at this because I found it a month or so ago, and, “Okay, so you're a month or so old.” It turns out that as I learn things, I'm figuring out—among others—that software does not spring fully formed from the forehead of some God. It takes an iterative design process, and in fact, I believe you folks were founded, when, in 2018?
Corey: So, let me ask you the awkward, difficult question, then. Looking at it, it's a very simple app, as far as the way that is designed. And honestly, that is a testament to its design. It's not at all difficult, from my perspective, to work with it in an intelligent way, to understand what it's doing, but it doesn't feel like there's a lot of there, there, if that makes sense. There's not a whole lot of configuration options, there aren't a whole lot of messing around with other nonsense. Instead, it looks like it's very stripped down. And it feels like if you talked about this on Hacker News
, the response is, “Oh, it must have taken you a weekend to build it, right?”
Tom: [laugh]. Yeah.
Corey: Explain to me how this evolved because I'm pretty sure that I'm looking at the end road of an awful lot of customer stories, and iteration, and, honestly, attention to detail.
Tom: Yeah, and we knew early on that this was going to be the kind of thing that just had to work really simply, so what I like to tell people now is you can go to our website, hit the download button, and have the download done, all your accounts connected data synced and have completed your first search in less than five minutes. So I'm pleased to hear that it only took you three. It takes a lot of work. There's definitely some real engineering under the hood. One of the things that my co-founder Ben really kind of nailed early on was he thought a lot about how Slack took IRC, which I think a lot of us that have been on engineering teams had communicated with other people on the team through IRC, but you never really saw sales, marketing, all these other roles in the company in IRC, but then Slack built this amazing desktop app experience around it, and made it really easy to get up and running, delightful to use, and simple, and all of a sudden, you had wall-to-wall deployments; everybody was in it, everybody liked it.
Corey: I still maintain, and this is not necessarily the universal story. But I used to set up IRC servers and ejabberd servers to talk to folks, and Slack started eroding all of that, and people got very angry. Like, “What is the deal here?” And the honest answer was, “Look, I can go and talk to someone in marketing or in accounting whose primary language is not writing code, and give them just this webpage, and suddenly they're up, and they're in the chat, and persistence works.” It fixed the user experience, and people love to overlook the sheer value of that.
Tom: A hundred percent. Yeah, that's really what we're trying to do. I think I really like products that are just very simple and elegant on the surface but have a lot of depth to them. So, I think that's really the needle that we're trying to thread here where anybody can get up and running and it just works the way you'd expect it to, but there's also a lot of power under the hood for people that are power users and want a bunch of advanced features.
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Corey: So, tell me a little bit more about the evolution of this because it's easy to go from the initial problem statement of, “Huh, I have an awful lot of different things I need to search independently and in obnoxious ways,” to, “Okay, now let's start unifying that. And what that looks like.” Is that an iterative process? Is it originally imagined as a web app instead of a desktop app? Was it originally viewed as targeting a single operating system? What was the product evolution here before it sprang out fully-formed in the light of day?
Tom: Definitely. So, my co-founder, Ben, had been talking to me about this while we were working together previously, and then we both left the firm that we were at. And I went and traveled for a bit, and I came back and he had put together a V1. And we went to dinner and he pulled it up for me. And at that point, it was desktop from day one with the keyboard shortcut that pulls it up.
So, this isn't a story of a lot of pivots along the way. It's a story of, I think, just ruthlessly continuing to evolve the initial idea, which I think was really spot-on from the beginning. The first version I saw was a desktop app that pulled up with Command E but searched across all of your Chrome history. And we've since then realized that, okay, we don't want Instagram and Facebook in there, we want this to be a work tool that's very focused on helping you be productive in your workday, and continuing to add integrations, continuing to add features. So, we were very focused on docs and records early on.
And as we move to this command center that you can run your day off, it means adding stuff like calendar so that if I hit Command E five minutes before this call, I shouldn't have to do anything, the first result should just be the event we're about to be on, and I can just hit enter and the Zoom link, I’m just taken straight into the Zoom instead of having to dig into my calendar that went from being purely browser and cloud-focused to now letting you search across your local machine because a lot of people told us, “Hey, I love the fact that you've added cloud search; that wasn't really a thing before, but I just want one pattern that I can build and use across all of my searches.” And so there's more to do, but it's just that continual evolution of trying to carve off everything so that you really do just have one place that, as quickly as possible, gets you to the next thing in your day.
Corey: One thing that you talk about is the [vision 00:21:35], this is cloud search, and I always dropping this Easter egg in for folks who listen to this and pay attention. It's always been irritating to me that Google—the search engine company—will have Google Docs. And you can use the search for Google Docs, and it's rubbish because why would a search engine company build a good search engine for its own work suite?
But if you go to cloudsearch.google.com
on a paid account, it's awesome. It does more or less what Command E does, albeit only within the confines of your Google account. And on some level, that becomes almost a great definitive answer to, “Well, what's to stop some other company from coming at you by behind?”
Oh, don't worry, if a Google or an Amazon were to come out and do this, they would really screw it up. See slide B. Because they've done things like this and completely failed to tell that story compellingly. Every time I bring up cloudsearch.google.com
, people are astounded and they think I'm messing with them, then they pull it up in the browser so they can yell at me, and then they get angry because why did they not know this existed years ago?
Tom: Yeah, it's really fascinating seeing [laugh] the different cuts of that. I’ll bite my tongue on that one. But, yeah.
Corey: Of course. You have to be nice to people. I don't, which is sort of my entire shtick, and it works for me. So, what can you tell me, if anything, about future roadmap? I mean, it's easy to look at this from a perspective of integrating with different services, I think—I saw you recently started supporting Coda, which I'm using in some weird edge cases, and oh, that becomes super handy. But what's on the roadmap coming up? Is there an idea at some point that I'll be able to invoke local bash scripts, for example, on my system?
Tom: Yeah. So we're trying to let people do more and more. So, I mentioned we just recently added calendar; if you think about the ways that you start units of work in your day, it's often hey, let me pull up that Google Doc; let me get into this meeting—
Corey: Oh, that's right. This is what people with real jobs do. I wind up starting my day by pulling up Twitter mentions and starting with, “Oh, Christ, what now?”
Tom: Yep. [laugh]. They’re just, sort of, continuing to nail away search use cases. So, one thing that we want to get better at is hey, what was that doc that Corey shared with me? And we made it really easy to get into your Zoom, but can we make sure that we surface the relevant information there?
One of the things we're really excited about right now is supporting more collaborative use cases and letting teams work with Command E, I think there's definitely some benefits to solving the problems that we've solved at the single-player level for teams as well. So, just continuing to expand on that.
Corey: What about potential dangers? One of the things that I see when looking at this is the ghost of feature creep, on some level where, hey, we can use this to also—I don't know—do keyboard macro expansions. Or we can use this to automatically start killing processes that are running amok with the right invocation. And at some point, it almost tries to become an electron-based version of the terminal where at some point, you're more or less building an entire operating system into this application. Is that something that you're concerned about? Is that so far down the road that I'm hilarious for even mentioning or thinking of it now? What are the dangers that you see if this doesn't go right?
Tom: Yeah. I think there's a few things you could definitely see tools that have tried to build for all these bespoke use cases and lost the focus. I think simplicity is super important to us. If you think about our guiding principles, it's often focused on performance, so from day one, we've said it's going to be an extremely strong engineering-lead team that solves this problem. And so we focused on just building the best engineering team and then bringing on a great designer to make sure that we're always focused on keeping things really performant and simple.
I do think that we've also very much focused on work use cases. So, we get a lot of requests for different things. And one of the things I like about building B2B software is often your customers can kind of pull out use cases from you. And it's just a matter of applying some discernment and just really building for them. So, we try to stay really focused on things that we think will be used very broadly by the personas that Command E works really well for which is across sales teams, across product teams, engineers, it's just really focused on staying close to the voice of the customer.
Corey: That's part of the challenge that scares me on some level is, I always feel like my use cases are bizarre and more than a little bit frightening, but I knew that Command E was something to, honestly, be super excited about which I hope my enthusiasm is conveying accurately. I'm not shilling; no one's paying me to talk about this. Unfortunately because as it turns out, I'm not as good at business as I thought I was. But there's something deeply compelling about when I saw this, and it just grabbed me. But I wanted to validate that because again, I'm super weird.
So, I showed it to other folks, and every person I've shown this to has lit up as soon as they see what I'm talking about. And I'm not just talking engineering users, I'm talking business folks. And there's really something that you have tapped into here. It seems like it's the sort of thing that has a viral potential tied to it. In the positive way; not the infosec sense.
Tom: Yeah, it's been awesome. Like, I love conversations with people like you that are just like, “Oh, yes, I've been waiting for this thing. Thank you so much for building it. It's great, but also, can you do these three things?” It's just—
Corey: “This is amazing. Now, let me tell you what your problem is.” Yeah.
Tom: [laugh]. But yeah, I just think my co-founder, Ben, and the team have really nailed it. This was this natural evolution, I think when you think about how things have matured on the web and at work, over time. So, I remember finding this clip where Marc Andreessen was talking about the Netscape browser and how previously everything was done through what he called cryptic commands, talking about the command line, which just wasn't really accessible to most people. And then all of a sudden, you had a browser, and people could point-and-click their way around, which makes total sense when the corpus you're talking about is sort of the entirety of the internet.
But so many of us go to work and there are so many of these things where it's like, “I know exactly where I want to go, just get me there as quickly as possible. I don't need this point-and-click thing.” Actually, this command line terminal experience, where performance is the key bit, something like Command E just makes total sense.
Corey: One thing I've been always trying to understand about Marc Andreessen—and apparently, I'm nowhere near alone in this, but he went from following me on Twitter one day to blocking me, and to this day I have no idea why that is. So, if you're listening to this somewhere, Mark, I invite you at any time to come on this show and explain yourself. I would love to hear it, we can talk about whatever you'd like. I somehow don't think he listens, but we always learn new things as we go. Now, that said, tell me about your team.
It's easy to fall into the myth of the single heroic founder working a day job and then not sleeping and writing code all night. And that really is only accurate for terrible code. That's not the way to write anything well. None of us are an island, and there is a team. It's not just you sitting there by yourself building this. Who else is involved?
Tom: Yeah. So we're kind of an early small team. It's seven of us now. It's myself, five senior engineers, and really great designer who have experienced building some of the best Silicon Valley companies that we all admire, previously worked at companies like WhatsApp, Stripe, and Oracle, and Evernote. So, just people that have been thinking about this problem a lot and seen it at past companies they've been at, and just know how to really build great products, and have a lot of experience with the problem that we're going after.
So that's I think one of the best things about being a founder is you really get to build a team that you're excited to get out of bed every morning and work with towards some goal that you're all excited about. So that's been, I think, the best part of building Command E is just having a really special early team and knowing the possibilities of what the next wave of folks we bring on board will look like.
Corey: I know it's dangerous to ask this given that you're still seed round territory, but if you were to go back to 2018 and do something differently, what would it be?
Tom: You know, that's an interesting question. I always kind of struggle with this one because I'm always going to want to move faster. I think a lot of my job is just looking at this whole engine and saying what can we do to move 10x faster on something. But I've also seen that a lot of what we're doing, it's easy to sort of take all the learnings that we've had to date and say, “Oh, yeah, if we could have just done that six months ago, that would have been awesome.” But I think a lot of this is the compounding benefits of spending more time than anyone in the world thinking about this particular problem, and the pieces come together in a way that you'd love to just remove all the work that got you to where you are today, but I'm not sure that [laugh] that's realistic. So.
Corey: Yeah, make all the right decisions upfront. Easy to say that, but honestly, if we could do that and predict the future, why are we talking about this instead of, “Well, first, I would begin by winning the Powerball six weeks in a row.”
Corey: Everyone talks about, “Oh, I’d buy this stock or that stock.” Oh, no, no, shoot for the moon.
Tom: Yeah, if you could have told me like, “Hey, the team that you have today, you can have them on day one,” sign me up for that. If you could fast forward all of it, I would love to do that, of course. But.
Corey: Those 40 VCs I met with that didn't invest? Yeah, just skip all those meetings; just go to the one that did is way easier, as it turns out.
Tom: Yeah, that's part of it is just getting to a point where you enjoy the day-to-day and take it as it comes and have faith that you're making progress and just keep chipping away at it. It's a decade to build this to what it should be, I think. So.
Corey: And I'm looking forward to seeing how it gets built and following along from the cheap seats, throwing sarcasm and unsolicited product feedback your way.
Tom: Well, like I said, these are some of the most fun conversations we have is just people that have been looking for this for a while and they find it and share their excitement with us. So yeah, I really appreciate you sharing that with us.
Corey: No, and thank you. I appreciate it. If people want to learn more about you and what you're up to, and of course, download it themselves, where can they find you?
Tom: Yep. Our website is just getcommande.com
, just the word ‘Get’ and then ‘Command’ and the letter ‘E’, the way you'd expect it and go there. And it's more about the product and download button right at the top.
Corey: And we will, of course, put a link to that as well into the [show notes 00:32:30]. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it.
Tom: Yeah, likewise, thanks so much, Corey.
Corey: Tom Uebel, CEO and co-founder of Command E. I'm Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you've enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you've hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice and that insulting comment just as soon as you use your crappy search option instead to figure out where those reviews go.
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