The Silicon Review
“Kiwi transforms Google Workspace into a multi-windowed desktop application that brings it closer to Microsoft’s traditional Office suite, and adds many powerful features.”
Zive Inc is the productivity software company behind desktop productivity applications Kiwi for Gmail and Kiwi for G Suite (soon to be Kiwi for Workspace). It is devoted to using humanized design to create software that is beautiful, seamless, and simple. The company is led by a team experienced with raising over $14M in venture funding and creating consumer electronics that have been featured internationally in the Apple Store and Best Buy.
The company was established in 2013 and is based in New York, NY.
Eric Shashoua, Zive Inc Founder and CEO, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.
Q. What was the motivation behind Kiwi for Gmail?
When developing Kiwi, my goal was to create a product that would make a real difference in people’s lives. I quickly identified Google’s Gmail and G Suite (recently rebranded to Google Workspace) as applications where design could dramatically improve usability for millions of users. It took more than two years to build Kiwi from the ground up and deliver a desktop app which is faster, easier to use, and loaded with more powerful productivity features than are possible with Gmail and G Suite in the browser.
In short, what we’ve done is create a desktop app for Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Sheets and Slides that turns them into a set of desktop applications. They exist outside the browser, have innovative features, and also are more akin to the ease of using Microsoft Office applications rather than web pages.
I think we’ve accomplished our original goal. Kiwi is now seeing organic enterprise adoption across hundreds of Google’s biggest enterprise clients, and has consumer users across 120 countries. We do most of our complex work on the desktop. When users shift from using Google Workspace (G Suite) in the browser to using it inside Kiwi, they quickly become much more intense users of all of Google’s Workspace apps -- using things like Docs, Sheets, and Slides 74% more, using Google Drive a full 140% more, and using things like Cloud Search and Contacts more by whole orders of magnitude. So, I think we’ve made an impact.
The context here is that Gmail is an extremely popular email service with more than 1.8 billion users worldwide. Businesses have been rapidly adopting Gmail and, more recently, Google Workspace (G Suite) — which includes apps such as Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Calendar, and Meet. More than five million paying businesses now use these applications. A big driver of that adoption is working more collaboratively and increasing productivity.
That said, what we’ve learned from IT leaders at companies that use Kiwi is that they often run into significant challenges when transitioning to Google Workspace. While the collaboration benefits of cloud-based apps are clear, a main drawback continues to be that people can only use them in the web browser, which is getting increasingly cumbersome as these apps grow steadily more complex. This also limits what you can do to simplify that UI.
Q. How does Kiwi fit into the broader picture of this space?
The browser was really never meant to serve as a UI for multiple complex cloud-based content-creation applications. It’s now been 15 years since things started moving to the cloud. Applications that were once simple like Gmail, Sheets, and even CRM tools are now exponentially more complex, and that complexity’s only increasing. The browser was built for content consumption, and I believe that the limitations of building powerful UI inside of it are holding things like Workspace back. It’s really putting one complex application inside another complex application, which is the browser. The browser’s UI can’t be specialized towards any particular application before it becomes bad at being a general purpose tool.
Even if that weren’t the case from a design standpoint, there are less obvious challenges. There are problematic legal implications of being Microsoft or Google and developing too much special functionality for Office or Gmail that only works in your company’s browser. You can do some of it by being inclusive, and we’ve planned for that, but you can’t go as far as we have or to the full depth of what’s on our roadmap.
Either way, the result is a frustrated workflow. The problem is getting worse every year as these applications get more powerful.
We saw an opportunity to make a real difference here, and wanted to dive in to be a part of Workspace’s story. We strongly believe Google’s office suite isn’t just productivity software, and it’s changing the world in a profoundly important way. You have to realize that a huge part of all economic, academic, medical, and scientific activity is done in large part literally using these tools. Google’s suite is disrupting a space that has been bestrode by a single colossus in the form of Microsoft Office, which has ignited an innovation race that’s making both suites better for users. If you think about it, few companies other than Google could have pulled that off.
On the enterprise side, in our experience one of the difficult parts of rolling out Google’s platform is encouraging widespread adoption and onboarding of new users. Instead of embracing the new apps, employees often prefer to continue using more intuitive and familiar alternatives rather than the less familiar experience of Workspace in the browser. We ease that transition, facilitate the rollout, and what we see is that users find more satisfaction with their new applications.
Even long after rollout, one statistic we’re very proud of is nearly half of our Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 users say Kiwi saves them more than 1 hour -- daily -- over using native Workspace in the browser.
Q. Explain your services in brief.
Kiwi for Gmail and the enterprise version, Kiwi for G Suite, are desktop applications that help overcome the limitations and frustrations of using Gmail and Google Workspace in the web browser, and then go further to make them more powerful. Kiwi transforms them by allowing them to be accessed in a multi-windowed environment that looks and feels like a robust desktop application, not unlike Microsoft Office. Separate from the browser, they can exist on their own, as independent applications that are completely integrated with your desktop OS and file system.
That on its own makes it much easier to multitask in Workspace. Kiwi then further enhances the user’s multitasking workflow with unique features like “workspace restore”, which restores all the user’s windows, documents, and even folders they had open when restarting, and a powerful recent documents interface that helps you find and get back to what you were working on.
We’ve architected our application around multiple Gmail / Workspace accounts, isolating them from everything in your browser, and always immediately available as soon as you launch the application. Notifications for things like new email are integrated with Windows or MacOS and enhanced, so you can turn them on or off for particular accounts, only get notified for important messages, get calendar notifications when calendars aren’t open -- another limitation in the browser.
Most powerful are some of the things that make it easier to navigate Workspace, like Cloud Search, which opens a pane that lets you search through everything across all your Drive files, documents, emails, and contacts instantly rather than opening apps or digging through folders. We also have features like the Focus Filtered Inbox, which gives the user a unique, noise-filtered inbox experience that can be adjusted on the fly.
Again, I’ll cite the heavily increased use of all of Workspace in Kiwi which I mentioned earlier. Those results demonstrate that Kiwi can help companies achieve dramatically better adoption of Google Workspace among employees by delivering a more familiar and user-friendly experience when compared to using these same apps in the browser. We’re adding functionality all the time, and what’s been satisfying is that those numbers have kept going up.
This approach more closely aligns the Google Workspace user experience with the way a lot of employees like to work, solving one of the biggest challenges for enterprises transitioning to Google Workspace, and making those employees more productive after the transition. In the process, Kiwi helps companies achieve more successful rollouts while decreasing IT effort, reducing dependency on other apps and improving their overall ROI.
Q. As time goes on developers not only deal with changing technology, but with ever-changing requirements. How do you manage to stay updated and relevant?
Product functionality and the underlying technologies that drive them will continue to evolve. The key driver of Zive’s success is to use design to improve people’s user experiences and make the applications they rely on as intuitive and easy to use as possible.
We understand that design can be used as a key differentiator to make technology products indispensable. Along with my team, I constantly strive to listen to users and anticipate their needs before they’re even able to articulate them -- we’re applying a Korean concept called “nunchi” there, only here we’re using it for product development. We then put our solutions in front of them, and then develop those into products that are both elegant and intuitive. Zive pays attention to each and every detail of its applications and believes that it’s these small things that aggregate up into a great user experience, which ultimately drives user engagement.
Underpinning everything we do are two pillars—speed and multitasking—which not only provide value to users but also help companies change the way their people work and make their business more productive.
By constantly innovating, Zive strives to demonstrate the uniqueness of what it does and stay ahead of the traditional service providers.
Q. What does the future hold for Zive Inc and its customers? Are exciting things on the way?
Zive plans to build on Kiwi’s success by continuing to use the power of design to develop even more features that enhance the functionality of Gmail and other individual G Suite applications. We’ve had a lot of success with this, and each new development has increased users’ productivity and time savings in a direct and measurable way.
As the recent shift to remote work demonstrates, the adoption of cloud-based software is only going to accelerate with more and more people relying on cloud-based SaaS apps. These apps will continue to add more complex features and functionality and users will continue to encounter frustrations using these services in the browser.
In addition, Google will continue to improve Gmail and Google Workspace to close key gaps between them and their Microsoft Office counterparts, while also adding powerful differentiation. Zive will develop features that extend the functionality of these apps and make them easier for both individuals and enterprises to use and adopt.
Going forward the Zive team will focus on delivering products that are not only affordable but also provide better security and a rich, more powerful user experience.
The Leader at the Helm of Zive Inc
Eric Shashoua, Founder, serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Zive Inc. He is a serial entrepreneur who has a devotion to humanized design that is beautiful, seamless, and simple. This dedication is reflected in every aspect of Zive’s products. He recognizes the power of design to make products more useful.
He previously led Zeo, Inc, where he raised $14M in VC funding and launched the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach application in the US and Europe. Eric’s management philosophy was strongly influenced by the CEOs of Bose and iRobot who were members of Zeo’s board. Their focus on product design and performance inspired Eric and instilled a design-driven approach that guides Zive’s mission of creating humanized products that are both beautiful and simple to use.