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Wrike founder Andrew Filev on enterprise work management and the Collaborative Canvas

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright September 2, 2022
An exclusive interview with Wrike founder Andrew Filev on its ambition as a platform for joined-up enterprise work management.

Andrew Filev Wrike - © Citrix
Andrew Filev, Wrike (© Citrix)

The challenge of joining up work across an organization has become even more pressing in an era of hybrid working, employee disengagement and continuing economic disruption. At diginomica, we've been studying this challenge for many years, coming up with the concept of the Collaborative Canvas as a framework for joined-up digital teamwork across the enterprise. But one leading work management vendor we had never caught up with is Wrike, which tech giant Citrix acquired for $2.25 billion last year. Following the company's launch of a new quickstart template this week, here are some of the key points from my long-overdue conversation with Andrew Filev, Wrike's founder and now Senior Vice President and Wrike General Manager at Citrix.

Founded in 2006, Wrike was an early proponent of collaborative work management. It sees workflow, rather than documents, messaging or tasks, as the key to connecting work to outcomes. As Filev explains:

We're not connected by a document. We're not even connected by a Zoom call, a Zoom call is just immediate. What we're connected by is either our team, our organizational unit, or we're connected by a process — and oftentimes teams and processes go together. Or we're connected by the joint outcomes — this is cross-team collaboration where we're working together ... That's where I feel work management platforms have an advantage.

The Dark Matter of Work

But the challenge for most enterprises is that few processes are joined up in this way. Filev has a concept he calls the 'dark matter' of enterprise workflows, likening those hidden workflows to the 95% of matter in the universe that scientists know is there but can't detect. Wrike recently published the findings of a global survey of business leaders and knowledge workers on the cost of this Dark Matter of Work. It finds that more than half of all work is not visible to key stakeholders, while the lost time spent on unproductive meetings, duplicated efforts, information seeking and status check-ins is costing organizations millions of dollars in wasted time, delayed or cancelled projects, and employee churn. Workflows that rely on ad-hoc messages, spreadsheets and other fixes are particularly vulnerable in times of rapid change. Filev comments:

When companies are trying to move at the pace that they're forced to move today, that's when things start to break.

He cites the example of Airbnb, which was using shared Google Sheets to manage its Experiences local activities offering before turning to Wrike when the volume of activity became overwhelming. He says:

They were coordinating launches across at least thirty different cities, and each one of those launches had multiple teams collaborating, including legal ... Our champion, who was not an IT person by any training or means, deployed Wrike ... to actually manage those workloads and successfully launch them, and then scale.

So I feel that digital pace and scalability is one thing that turns our solution from vitamin into painkiller, where spreadsheets and Slack messages totally overwhelmed them.

Wrike in the enterprise 

Other large-scale customers include Walmart Canada, manufacturing and IT giant Siemens, and its unnamed largest customer, which has almost 100,000 users. Supporting scalability and other large enterprise must-haves such as security and governance form an important part of Wrike's proposition. It has embedded a leading iPaaS vendor's integration capability to allow it to connect to hundreds of SaaS and on-premise apps, and a BI platform to help visualize what's going on across the organization, with the ability to drill down from top-level KPIs to the underlying real-time metrics in individual projects, teams and workflows. Intelligent automation and recommendations are also becoming part of the offering. All of this provides a rich solution for a large-scale deployment. Filev comments:

That's where you can truly uncover that connectedness in the enterprise. That's where you see multiple teams collaborating. That's where you see them focusing on their outcomes.

All of this is predicated, of course, on every team being able to use Wrike. Therefore the company has evolved configurations that suit the different use cases of various teams, such as marketing's need to work with digital assets, the robust project management requirements of professional services teams, the agile and project-focused needs of engineering or IT, and so on. All of these different configurations run on the same platform and its underlying work graph, a database that maps the various components and their relationships. This versatility is a core part of the proposition, as Filev elaborates:

You can have one platform across 100,000 users, and those different teams and departments will run their own configuration, and those configurations would compete with the core solutions that they have. So for example ... we're replacing some very expensive core marketing solutions, like marketing resource management tools, digital asset management tools, with the generic platform that works equally well for other teams that have nothing to do with marketing. Similarly in program management ... PPM [and] PSA solutions that, again, are very specific, very powerful, built for those use cases — we're replacing them with our generic platform that is versatile and powerful enough for them to to be happy with it.

Then on top of that, they get this benefit of this being one platform for the whole company, very modern, great UX, great collaboration capabilities, integration with hundreds of tools, and all the other good things ... The marketing team can sit in the same account as an engineering team, and you can at-mention an engineer who can then look at the same item and can integrate the same item in her workflows.

Land and expand

The success of this approach is reflected in numbers such as an average Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) of $10,000 per customer, which Filex says is "between 2x and 5x" the ARR recorded by competitors such as Monday and Smartsheet, while at the higher end he says Wrike has displaced Workfront (now owned by Adobe) in deals up to seven figures. Accounts generating more than a quarter-million dollars in ARR grew by 55% last year. But as is typical in the digital teamwork space, most accounts start small, with one or two teams adopting the product for specific use cases before adoption then spreads to other teams.

This week's new offering aims to accelerate that land-and-expand motion. The new Service Management solution template is designed to be used by any enterprise function that provides help or assistance to others in the organization, including finance, IT and HR. To extend its reach, Wrike also released a new capability to correspond with non-Wrike users via email from within the platform. The Service Management template includes a ready-made request and service management process, dashboards to monitor task progress, tracked incidents and service requests, and the ability to create a self-service knowledge base.

The new template supports Wrike's recently introduced custom item types, which allows teams to configure their own work item types — for example, marketing teams can set up campaigns, assets, and creative briefs, while agile teams can create user stories, epics, and releases, as well as structuring all work in sprints. This extends the flexibility with which business teams can configure templates without any coding or the need for IT support. Filev comments:

The market is opening up to early majority and late majority, so the entry bar needs to be even lower. We're working on initiatives that will make sure that any team, anywhere, can jump on the platform.

At that entry level, it's very hard to differentiate, because users don't need much. But at least what we can offer to them is that, Hey, they've got a very simple upgrade path to the most powerful and the most versatile product, as opposed to being stuck with their entry level platform, where suddenly they need to expand to a different team in their company, or their company starts to grow.

A single platform also makes it simpler to connect people to all the various systems and data sources they need to work with across the organization. This is where digital teamwork needs to go next, believes Filev. He explains:

Where I feel is the next trend here is to make it simple for users to bring together, in one workflow, human actions and machine actions ... It's not just, hey, let's connect the systems, or, let's connect people. It's, hey, can we actually, in one workflow, bring humans and different systems together and orchestrate all of that towards outcomes — and give the visibility of the progress, both on an individual track and then, if you're running a large business, you not only care about the singular thread, you care about 1000s of those.

Being part of Citrix is making it easier to get in front of large enterprise prospects and close complex deals, but so far Wrike has been left to continue developing its platform and go-to-market. Filev comments:

[It's a] good vision, good partnership, but we're mostly operating autonomously right now, focusing on growth and market.

My take

At the core of our concept of the Collaborative Canvas is the belief that all work in an enterprise needs to be anchored in a shared digital fabric that takes care of the necessary connections to enable truly frictionless communication and task completion. In large organizations, this connected architecture is inevitably made up of multiple components that cater for the variety of teamwork patterns that different types of work require, but there's still a need for some kind of unifying layer that links all the work together and provides an overview of what's going on. Wrike clearly has ambitions to fulfil this role and seems to have built out a strong offering with many of the necessary elements. We should keep in closer contact from now on.

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