Building the future of work

I often get asked, “Why on earth would you do another startup – are you insane?” It is a perfectly rational question. Before starting Sapho, I was the Chief Strategy Officer of CBS’ Interactive group doing a job I relished, working with some of my favorite people in the world, and enjoying a fridge in my office that never ran out of diet peach Snapple. I wasn’t some naïve 23-year-old bro looking to launch a startup because “starting your own business” is the new “starting your own rock band.” As an old dog, I understand the realities of starting a new company. Having started four venture-backed startups over my career, I’m all too familiar with the soul-crushing grind and misery that comes with trying to forge value out of ether. That being said, a few times in life you get lucky enough to see an opportunity before others, an opportunity that can be transformative if it works. Building the future of work at Sapho is just such an opportunity and that is why I’m here.  

Before CBS, I spent seven years working as a venture capitalist at Redpoint Ventures. As a VC, you get to lose money learning lessons that (hopefully!) make you a smarter investor. Among the top lessons that I learned was the idea that, if you’re going to invest in a company, you need to believe at your core that if the thesis and execution works the business will change the way people do things. At CBS, I spanned every line of business in the organization, which gave me a unique view into how miserable enterprise software made nearly every person in the company. People went out of their way to not use these systems of record. It’s as if they were designed to keep people from using them. And it wasn’t just the legacy or homegrown systems, a lot of celebrated SaaS software was just as bad!

It was clear to my co-founder and CTO Peter and me, the CIO/CTO at CBSi at the time, that there had to be a better way. It didn’t make sense that we were spending millions of dollars as an organization, and that the market in general was spending trillions, on enterprise technology that simply did not deliver increased productivity. We believed that there was a path to change the way people do things at work, so we decided to invest our most precious asset, our time, into building that path.

So what was this better way?

For more than 15 years, people have deluded themselves into thinking that radical change has been taking place in enterprise software. First, it was converting all of the old client-server software systems like Siebel and PeopleSoft into SaaS software like Salesforce and Workday. Wow! End users got to use the exact same software package they used 20 years ago but delivered through a web browser. Game changing. If you don’t believe me, go and look at a screenshot of Siebel Systems in 1999 and Salesforce today. The real innovation in SaaS was for the vendor, not for the end user. Next was the “consumerization of IT,” a wondrous phase of innovation that involved web 2.0 style buttons and form fields on the same crappy software we’ve been working on for the last 30 years. The reality of enterprise software is that it hasn’t fundamentally changed in decades – the workflows are the same and they are “pull” based. Whether I was using ACT! in 1987 or Namely today, I still have to think about what I want, remember where it is, log in with some credential and then navigate through a bloated piece of software where I only use 5 percent of the features available to pull what I need out. We believe a better way has finally arrived that inverts these workflows and creates a whole new way to work. We call it push computing.

When you use something like Google Now, or Siri, or even Facebook, you immediately understand the power of push computing. Systems in the background push data to you without you even asking for it. Push flips decade-old workflows – instead of thinking about what you need, remembering where it is, logging in and navigating, an event is recognized in a system of record, data is pushed to you and you act on it. Push computing takes much of the cognitive burden off the end user, allowing them  to spend less time being a detective trying to assemble data points and tasks from 20+ systems and more time looking at the big picture and making informed decisions. Sapho is bringing push computing to the enterprise.

The push paradigm fundamentally changes the way people interface with their software at work and I believe it unleashes the dreams that the founding fathers of software like JCR Licklider’s “Man-Computer Symbiosis” and Doug Engelbart’s “Augmenting Human Intellect.” With Sapho, enterprise software becomes more than a search/list/detail CRUD-focused database application that you can find on the green screen at the Jiffy Lube. It becomes an enabler of greatness that helps me do my job better. Instead of a world where people are overwhelmed tracking events in more than 20 systems of record, we can move to a world where events that require your attention come to you.

At CBSi, we spent our days looking for ways to steal 30 seconds of your attention so we could make your day better and more fun. At Sapho, we are spending our days trying to give you three hours of your day spent chasing down information and data back. That is why I’m doing another startup.


Take a look at what we believe the future of work will look like:

Fouad ElNaggar is the Founder & CEO of Sapho. Previously, he was the Chief Strategy Officer at CBS Interactive overseeing strategy, operations, partnerships, and M&A. Prior to CBSi, Fouad was at Redpoint Ventures and has previously founded three companies.

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