Wrike CEO sees growth potential in a tightening economy after spin-out from Citrix

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright January 11, 2023
No sooner had Wrike become part of Citrix than it span out again. We speak to its CEO Andrew Filev about the growth prospects for work management in a tightening economy.

Andrew Filev CEO - Wrike
Andrew Filev (Wrike)

Work management vendor Wrike regained its independence at the end of September last year, barely 18 months after becoming part of Citrix for $2.25 billion, and launched a major refresh of its products at its Collaborate conference a few weeks later. The spin-out had come alongside the merger of Citrix with Tibco, and was funded by private equity funds Vista Equity, which had owned Wrike prior to becoming part of Citrix, along with Citrix investor Evergreen Coast Capital. I recently caught up with Andrew Filev, CEO of Wrike, who tells me that being part of Citrix ended up having little impact on the company, and it has retained the same aggressive growth targets as an independent company. He says:

We didn't have time to integrate before we got the mandata to un-integrate. So that was a very quick journey ...

Being independent again is definitely exciting. Our market keeps growing. It's one of the fastest software categories right now.

Despite the current tightening of the wider economy, he sees a strong market for technology that offers companies improved

efficiency and co-ordination, or the chance to save costs by consolidating more activities in a single platform. Wrike's opportunity lies in the productivity black hole where organizations lack effective work management. He says:

You cannot optimize anything unless you can measure it. So that's where I see people looking to get visibility into their workflows. And by doing that, they kill two birds with one stone. One, they get that visibility that we just talked about, but also as an added benefit, they get the automation as well.

Efficiency and culture

A tough climate has put a new focus on efficiency, both from business leaders and among teams and individuals, with everyone striving to do more with less. He elaborates:

There's still a lot of inefficiencies in the company when it comes to co-ordination. It's not like everybody is producing at 100% of their potential. There's still a huge amount of knowledge work that's wasted in passing between individual team members and between the teams, in aligning and getting decisions done, or moving in slightly different directions.

There's less and less tolerance for that. Both from their leadership — 'We're missing our efficiency targets and at the same time, we're wasting our time on this' — there's less tolerance there. There's also less tolerance from employees — 'Hey, I've got [fewer] colleagues in my team, I'm being asked to deliver more, and you're also in the process asking me to do these wasteful activities?'

At the same time, organizations continue to struggle with the new demands of hybrid work, which requires a higher level of co-ordination across teams where people are working from different locations. Some are looking to shut down offices they no longer need, while many hired new staff during the pandemic who are based far from existing offices. But there's evidence that productivity has been lost in the midst of this adjustment to a new paradigm. Improving visibility into shared work is one way to improve morale. Filev observes:

Having visibility into the work and the workflow, while the primary reasons you do that are ... operational and consolidation and everything else, there is a secondary benefit of people feeling in control of what's going on and there also being less miscommunications, and because of that less negative emotions involved.

Positive emotions you create with culture, but I'm saying you can reduce the number of negative emotions and we already have too many of those in our lives.

But he adds that there are some things that can't be replicated over a digital connection:

If you worked in a very healthy office culture, then as much as you enjoy working from home, there is some of that psychological effect of working with other people.

One thing that I have never seen working on Zoom well is celebrating a win. It's always awkward, especially if you've got like 100 people on a Zoom call, it's never the same as you going in the same room and trying to celebrate it together.

Custom views on a shared platform

The launch of the new Wrike Lightspeed platform last October brought a fresh new user experience to how people view and interact with information and workflows in Wrike. At the same time, the platform rolled out new flexibility to customize workflows to specific needs with a feature called custom item types. This builds on extensive existing custom capabilities, from the underlying work graph through custom fields, workflows, dynamic input, custom dashboards and integrations to third-party applications. But every capability to customize views and workflows to the needs of each individual team still runs on the same underlying platform, so that others across the organization can still be included in workflows as needed, or managers and executives can have oversight and metrics on what's happening globally. This ability to customize the views to a specific domain model within the same shared platform is one of Wrike's most important attributes. Filev explains:

What's unique is that we allow you to have multiple different spaces within one account, each one of them having their own domain model, and you can easily cross-collaborate across them. So it's not like you're spinning one instance of bug tracking here and another instance of user story management here and a third instance of something for marketing and you cannot cross-collaborate, you cannot run a reporting across them, you cannot run capacity planning across them, and whatnot.

Right now you have one platform, so your IT team needs to support one solution, your users only need to learn one system, and within that platform, different teams can have different spaces for themselves ... Within those spaces, if you're running a workflow, you can go as shallow or as deep as you want to in those workflows, including you can define the structure and define the items. Your IT team can have ITSM ticketing, your procurement team can have contracts or assets or whatnot. The examples are endless. And that's part of Wrike, that's by design.

This is key to Wrike's proposition, both to small and mid-sized businesses and to large enterprises, although for different reasons in those two cases. In the SMB segment, a company can use Wrike as an alternative to having multiple applications for different functions, such as IT service management, procurement, security management, and so on. He explains:

You've got this dilemma of, either you're having nothing, or you're spending on a variety of specialized systems, which are then under-utilized, and you need to maintain them. It's not just the cost of licences, which are high, but also the TCO of implementing and maintaining those systems — and you do not have a robust IT department with the economy of scale and whatnot.

In that environment, having a universal workflow solution that supports no code and that is user-friendly ... can provide support for multiple workflows, bringing them on the same platform, same account — you can cross-collaborate, you can run your resources through it, it's a very powerful value proposition.

Scaling efficiency

In an enterprise environment, it doesn't make sense to replace a best-in-class solution with something more generic, but there are plenty of opportunities to replace inefficient legacy systems. Doing that with a single customizable platform provides economies of scale. He gives an example:

If you have a legacy tool, for example, your services organization within the large enterprise uses an old PSA solution that's 1) expensive and 2) it's not modern at all, your people are not collaborating, you're not running the workflow automation, your reporting might not be the best, then you can achieve the best of both worlds, you can cut the cost and get the better solution at the same time.

At this point in the business cycle, it's a good time to consolidate operations that may have sprung up opportunistically in earlier growth phases. He adds:

There's cycles when you're growing very fast and exploring a lot of multiple frontiers, and pushing really hard because 1) you can and 2) your competitors do that, so it's a race. Then there are other parts of the cycle where you've got all that diversity, and now you're consolidating back and trying to come up with a new SOPs and standardize that operational framework for your business so it can run very efficiently and be positioned for the next level of growth.

Reverting to private equity ownership means that Wrike itself has to pay attention to efficiency, but given Filev's experience of working with Vista prior to becoming part of Citrix, he's not phased by the need to balance efficiency with aggressive growth. He explains:

I started the business by bootstrapping it originally. So I'm very familiar with a focus on efficiency, where you can never go in the red in your bank account, there's no such thing. You've got to make sure that you run your business well, and very diligently.

After the bootstrapping, that's when we added that venture growth engine. You're efficient. Now, let's put outside capital and do 10x of what you did efficiently. You take that efficient unit, and put it to the next level of scale.

My take

When I last spoke to Filev, I was encouraged to hear the company was maintaining an independent path within Citrix. Now it's free to spread its wings again, but in a more tempestuous business environment. Nevertheless, the pressure that every business now feels to improve efficiency, control costs and consolidate operations provides a perfect opportunity for Wrike and other work management vendors to show the benefits of digitizing the flow of work across the enterprise.

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