Building a Project Management SaaS App

In this podcast, we have invited Chris LaFerla, the Founder & CEO of Tatem, a B2B software company redesigning how work gets done. Tatem’s first product is the simplest project management platform on the planet. And it’s not just simple, it’s radically different; it’s designed to help teams love their work. Though Tatem's journey began mere months ago in 2022, the business has already raised a $2.5M Seed Round, garnered an impressive roster of investors such as Caffeinated Capital, Signia Venture Partners, and The House Fund, and is empowering a growing number of teams. Chris started his career as an investment banker at Barclays covering internet and software. He holds a B.S. from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, where he studied as a Regents' and Chancellor's Scholar. For this podcast, we are going to explore with Chris what it takes to create, design and build a project management SaaS application. He discusses his design concept for the platform, and why Tatem is different from all the other Task and Project Management platforms, and what are the product management features he would like to see in the future. To catch up with all our Podcasts, please go to

Dave Erickson, Chris LaFerla, Botond Seres

Dave Erickson 00:32
Welcome to this month's ScreamingBox technology and business rundown podcast. I'm your host, Dave Erickson along with my co-host, Botond Seres. For this month's podcast, we've invited Chris LaFerla, the founder and CEO of Tatum, a B2B software company redesigning how work gets done. Tatum's first product was one of the simplest project management platforms on the planet and has a radically different approach to project and task management. Chris started his career as an investment banker at Barclays covering internet and software. Prior to Tatum, Chris co-founded his first company, an online marketplace for interior designers, and was an early employee of Fair working on strategy and finance. Today, we're going to talk about project and task management strategies and techniques, and how to apply them to real world business solutions. So Chris, welcome. Is there anything you'd like to add to your mind at all?

Chris LaFerla 01:29
Just thank you for having me. I appreciate the intro and thank you for asking me to be on the podcast.

Dave Erickson 01:35
All righty. Well, I guess the first obvious question is Tatum; what influenced you or what motivated you? Most business ideas, good ones usually come from the fact that you're trying to do something and there isn't a current solution that is good; and so you create one. Is that kind of what you did with Tatum? Or did it come from a different idea?

Chris LaFerla 02:01
Yeah, absolutely. So after leaving Fair, remember that I started my career in finance. so, no like, formal product management experience. I didn't even know what a task management platform really was outside of trying to pitch, to represent them from investment banking on IPOs for like Asana back in the day. But when I went to Fair, I first got exposure to them seeing how, kind of the product team work, worked on some product features there. Then when I started my own company, right, it was kind of trial by fire, of course, I started leaning into a very product heavy role. And it was there that we used Asana. I experimented, I tried Trello, JIRA, kind of, all the main players in that space. And then we were using those for our traditional engineering, task management, project management issues, tracking bugs, etc. But we were also, I was also the CEO of that company, called companion and I would do all of our legal accounting ops hiring, you know, basically, myself, a lot of those hiring obviously, we did with my co founders. But it was through that experience that I realized how much I hated the especially operations role, like tasks like managing hiring an individual was so manual, I had to print out the offer letter, you know, go into Microsoft Word, edit it, send it out to them via DocuSign, then I'd have to do the same thing with a CI a agreement, confidential information, IP assignment agreement, and then IP tech assignment agreement and all these different things. And I thought there has to be a better way, especially for these ops flows. And so that's what Tatum was when we started out was how a compliance management platform that manages especially all these back office and ops and marketing and finance all these teams that don't use task management platforms right now, how could you make their lives better. And as it evolved, we started to see teams like our UX and UI so much were very designed different teams and how we thought about simplicity and radical simplicity and building this product that they were using it. Yes, for those but also for general task management for their engineering for their product, building software, building consumer products, whatever it might be. And so we took a step back and said, actually, let's go to base platform and let's see, let users do kind, of whatever they want. So that's kind of the story of how Tatum started.

Dave Erickson 04:08
When you started Tatum, you know, you had kind of a kernel of an idea. How did you take that kind of kernel of an idea and actually turn it into the initial MVP and platform?

Chris LaFerla 04:21
Yeah,I definitely had the idea of, okay, what would it look like for an operating system for ops, essentially, right. And at the base of that was a task management platform. So I then looked in, of course, looked at the other products that I'd used, but I truly didn't love any of those either, right? Like the Asana, the Trello, the JIRA etc. I think they're great Monday Basecamp. But I think that they were for me, and for our team, a little too complex like for, again, coming from someone who had never used one, coming from a finance career and had used in finance, the way that people manage tasks is essentially Inbox, Zero and Outlook right. We had very limited tools that we were allowed to use. So like, you got emails, that email essentially, it was a to-do. You, and you worked on that email, and then you didn't archive it until you were done. And that's how investment banking management, consulting, private equity law, to my understanding, like all of those careers are like 30 years behind in terms of how they're managing, kind of, tasks and projects. And so I love the initial exposure to project management platforms, but I thought they should be like, so intuitive. My mom, who is not very tech savvy, is in her 50s. She should be able to like, immediately come onto one of these platforms, and just understand how it works, create tasks that should be able to help anyone, and I don't think any of them were that simple. And a lot of them also felt, you know, like they were designed 10-20 years ago, because a lot of them were designed 10-20 years ago, and they've been iterated and are doing great. But I thought we could build a better base version. So I started out with, okay, how could I reinvent just the process of just tasks, right, like managing tasks? And obviously, you're gonna need projects, and how does that work, and that's where we started. And then we went to the next set of, how are we going to design out how these automated workflows, we call them template tasks, they're not even released yet. It won't even be public for a couple more months, because they're pretty complex for the automated workflows. Then we started thinking about, well, I would love to see metrics, our team would love to see metrics. That doesn't exist on any other platforms, how can we, how can we create metrics that matter? So it really started with just the base and like, me drawing it out on like, I carry around a sketchpad, like an artist Sketchpad everywhere I go, and I literally, like draw everything. I'm not a product designer by trade, either. But then I usually put them into figma. And then, depending on the stage of Tatum, I either designed for myself, in the early days, we had a contractor designer in the early days, when it was, Taylor, she was awesome, she helped in the early days. And then now we have Thomas, who is an incredible product designer, he's very young, but very talented. And he obviously now kind of takes my ideas and translates them and now comes up with his own ideas too.

Dave Erickson 06:49
For us, we're agnostic to the product management platforms, our clients usually use one and then they say we use mostly it's, you know, JIRA, or Trello, or something like that. So, and, our developers, you know, like Botond has a fairly wide experience using them, but we tend to use them really for development processes. And I definitely would love, we use Trello for some of our operations and marketing. We use Notion a little bit, but we use them in very limited simple ways to help facilitate this task management. And I think for a lot of people who are in the operation side of a business, yeah, there definitely needs to be something really simple because, you know, nobody has time to learn, you know, JIRA to basically do some basic, you know, marketing functions or something. I don't know, both on, on the developer side, can you talk a little bit about your experiences with these project management platforms? And I'm sure you have at least one or two feelings about various ones. So I'd be kind of curious what your experiences with them are.

Botond Seres 08:08
You can bet on that Dave. I mean, sort of the developer side of things, I kind of experienced all of the big ones like Trello, JIRA and now the up and coming. What, what is the exact name of Microsoft's? It's something like, I can't remember, Azure DevOps. Yep, that's the one. So basically, all of them do the same thing. Right? We have tasks and we can log hours on the task. And of course, you can have estimations linked to other tasks, epics, I don't know, whatever you want, basically, bug reports and you can have documents. But they all do it just differently enough that you can switch from one platform to the other easily. So all of them for some reason, are… seem to be built for someone who is essentially a secretary to the developer. So none of these platforms are built to be used by the devs themselves. At least that's the feeling that I get when I use any of these platforms. There will be, it's like, every single developer in the office, right has their own secretary who just deals with this platform. That's completely unrealistic. At least that's what I think. I think, I believe, Chris, you had similar feelings when you started working with these platforms that they just think…

Chris LaFerla 09:37
Very similar.

Botond Seres 09:39
Yeah, it's crazy.

Dave Erickson 09:42
So it seems it takes a lot of time just to even use the platform, right?

Chris LaFerla 09:47
And then if you're, you're new to those platforms, I think it takes a lot of time to just get caught up, right. Like, if you if you know how to use JIRA, then the process of learning Asana, yes, but if you're brand new to them, in which every year, you know, hundreds of 1000s of college grads and people switching jobs from roles that didn't use them to them are, it is not a log into, you know, one of those platforms and create your first task. It's like, let's have an onboarding session for a couple hours and explain to you how this works and then we're gonna go from there. And I didn't think that should be the case.

Botond Seres 10:19
I was just gonna say that I totally agree with that sentiment. And I think it's great that somebody's finally not trying to offer an even more complicated solution to test management, like, SAP, for example, that's a great one, it has that, it has management for everything from the no electricity costs, to tasks, to ops, to engineering, to HR, whatever you want. But everything is designed to fit every scenario. And it gets inherently insanely complex.

Dave Erickson 10:52
Why are our metrics not in a lot of the product management tasks management software? And why do you think that there's, so yeah, I think, what kind of metrics are, do you think are relevant to tasks and project manager?

Chris LaFerla 11:07
Yeah, I think it's really hard. So again, I don't want to say any of these platforms, I think they're all great. And I think it's a ton of work, any founder building anything, I have, like the utmost respect. It's so hard to take an idea as we're talking about drawing on a napkin, or however all these products started and then you go design it, you build it, you listen to 1000s of people tell you, it's never gonna work, no one's gonna do that and you push through that for years and years and years. And then, you have a successful business, People forget that, you know, these products were not launched. The founders of Atlassian, I'm sure, did not like, come up with the product and every team in the world just started using it. It takes 10s of years to build these types of businesses. And to that point, metrics are really hard to get right, right? Because you're trying to tell the, the team, how can we make you more efficient? How can we first, the first layer of any metric coming from my finance background is you can't manage what you don't measure. So if you're not seeing how long a task has taken you to complete or how long it's taking each person who's been assigned it, or what the blockers are, you can't actually improve those. So right now, I think there's a huge opportunity just to do that, which Tatum is. I think we're working very hard on these coming features. Again, none of these are live yet, but in the coming months. And so that's one and then two is, it's even, you need to be specific with them to then make those metrics matter even more, you need to be able to take and say, not just oh, this task took 10 hours to complete. Well, that's not very relevant. But like, if you said, Well, this task is an engineering task, it took 10 hours to complete, here's the assignees that were on this task. Here's how long it took each person. And here's maybe using AI or just eventually building features around this. Here's where the blocker was like, here's where like, one person like, was assigned to it for like 14 hours. And like, why was that and like giving those types of analytics and metrics back to the teams in really, again, simple ways, because auto platforms, you can get this and they can download automated reports, and you have a huge Excel spreadsheet and things like that. But that's not the same as you know, KPIs that quickly flashed to the teams and to the employees themselves. The team members themselves, they need to be able to see and understand these really intuitively, because they're the ones who we're going to try to work to improve their behavior through showing them positive metrics and saying, Hey, this, you did a really great job here like this, you're doing better than the team on average, and these areas. So I think that's kind of how I think about it, in terms of breaking down every single detail, and then listening to users, because we're experimenting ourselves and trying to figure out what matters the most of, okay, how, how are we able to quantitatively improve the output and efficiency of a team?

Dave Erickson 13:37
So Botond, if you were running a bunch of developers to develop something, what kind of metrics would you want to see for task management? I mean, what do you think's important for developers as a, as a metric? Because I think Chris brought up a very important point. They don't have a lot of metrics, but some of the metrics are really kind of hard to figure out. What do you think, you know, for the development team?

Botond Seres 14:02
That's a tough one. So metrics and developments I do take quite a strong stance, saying that most of the metrics we use today are just useless. Yeah, they seem terrible. Like some companies seem to use metrics like lines of codes per day. Like, what, why or whatever, that’s literally useless but some of the metrics he uses like Borchers are definitely something I would love to look at. And they could be really, really useful to have. At least in the list, you have to go through like, these were the problem points, let's say and the developments on or solving this task, so that later on we can go back and see why this task took so long, and why spend so much time energy and money to develop this piece of software, which inherently is going to be wrong in a month's time, because that's how development works. And then we can then improve the process of querying the, either the product owner or the client, right. So then you can improve the process of essentially reviewing the task before it is assigned to anyone. I think that's the biggest thing we, as a collective of developers, we need to improve is accountability. And the way we can get to that is by having clear cut requirements, and clear cut goals. And any kind of metric that seeks to improve that, that could be great. So all the metrics, I love to introduce, have acceptance conditions. So the number of acceptance conditions for, for a given task, right, because one pass may have just one, you know, maybe this PC turned on, that's an easy ops task, or restart the server or put an extra stick of RAM and whatever. But then, front end dev may have like 20 conditions, and we're seeing your task, like this button has to fit next to that button, and also has to be under this paragraph of text. But it has to fit on the small screen as well as on the large screen. So I think that could be an awesome metric. But that's, that's coming from my limited experience.

Chris LaFerla 16:43
I agree. Because I think that's where it comes in, the difficulty and that's why I don't think we've seen that yet. Really, success here, from any of them, is you have to thread the needle of like, what's, what's possible from the data that the task management project management platform has, because you don't want to, what you definitely don't want to do in my opinion is like, ask the devs to like, put information in because then you're just going back to what was the number one problem, which is this should be super simple. This platform should be like Slack, it should be like you click into a task, you add a description, add a task, what is it to do, doing done, just like Tatum works, off to the races, you're actually doing the work. But at the same time, you want to provide meaningful metrics; you don't want to say you completed 138 tasks today, like that doesn't, well what was the task, send an email, like draft email, like review email, were those three separate tasks or was each task you know, develop a new front end of the button that we use across every page of our 150 marketing pages on, you know, on our web app. So you need to, you need to, provide meaningful metrics, but also meaningful metrics with the limited data that these task management platforms have, which is sort of agnostic of what the task is. And so I think that's the challenge and I think that's what we're kind of discussing a lot and thinking about internally, and I know I think about this a lot is, how can I show things like blockers, which I can probably do that based on inferring, like, oh, it was assigned to Botond for an hour, assigned to me for an hour, and then assigned to this guy, John, for 40 hours, like something went wrong when it was assigned to John for 40 hours, even just like highlighting that if you're doing 100 tasks a week, or 1000, if you're a bigger team, those are helpful. So starting with things like that, and then building of like, okay, and now we have you know, who held the task the longest this is gonna be helpful,. Who, how fast is a person even replying to comments on a task that just shows engagement into the task manager platform? That's helpful, because a lot of these platforms again, the devs hate them, the PMs hate them, like I'm the PM essentially, I hate using them. So it's like, I'm not really super engaged. And sometimes I'm like, like, if I'm using another platform… so, how can you show that your team is organized in things like that? So that's where we're starting anyway.

Botond Seres 18:54
Chris, I really don't mean to interrupt you or anything, but I, I feel like for the benefit of our listeners, we should point out that seeing who the task was assigned to, and how long is still not a feature of many of these big name task management platforms. That's why I mention it, and that's yeah, I'm really, yeah, it's crazy. Like, you just see that they, somebody worked on this task for 40 hours, it has been assigned to five people for how long? Nobody knows. That's…

Chris LaFerla 19:26
And those metrics, again, are buried in reports. They should be, I don't know if you guys play video games, but they should be like in Overwatch where I can quickly or Call of Duty or Halo, right? Those, those in other industries, video games have done an incredible job of showing meaningful metrics that they collect naturally, and showing them back to the user and be like, okay, I played this game for 27 days worth of hours over the past two years; probably I'm playing way too much video games from that metric. I played 30 games and over those games, here's my trend to performance. So that's where a lot of my inspiration comes from. A lot is to Botond’s point is like, I think they lag hugely from like, what's capable of these things that you would imagine are collected, are not even collected. And if they are collected, they're shown in a way that no one is using them. They need to be, like fun to like, look at my metrics, you need to gamify them in a way that you want the devs, the PM, the teams, the managers going, Hey, let's go to the metrics page and it feels intuitive. And again, my mom should be able to go in and be like, Oh, Chris, I understand what these mean, not looks like there were 36 blockers on if you download this report, we're going to show you the minute by minute breakdown of who held the task, and then you can make your own analytical decisions from that, you know, we're not trying to provide this to private equity analysts or data scientists.

Dave Erickson 20:44
People have slightly different, you know, needs. So, example, for business owners or for myself, I'm really focused on, you know, efficiency. Right. So I want to know, from the development team, what's the velocity? Are we moving fast enough? You know, the project managers are probably looking at okay, is, is the development moving in such a way that we meet the milestones and that things are getting done and, and that way, and they need to see it quickly, right, and they need to see it in a way that's easy to access. Yeah, I think having someone dig through reports is never a good solution. And, you know, I was in the e-sports industry for almost 15 years. So I totally get the metrics thing. I mean, gamers were obsessing, I, only making, I was making only seven kills per minute, I need to up that to 10 kills per minute.

Chris LaFerla 21:38
Why is my kill, death ratio only point nine here on these maps? Is that because of my methodology? There's a obsession in gaming around like analyzing what are actually incredibly simple metrics, but using those, and I think that I hope in five years time, you know, people, our teams around the world are using Tatum to do similar things to that, where it's like, Oh, look how, how efficient we are, because our tasks on average, with this difficulty, in this engineering, they're taking us two hours, they used to be taking us three and a half hours and here's why. So I think that's very exciting and kind of a big milestone. And I think how Tatum can really help increase efficiency, productivity, and make work fun, which is kind of like one of our taglines because of the design and the aesthetic and the simplicity for, for really, employees everywhere.

Dave Erickson 22:24
You know, one of the aspects of project management and task management, and I need, I need task management, I have so many different tasks I have to do. My task management is usually a pad of paper, and I'm writing down all the different things I need to do. And you know, it's quicker and easier to do that than to load up a program and type it in. Right? You know, but the problem is, nobody can read my my notes. And it's just for me, and I have to eventually get them in. So I usually have to go back and load them into Trello, or notion or whatever. One of the things I've noticed in a lot of these is a bunch of tasks are or I wouldn't say repetitive, but are similar in nature. Can you give me your thoughts a little bit on the role that AI might have in task management and project management? And if you're going to implement AI, what would be, kind of the things you would be looking to use AI to do in project management or task management?

Chris LaFerla 23:26
Yeah, so it's gonna go right back to metrics for the first part of that is eventually how can you start to train based on the data being collected, that then you can be more intelligent? In the beginning, it's definitely going to start for Tatum anyway, as here's just a very actionable log of here's an understanding of how long tasks are taking, how long team members take to view a task, etc. But then how can you eventually have AI that can say, actually, Chris on your team is a little bit less efficient, like overall, based on these outputs? You know, maybe he's not doing a phenomenal job, maybe you need to talk to him because we can predict or see what the causation is there. I think that's incredibly meaningful. I think before even AI just in terms of automation, again, there's a long way to go have like our automated workflows for anything from setting up a one on one building a roadmap, again, templates in these other task management platforms, they mean how do you want to set up your board because there's so much complexity in these products? Do you want to use your board this way because that's going to be you're gonna need to customize it completely different than if you want to use it this way? At Tatum, there is inherent simplicity in the way the product works. So our templates are actually, do you want to set up a performance review and it like automates that sends out calendar invite to person you know person now has recurring calendar invite you have the agenda set, just things like that in automation and then eventually like an hour talking for Tatum, I you know, I haven't even thought of this. So this is way down the road but I'm It'd be amazing if you could have aI just Complete a lot of those, right where it's like, oh, we noticed that Chris has a busy schedule today. So we moved that task there, we noticed that Botond has way too much on his plate. So we redistributed his workflow, we actually split his workflow with this other, you know, member of the team who's also an engineer, and we had an empty plate. So, you know, there's limitless applications. So I hear a lot from VCs or, or CEOs even. And they're like, Well, why are you building project management, like, you know, of all the things you could be building, like, we have Monday, we have like Jira, we have Trello, and we have Basecamp, like the originator in this space. And it's like a, if you think of Basecamp, and then you had Jira, and then Trello, and then Asana and then I don't know if Monday was before, and then et cetera, you can see that actually, you're constantly having innovative players come and capture huge market space, and then be just think about in 20 years, in the future, do we think that every team in the world is still gonna be using JIRA to like manage your engineering, like, personally, I hope not. Like, I hope that there has been a radical like revolution of like, a product that teams actually love using where they're passionate, they're spending hours a day doing this, and it shouldn't, it shouldn't be a slog to do that should be a magical experience, you should look forward to the tools that use at work. And I think we're having that. I think slack started that revolution of like, wow, work software doesn't need to be my zoom, we used to use an investment making like Skype chat messenger, which was horrible. And it's like that was like, right, like an outlet, like these tools did not inspire joy. And now you have this idea of like, actually, Slack is fun, like, and slack makes our teams more efficient and I have fun doing it. How can you do that for task management? How can you do that for collaborative email? How can you do that, like, that's how I think about Tim's roadmap,

Dave Erickson 26:39
The automation of tasks is really, you know, I think is going to be, make, it's a real value add to any kind of project management, because especially if there's some AI that can kind of learn what you normally set up, and then kind of just take it over, because a lot of is pretty repetitive. The things that you do and the things that you set up and project management. I mean, even to the point where you can say starting a new mobile app development for native iOS, and the project management software, just set up a whole bunch of initial stuff that has to get done, that normally has to get done in every project, right and may assign it to different people, depending on who's on the team. And there's a lot of opportunity to increase the productivity of workflows, if it's done right. And I think your philosophy of, it's a really tricky philosophy that you've chosen to keep it simple, but at the same time, add a real depth to what it's doing. And I think that some of the areas you're gonna find AI is going to have to be worked into that to me, yeah, happen.

Chris LaFerla 27:53
I wish I could share my screen. But to show you like, we focus, something we haven't even built like any of a lot of these features into production builds, because we've been so focused on just the base architecture, right? Like to accomplish any of this to your point, you need to first be super simple on just how task management works way more simple, 10x more simple than any other platform, it needs to be intuitive that if Dave, I sent you a link, you join, you're like, Oh, I immediately, I click my first task, I'm off to the races, I understand how this works. I have to do, doing, done. I can put in an archive, I can create a project, that's it. And then, then building with that same level of radical focus on simplicity, these complex features, right, that you're breaking down where it's you're taking metrics, and how can you make them 100 times simpler. You're taking, eventually automated workflows, eventually AI, how do you make those simple to the user? And it kind of always reminds me of that Mark Twain quote, I think it's Mark Twain, maybe Oliver, what that yeah, let's just say Mark Twain, where it's like, I didn't have the time to write you a short message. So I wrote you a long message. Like I do the same end product, which is like, it's really easy to build something super complex, and just shut that and be like, alright, like, we'll, we're going to do onboarding for $1,000, that we're going to try to use teams to teach them how to use our product, it's really hard to say, but how could we make it so simple, so simple, that you don't even need a sales team, you just like login, and you're off to the races, and it would work for anyone.

Dave Erickson 29:13
Now you're starting to get into a more design philosophy of software. A lot of software, I think, is designed inherently from the beginning to be too complex, because they're trying to do too much. And they're trying to add every bell and whistle that they could, thinking that, that the value of the product is how much it can do. And they're not focusing on the value of the product or how easy it is to do something. I mean, obviously development companies are more than happy to say hey, put as many features as you want. We'll build them all and will bill you for it.

Chris LaFerla 29:49
Add more features, this doesn't have enough features. Let's build that roadmap. Exactly. I think it was one of the heads of product at Adobe or a Chief Product Officer who is saying the cycle of any given industry is simple, product comes out. That is simple. Customers come to simple product, simple product needs to listen to the power users who are the ones paying for them and build all these types of features. And it loses what made it simple because they don't think they don't have the same focus on making those new features as radically simple as the core product. And then five years go by and simple product is no longer a simple product. It's a very complex product, new simple product comes in, and like the cycle just constantly repeats. And I think that's where you see most software companies. And then you see the great software companies who, let's say Apple, as you know, just the easiest example. They have been radically focused on actually constantly simplifying even existing features, and not being afraid of telling users Oh, actually, like we're redoing how that works. We're refocusing again, back to the basics, back to the basics, back to the basics. And a lot of people I think, give them you know, they get a little bit of shade, or, you know, people say, Oh, well, they're not like innovating as much, actually, it's really hard to just do what they're doing. Because it's, it's just everything works mentality. So I very much believe in those for like, designing software in general, and especially work based software, like cost management platforms.

Dave Erickson 31:19
Yeah, but I even see this philosophy in, like, websites, right? People try to put so much into a website, and they lose focus. What are you trying to get the user? What journey are you taking the user on? Right? What do you want the person visiting your website to do? And they're trying to do everything. And so the website becomes useless, because it's too complex and too hard. And they don't understand why they're not converting visitors and why, you know, they're getting all these issues related in usually, that is the complexity.

Chris LaFerla 31:50
Who would have known that if we have seven CTAs for our user to click on, and we have seven different journeys, they're not going to click any of them. You know, I mean, I totally agree with you. And I've seen this many times where it's like, the simpler, the better, especially in websites, and pretty much everything.

Dave Erickson 32:08
Yeah, well, I mean, Henry Ford kind of started the trend, you could buy a Model T in any color, that's black, right? He made it very simple. You just bought, there's only one, you buy it. And that's it. And the process was very simple. And it was great for starting and building a large business. Then later, everyone came in with different models and different colors. And then it became more complex. You know, Tesla kind of went back a little bit to that model. We have a car, we have an electric car, you know, you can order it in one or two ways and that's it and that's fine. Right? And I think that the product designers need to think about it. They also need to think about it in terms of task management and project management, Am I designing a product that is so complex, we're gonna need a huge project management system, that's going to be very complex to use to build it? Or are we designing a product, it's simple enough that we could use a very simple product management system and be really efficient, right? I'm sure in your own development of Tatum, you've experienced some of this as well. But, you know, I want to kind of go back to this, this question of, you know, what is that balance between simple and useful? Like, if you know, or maybe usable is a better word, right? You can make something really simple, but it's not very usable, because it's so narrow. How do you make something simple? That's very usable? Because it does the things that are needed? Can you talk a little bit about what that balance is? I'm sure you struggle with it when you guys are…

Chris LaFerla 33:54
We struggle with it all the time, because every time, every time you meet a new well, first off, in the, in the very beginning, I think you still need to have enough optionality and customization that there are certain platforms like Trello is a great example. Trello is the most simple platform, it's essentially just a to do like a scrum board, like a Kanban board, and then like sticky notes, and it's like, can't really get more simple than that. But as a result, it lacks some of the complexity that is needed. And they never really, like, worked to build that. And they did that by design. So I actually think Trello is like one of my favorite examples of existing task management software. But if you want to have the ability and optionality for a team to say, oh, it's as simple as Trello, but has the depth of a JIRA or has the depth of an Asana or the depth of Monday, it comes into thinking incredibly hard about every single individual feature, and then testing them with users over and over and over again, and many times taking months or not, doesn't need to be time but many cycles and many iterations on the individual feature. So something simple, was like comments, you know, there's comments and we're using Riverside, which I've never heard of before today to record this podcast and I see like a basic common thread. You think comments are very simple. It's an every modern product for collaboration today, but it's actually not right. How can you make it even simpler? Do I need to see the status log of like, the automated updates when the task was created in the comment thread or is that just noise? Should that be its own section and if it is, its own section how do you make it clear to the user that it is its own section? How do you make the process of just assigning a task, which is, you know, 1990s, like came out as that idea of like, how to assign it? How do you make that simpler? How do you make the process of creating a project really simple? And so it's not necessarily keeping the product without that depth or those extended features, it's about radically focusing on them so that you're not, okay, we built the base architecture. Now we need to add all these features, and like, we're just going to add them in, but actually taking the time, every time you design something, to take a look back and say like, what is that a really simple way to like, create and manage a task for him to do, doing, done, you know, and then archive it. And so for us, it came to proofing, like the day that Tatum was even barely, it was not usable, we started using it and radically use our own product for 1000s of hours already, and then listen to our own feedback, and then listen to customers feedback, and then parse out, okay, this user wants us to add new features. Actually, we don't listen to that a lot. Like sometimes we're like, no, like, we're not going to add those new features, maybe ever, and we're definitely not going to do it now. And that's hard, because you're like listening to a team who's like, I would use your product if you add these and then you're saying no, we're not going to add those, like, you're not maybe our ideal customer profile, or we don't have the time dedicated right now to make subtasks radically simple. So we're gonna hold off on that, and we'll come to it in the future maybe and I think that's, that's the needle that you have to thread as a product designer, as a product owner, product manager, founder, where you to keep your product in that simple state, and to keep it in a magical UX flow and to work towards that. You kind of have to sometimes thread the needle like, oh, actually, we're not going to build that, like saying no, is more important than saying, yes.

Dave Erickson 37:05
You know, some people are really good at making decisions and some people aren't. I mean, there are people I've watched it, where they're sitting in a parking lot for four minutes, trying to figure out which open parking spot they want to put their car in. Right? Whereas some people just drive into the parking lot, oh, there's an open spot parked there. Right. And it's kind of the same with, you know, the feature sets and, and project management. I mean, I struggle learning new platforms, because, you know, I'm trying to do so many different things, to learn a new platform, you know, they aren't intuitive, and how many different options, even my phone, right, I have a phone, I don't upgrade my phone very often, because the fact of the matter is, I'm using 5% of all the features on the phone, I use it make phone calls, I use it to read and make some text messages and I browse the internet with it. Any other features that are in the phone, I just don't use them. I don't have time to learn them. I don't, my life doesn't revolve around it. It's simpler to keep it really simple. I could use a very simple phone, and be perfectly happy with it. My wife knows every feature of the phone and uses it for everything. And I, you know, that's just not how I can do it. So everyone has differences and I think with project and task management, you kind of hit the nail on the head there on, you know, what is what you're doing, what, what's your focus, and I think the simplicity thing will make it easier to grow your user base, because people just don't have time to learn all these complex systems.

Chris LaFerla 38:36
Well, I'm hoping. I hope some of the listeners here try Tatum, I hope you try Tatum Dave.

Dave Erickson 38:41
Well, we will certainly get a try. And I'm sure that Botond will give it a try. And he has, he's a man of strong opinions. So I'm...

Chris LaFerla 38:50
Negative feedback is more helpful than positive feedback both times so send it across. Well, it looks cool.

Dave Erickson 38:57
I think that like you said, there's this cycle, simple, gets complex and then somebody new comes along with simple. And I think the concept is simple, it’s really important nowadays. And, you know, it's the problem that these other companies have is it's very hard to go backwards. Yeah. Right. Once you make a complex product, it's really hard...

Chris LaFerla 39:21
Because, and there and that's going back to I respect these companies so much, I'm confident that they could design incredible iterations, but now they have millions of paying users or hundreds of 1000s and they're not about to go switch the entire way that their product works, because they can't. And so you have to build that philosophy of constant reinvention in from day one, right, of being willing to be like, actually, we're going to like this product is going to change meaningfully as you use it, because I think you'll notice a lot of the software that you're using, like I think the Gmail examples are recent, a big one, and I think Gmail is an incredible product. I use Gmail, but like, it doesn't change often at all. And like they recently added a design change, really like rounded some of the edges, like changed some of the colors, and it was like huge news. Like none of that functionality changed at all, but like, just like design aesthetics, and then you have other products where, and again, going back to video games is a great example where if I log into, you know, World of Warcraft, which I don't, I don't play but let's use an example over the life of its development cycle and I wait three months between logins the game has like fundamentally shifted in those three months or some products where it's like if I skip to Mac OS iterations and then I update you know, from Mac OS whatever the three years ago one was to Ventura, I think was one of them. It's very different, like, generally experienced with my iPhone. So it really is like a product by product or company by company like, cultural philosophy on, on that

Dave Erickson 40:46
One question, why did you name Tatum, Tatum? I mean, does Tatum have a name meaning, or something.

Chris LaFerla 40:52
Rich Barton, the founder of Zillow, Expedia, I think Glassdoor co-founder of all of them or founder, he had a, he has a rule that is, always pick a name, that's two syllables, doesn't mean anything and then you can afford the domain and that's really Tatum, which I just kind of thought of it and it had a nice, like, sound and then when I Googled it, it was available. And it's, like, memorable. It's, it was still not cheap for that, because it's like a five letter domain. So it was like, a couple, you know, almost 10,000, 7000, I think. But it was still within the realm of like, I could afford to buy that which I did with my own money. Um, and that is kind of how the name stuck. I love the name though. Big fan.

Dave Erickson 41:37
Okay, Yeah, it's easy to spell. That's my main record.

Chris LaFerla 41:42
Your radio test is another one, which you definitely want. You know, if I see it, at least you could guess it. Maybe not the first guest. But the second guest, I think some people overplay that one, actually, because they're like, you know, well, it should be immediately able to be spelled but like sometimes if it's from seen it, that you know those right, like, if you think of even something like Microsoft, like well, maybe that if you had never seen that word written out, or I get that's a bad example, Microsoft is easy to say. But you get the idea where some of these, you're like, I wouldn't necessarily know how to spell that until you see it once and then it, like, clicks and you probably would have guessed it one or two tries on Google.

Dave Erickson 42:18
Sure, sure. In starting Tatum, now that you have a little bit of time, and you've gotten the product kind of out in the initial form, and then starting to get users and people using it, if you look back and say you know what was, what was one of the biggest lessons I learned in trying to bring this product to life? What do you think? What was one of the biggest lessons that you learned in bringing Tatum to life?

Chris LaFerla 42:44
I mean, still learning. We're very early, we only founded the company five months ago, but, or raised our seed round essentially.Constantly learning is just persistence. I think I learned a lot in my first startup of how to manage your money, which was radically frugal in the early days. As a startup, you only have limited capital raised. You need to last the years, don't listen to the, you only have 12 to 18, 24 months and hyper rush. It takes a long time to make this work and then that learning has come into Tatum. Two words is you know, it takes time for organic marketing efforts, like to yield anything. It takes time to build this product. It's not like okay, you thought of it and it's off to the races. It's, it's iterating it, to keep it simple. You're going back to some of the same features sometimes and redoing them again and again, and then on to the next one. And yes, we have a focus of speed and we're one of the fastest moving for our team size software companies I think in the world, but it's still just takes time to build products like these or build products in general and it takes time to acquire customers and to build features up to to your, expectations. Which we touched on it, there is a minimum of like before you have enough features, it is, no one was gonna switch to it. And then if you go too far, it's too complex or if you didn't think about those features, right? It's so there's, it takes a while to meet that gap in the market. And then you know, meet minimum customer demands like in Clayton Christensen's, The Innovator's Dilemma book, you know, it takes time for that, it takes time to, to learn what sales process or marketing process. So I think it's just about keeping costs really low, extending runway for a long time and just grinding Monday through Friday or Saturday, or however many days a week you work for years to kind of get it off the ground. And it takes sometimes two, three years before you really see traction, and giving yourself the time to make that happen. And I've been positively surprised when things go earlier and sooner than that. And you do get, you know, block swings your way.

Botond Seres 44:37
I mean, I think we've touched on most of the points that I want to discuss early on. It's been really enlightening. I think one of the things we could talk a bit more about Chris is, which metric makes you most excited? Yeah, think about it.

Chris LaFerla 44:53
Yeah. I think the metric that makes me most excited just seen for my own team is how can you rethink velocity? Speed, like I said, is so important to our culture at Tatum. Every ticket, which we call tasks, is individually written to that task. And how can we really turn through and create huge product features and ship on a weekly basis? Or bi weekly? Actually, we switch twice a week to production. And how can we enable other teams to do that? And I think a lot of that comes back into just showing really actionable easy ways of velocity on the project and how fast you're shipping these features out. Where are they getting stuck in the to-do, doing, done and in review archive process, which is like the branches that Tatum has, of the different buckets. And then showing that in new ways, like progression bars, and then showing those same exact ideas on an individual? How long is it taking you to view a task? How long is it taking you to click into it, like reply to a task? How long is it taking you? Which person is it sitting on, like, those are the ones that make me most excited. But individually, I think us, rethinking the way that like, progression of a project or velocity itself, like works is something that we'll be shipping pretty soon. And I'm excited for it.

Dave Erickson 46:03
There's an aspect of velocity that I've been kind of dealing with. You know, velocity is tied to work or lifestyle and what I've kind of experienced a little bit is in the push for efficiency and velocity. Some of these project management systems, kind of, they err on the side of pushing people too far, right, and turns them into basically production robots versus humans, you know, in this balance of, of efficiency and velocity, what are your thoughts on trying to make it so that you don't cross that boundary and turn a person, whether it's the developer or an operations person into basically a robot processing tickets as fast as they can to keep their velocity known?

Chris LaFerla 47:01
Yeah, I think that's great, that's, we think about that a lot. I've been thinking about that time, which is, how do you also make it so that this doesn't become a system where teams hate using data? Because they're like, oh, I don't want to see that. I'm, like, the worst member of my team and like, I know, I definitely want to use that. And my manager is gonna like, yeah, like, whenever a layoff happens, like, Oh, we're gonna pick those two and like, they're gone and I think it comes with going back to video games, like, just as an amazing example, like, I really have leaned in heavily and Tatum will always, even our visual nature, if you go to our website, and like, we're very, like design oriented. And I think I took a lot of inspiration from day one around, how can you make something fun gamified without like, gimmicks, or feeling cheesy, which I think a lot of gamified software has done in the past first work and it really isn't in terms of like, the way that it is like, you don't need an adventure or like a tutorial like in if you start Runescape or Skyrim, or something, but it comes into the way that the system works. And, and I think for us, it's how can you make that fun? How can you make it fun when a user says like, Oh, you did a great job, like, here's where you're doing well, how are you showing those metrics, really simply back to them and framing them always in a positive way and giving positive encouragement, just like if you go to the doctor, and the doctor is like, you're really unhealthy, like, you're super fat Chris, or, let's edit that out. You're super overweight, crap. You need to eat better, you're gonna, you're gonna have a short life. That's probably not actually going to do a lot for me. But if you say, Hey, I see that you're making the progress. Like last time you came here, you lost 10 pounds, you're eating healthier, you're working out more, let's keep that up. I'm excited to see that, you know, for our next check in three months, that's going to work. And that's the exact same approach that we have, like positive reinforcement versus like, slapping the hands.

Botond Seres 48:48
Yup. It's all about the positive reinforcement. Yeah, I totally agree.

Dave Erickson 48:54
Well, Chris, if people wanted to experience Tatum, can you give some information on how people can start using it and get into it?

Chris LaFerla 49:05
Again, we're early but already, I think we have a pretty awesome product. It's t a t e, Also, I'm happy to use my email it’s Chris, C H R I If you have any questions or would like a demo, like to just tell me that you disagree with all the opinions I just shared, and feel free to send me an email. I will send you my personal calendar, like I'd love to connect.

Dave Erickson 49:28
Great, great. Well, Chris, this has been really wonderful. We really appreciate it and we're excited about Tatum. I think we kind of learned a lot about the different ideas and philosophies behind task management and project management and we look really forward to using Tatum and watching Tatum grow and seeing where you take it. For our listeners, look forward to the next podcast in a month and we usually publish around the first week of the month. So thank you very much, Chris, and have a great day.

Chris LaFerla 50:08
Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed the conversation and Botond, some of your feedback, it was like a UX product session halfway through there. So both of you guys are great and I really appreciate the invitation to be on here and hope to be on again, far in the future with big updates of how all these came to pass.

Dave Erickson 50:27
We would love to have you and if we get into more product management or task management topics or theories.

Chris LaFerla 50:34
Thank you so much, guys.

Botond Seres 50:35
Thank you so much for that. It’s been great.

Dave Erickson 50:37
All right,Chris. Chris, thank you very much. It's been great. Thank you very much for taking this journey with us.
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Creators and Guests

Botond Seres
Botond Seres
ScreamingBox developer extraordinaire.
Dave Erickson
Dave Erickson
Dave Erickson has 30 years of very diverse business experience covering marketing, sales, branding, licensing, publishing, software development, contract electronics manufacturing, PR, social media, advertising, SEO, SEM, and international business. A serial entrepreneur, he has started and owned businesses in the USA and Europe, as well as doing extensive business in Asia, and even finding time to serve on the board of directors for the Association of Internet Professionals. Prior to ScreamingBox, he was a primary partner in building the Fatal1ty gaming brand and licensing program; and ran an internet marketing company he founded in 2002, whose clients include Gunthy-Ranker, Qualcomm, Goldline, and Tigertext.
Building a Project Management SaaS App
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