Persuasion is the centerpiece of work. Customers must be convinced to buy your product, teams must be inspired to come along with a strategic plan, partners need to be swayed to sign the deal.
Effective storytelling is at the very foundation of persuasion. Rhetoric and data, woven into the right story, can change minds. Storytelling is central to the way we work together – how we share ideas, collaborate on projects, and ultimately, move business decisions forward.
But most people struggle to communicate their ideas, let alone persuade. Effective storytelling is hard, and the new world order of hybrid-first offices and distributed teams has only exacerbated this problem.
Until today, the tools we’ve had to help us present and collaborate on our ideas simply haven’t kept up. We can organize data – but it’s rare that people are inspired from looking at a spreadsheet. We can master the perfect pitch deck – but it’s often too time consuming for the rhythm of modern work. We can create a detailed spec doc and message each other constantly, but critically important creative and intellectual work – synthesizing and communicating ideas – is harder than ever.
That’s why we are thrilled to announce our investment in Tome, a storytelling tool for work and ideas, and that both of us have joined the board.
Using Tome feels like magic. It is an advanced platform that makes presenting complex ideas as simple as posting to social media.
Initially developed with product managers and designers in mind, Tome works equally well on both mobile and desktop, and its clean, flexible layout allows people to effortlessly bring ideas to life.
Take a look:
Tome, which was incubated at Greylock, has the ideal team to bring us the storytelling tool we’ve all been missing. Co-Founders Keith Peiris and Henri Liriani are former Instagram and Messenger product leads, and have built consumer products that deliver intuitive and effortless visual storytelling experiences at scale. They’ve combined their background in consumer tech with their firsthand frustrations over the limitations of existing presentation tools to deliver us Tome.
With dynamic pages and foolproof formatting, Tome adapts to what you want to say – not the other way around – allowing users to skip time-intensive slide design and get straight to the story. Anything on the internet can be easily embedded in a Tome, including Figma prototypes, Airtable spreadsheets, YouTube videos, Tweets, and Gifs. Users can play with 3D models and interact with live data tables that update automatically. And it’s highly collaborative: users can edit, comment, and annotate each other’s work from anywhere.
Unsurprisingly, far more categories of users are finding Tome to be a critical part of their workflow, from sales and marketing, to personal side projects requiring visual cues. In fact, we’ve been using Tome at Greylock and it’s been a significant unlock for us as we collaborate, debate, and discuss new investment opportunities.
It has been a privilege to watch Keith, Henri, and the rest of the Tome team create a tool that has quickly become essential. We invite you to join the Tome community: try making a Tome here, follow Tome on Twitter, and join their Slack. And, of course, they’re always hiring.
Reid spoke with Keith and Henri in depth about Tome on the latest episode of Greymatter, which you can listen to on the link below, on our YouTube channel, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Hi, everyone. Welcome to Greymatter, the podcast from Greylock where we share stories from company builders and business leaders. I’m Reid Hoffman, a general partner at Greylock.
My guests today are Keith Peiris and Henri Liriani, who are the co-founders of Tome. Keith is also an entrepreneur in residence here at Greylock.
Keith and Henri have built the storytelling platform we’ve all been waiting for. We’re living in a truly remarkable era of technology with access to numerous sophisticated tools, yet effectively sharing ideas is so often hindered by the presentation products we have available to us.
Today’s professionals need to tell compelling stories, supported by a lot of information that’s housed in a lot of different formats such as video, design work, 3D prototypes, and live data. And they need to be able to do it while collaborating with local and remote teams in real time and asynchronously. Enter Tome.
We’ve been privileged at Greylock to watch Keith and Henri build Tome. They brought their experience of building seamless and stunning consumer products as product leads at Instagram and Facebook into developing an intuitive, simple, and really beautiful storytelling platform, Tome.
Keith and Henri, thanks for joining us today.
Reid, thanks for having us.
Thanks for having us, Reid.
First of all, congratulations. Today is an exciting day. Tome is officially out of stealth and has raised $32 million from investors, including Greylock, Coatue, and several notable angels, including the CEO and co-founders of Zoom, the CEO of Airtable, and the CPO of Adobe.
I love the experience of using Tome. While I encourage all listeners to check out their website and to play around with the product as soon as they can, let’s hear how it works from the founders. So tell me a little bit about the genesis, the origin story of Tome; the thought that you had to go on this entrepreneurial journey
We’re all storytellers. Storytelling is how we’ve passed knowledge on from generation to generation. It started with hieroglyphics, drawings in caves, and it’s also how we passed knowledge from tribe to tribe. And storytelling in the past couple of decades has really changed because of computers.
In the ’80s and ’90s, we told stories at work on desktop computers using PowerPoint, and a decade later with the internet, we started to tell stories on the cloud with products like Google Slides. But we found in our personal lives, storytelling and information sharing just became so much easier with mobile and camera technology – think Instagram and TikTok. And we just don’t think that there’s a comparable experience for storytelling and effective communication at work.
So we came together and we really wanted to create a storytelling tool that’s as easy and as engaging as posting a story on social media. And what that means is that you can quickly pull together something without worrying about the formatting or design. You can instantly pull work in from any other cloud application – think a Figma prototype or an Airtable base – and then use video and sound to convey emotion. At the end, your story should look great, whether it’s opened on a desktop, a tablet, or a phone, it’s just not something you should ever have to worry about.
Yep. So I think many professionals don’t realize how central storytelling is to their work, to the way that they articulate what decisions to be made or what the pattern, the kinds of work that they’re doing, and how storytelling helps them bring their team and the company together.
Definitely. When I think about storytelling, I think about it as a means to build alignment and shared understanding. And alignment and shared understanding is how we cooperate. It’s how we all decide to work together on something and make things happen.
And we do storytelling in the smallest of ways. We tell stories over Slack and messages. We tell stories by the water cooler. And then we also tell these big structured stories over Slides and over proposals to decide what businesses we should build, how to recruit the people, and where to take our roadmaps.
"Storytelling is pervasive everywhere when it comes to human productivity, and it's just an essential part of how we work together."
Yeah. And one of the things that’s obvious, when we were all in-person and can always huddle in the room, it was a little easier to just tell all the stories there and how to do it. But now we live in a much more potentially distributed [world]. We also have mobile tools. We have an always-on culture of things going.
So many of us have been experiencing this new hybrid work world, this new distributed work world. And so some of that in terms of the team cohesion, in terms of the ability to cohere around a mission and a story that goes with the mission becomes key. But what are some of the more in-depth ways that make Tome a must-have tool in today’s work environment?
When you think about that problem space, and you think about the tools that we have today versus the ones that we had 10, 15 plus years ago, now we’ve done all this work on the cloud, so it’s really easy to grab it and make it appear again.
It’s really easy to drop in videos and have those tell the story that you might be working off of. It’s really easy to show someone an interactive prototype and have that be a substitute for a real product experience that someone might have built. And it’s easy to draw a graph and to point to different points of it and say, “Here’s where the problem is or here’s where the opportunity is,” and have that be really clearly attributed and have everyone get precisely on the same page about that, with no approximation needed because the data’s very, very easily connected through embeds on the web, for example, which is just something we couldn’t do before.
On top of all of that, because we’re spending so much time remotely and because teams are spread across different time zones, etc, there’s all this async alignment being done. Alignment on how to tell the story in the first place on what the right answers are.
I think since, especially in the last few years, things have changed a lot. We’ve been working from home. People have been juggling more than ever while we continue to do the same jobs. And it feels like we’re even more time crunched even. It raises the bar for how we spend our time and what we pay attention to.
And Tome was born out of those circumstances. Presentations in these contexts are used as a virtual communication tool. And they’re sent out after a live meeting, for example, as an async artifact to catch everyone up, after the fact.
There’s also a lot of back and forth that’s built remotely. People leaving comments in the gutters of Slides, people pinging each other on Slack or on messages. And there’s the coordination of that adds even more overhead on top of this.
And to boot, video is now the norm. Video via Zoom or Google Meet or whatever else. In fact, we’ve met each other, our entire team that we’ve built, and you and our other investors, Reid, all over Zoom, and we still haven’t met in person. And hopefully once the pandemic is over, we’ll be able to shake hands IRL.
All right. So Henri, one of the things that I think would be really interesting for people to hear about is who is Tome home built for and who is using it today?
So I think initially, based on our experience running into the problem of just putting your work onto the page, sharing it, getting feedback, making decisions, working with your team in a product context, we started out building Tome for people like us. People who were designing and building products, taking into account data, maybe research, all these different inputs, and making decisions together about how to build a product and how to ship one and how to deliver that on time.
We built the first iteration of Tome, the one you can experience today, with PMs and designers in mind, largely because their work is unlocked by a presentation format that integrates live data, interactive, prototypes, and videos.
Those are the artifacts that we need to convince each other of. We need to convince each other that this user is experiencing a problem viscerally through, like for example, a video of them being frustrated at an experience. We need to convince each other that this flow is going to be the smoothest and most fluid way to experience the product to achieve the job.
Today, that work takes way too long to do, even in traditional slides, and the outcome leaves a lot to be desired because it’s static and sometimes even low fidelity because of time constraints.
So, we’ve been working for a couple years almost, designing, and engineering, and testing the tool for widespread use and employees at companies like Snap, Stripe, Flexport, Unity, and Notion are among Tome’s early adopters.
I think we’ve been interested and surprised to learn that creative agency-type people also find a lot of value in Tome. The way that images and video manifest richly and can be displayed cleanly in a format like that is useful.
Similarly, sales and marketing functions can also find a lot of value in Tome and they can leave these artifacts behind with context after a call and people can go back and look at what they’ve left for them in Tome. What we’ve seen so far in usage is that teams like SNAP, who build products that are largely interactive, mobile based products really benefit from the way that, for example, Tome handles video and really easy note-taking next to that. So you can put together an interactive video demo of a feature that you’re building and a couple of bullets next to it really quickly and have that field done in a matter of minutes in Tome. So that’s one of the biggest ways we’re seeing it be used today.
And to go even further on who we’re building this for and how, Keith and I have been working for years on communication tools that serve billions of people. And that meant taking into account people’s visual and audio needs, people who speak languages from right to left versus left to right, and even people with differently sized hands, because we’re all different and we need to build tools that accommodate that and make communication, from brain to brain, as easy as possible.
And leadership is not only managers. Leadership is a product manager. Leadership is an engineer with an idea of how to put it together. Leadership is a designer saying, “Here’s the design for the approach we’re doing.” Leadership is a marketer saying, “Hey, this is the way that we should articulate our story and the way that we should do our tactics coming to market.”
So Keith, how would you add to Henri’s excellent answer?
I think we’ve all felt this at a very personal level. Henri and I both managed a lot of product managers and designers over the past 10 years. And it’s funny, we noticed a couple of things in trying to coach people to be leaders in advocating for their ideas and advocating for what they think ought to be done.
But the first thing we noticed was that your ability to construct a slideshow has nothing to do with the quality of your ideas. And we found time and time again, that there are people that were coached and well versed in putting together a compelling story over a set of slides and that had nothing to do with the quality of thought and the quality of ideas behind things. So we just saw many great ideas that just never saw the light of day.
This was a pattern for me in the last 10 years where we have the night before a big product presentation, where we’re going to decide what to build and what to do. And I would get this artifact at 11:00 PM at night. I would have to jump out of bed because it wouldn’t open right on my phone, and it wasn’t connected to the live sources or the real files because you couldn’t fit them. And then I would open up this deck that someone spent hours making and they spent all of their time formatting and designing it instead of telling a great story.
And really, this was, I would say, the personal motivation for wanting to build a tool that cut away all of that meta work, that cut away all of that need to think about the construction of a slideshow versus the construction of a great story.
I think a lot of communication tools that we’ve seen over the past decade that they all focus on one particular medium. There’s a lot of different tools where you can write great prints with text and then there’s been another class of tools where you can be expressive and convey emotion with video. There’s another set of tools where you can make a points or telegraph a story with data and points and charting.
And I think what we found is that as work gets more complex and more interdisciplinary, you actually need to be able to weave the thread between all of those mediums and tell a rich, compelling story with data, with video, with text, with design and prototypes.
And that’s really been one of the inspirations for Tome.
"Instead of having to pick, 'Do I say this with video, or do I say this with text,' you should make your point with the medium that best represents it and not be bound to that for your entire story."
And why is it, given how central stories are, although people don’t really fully realize it, that the presentation tools haven’t gotten much attention past PowerPoint and Google Slides. Why is it that there’s such a big need here that’s been unfulfilled so far?
Well, I think it’s for a couple of reasons. One, a lot of startups and modern technology companies, they’ve tried to deprecate the deck and use documents instead. Famously, Amazon abolished decks from use within the company.
We were at Facebook during the time when they stopped using decks. And I think that came from the idea that presentations are needlessly time consuming. That you spend too much time on formatting the slide instead of telling a good story.
They’re hard to read on phones. They’re always out of date because the supporting data was sourced from somewhere else. And they’ve just become this symbol of meta work. And we believe a lot of people thought those properties were just intrinsic to storytelling tools, to slideshows.
And because of that, I think there’s a desire to use documents and Slack and video for things that they’re clearly not very good at, like trying to run an all-hands or persuading a larger audience with different context, with a document.
It turns out that’s just worse than sequence storytelling. You can’t control the flow of information in a document.
When I was at Oculus a couple of years ago, we were doing eye tracking studies on how people read documents. And if you look at how someone scans the document, it’s all over the place. It’s never left to right, top to bottom. So trying to persuade someone with different contexts than you, using this long form, is just not appropriate.
I challenge you to point out just one person who actually enjoys reading a 20 page document full of data and referencing the same information if it also exists as a beautifully designed presentation with embedded data directly from the source.
So we think that the problem has never been the idea of a slideshow or a storytelling tool. We’ve just lacked the right tools for it.
What’s the way that the founding group would say this accelerates our work?
I think when it comes to how to actually use Tome to make communication run more smoothly through a company, or even between different companies, it’s funny how there are so many things we do, for example, as a team, and we’ve seen our early customers also do where I don’t think they would do them if it wasn’t for Tome.
For example, a weekly all hands presentation is a lot of work. If you were doing it in PowerPoint, if you were doing it in G-Slides, you would be pulling together these templates, someone would have to be the master of that template and keep things in line and on brand. And you’d have to go and ping all these different people, on different teams and get the right assets into place.
But with Tome, we can comfortably within five to 10 minutes max, a week, put together the tools needed for our all-hands presentation.
Cool. Oh, Keith?
One thing I wanted to add is its just been really surprising seeing the range of Tome usage. Even though we started with product teams, we’ve seen community folks at Neva run workshops using it, we’ve seen Superhuman customer success, people using it to turn out many, many custom pieces of artifacts every day. I think my favorite was actually Seth at Greylock has delivered a couple of term sheets in Tome. Because if you’ve read a term sheet, you know it’s not really designed for the viewer’s consumption. He’s included some video overlay and a summary with it. So we’re just excited to see what else we’ll learn as we get this to more people.
Well, and that will obviously begin to extend Tome somewhat into Web 3.0.
As you’ve been testing out Tome, which questions have you addressed on how this fits within the productivity Pantheon? Coda, Notion, Figma, Slides, et cetera, how does Tome fit in this?
It’s an interesting predicament. We have so many different ways to write a memo or build a document but no simple way to tell a captivating story.
So the way we’ve seen Tome fit into the workplace is that you’ll always have your document tool for writing a long spec or an engineering-architecture document or a proposal. But when you want to tell a story to a group of people with different contexts, you really want to be able to step them through the story and control the flow of information. So we’ve found that people are used to a wide variety of things, but really it does come to bring everyone along with context and telling great stories.
In the past, I’ve had multiple versions of the same chart, the same design file, the same doc versions of the document all spread everywhere, across email, documents, cloud, inside of a hard drive storage, and hours were spent on updating those artifacts with the latest information. The way we solved for this in Tome was through the tile system and through designing for integrations. Instead of screen-shotting the chart design file piece of code, you just hook up the data source to Tome and present it directly from there. And because of this, you end up with just way fewer out-of-date copies with artifacts once brought Tome into your workplace.
One of the things that we’ve recognized is that Tome is coming into your workplace with a wide variety of different productivity and expression tools, and we’ve designed Tome with that in mind.
One thing just to throw on top of that in terms of the tile system, it’s pretty much a direct reflection of how we actually do work in the real world. You have one version of that mock up or that chart and the tile is built to reflect that and be that singular manifestation that work in your presentations or communicative docs. So for example, that one chart should just exist as one tile pretty much everywhere, and you’ll be able to copy and paste it and re-manifest it and relate back to it.
So what is your favorite way, people are using Tome? Are there any unusual use cases you can share?
I think for me, my favorite thing I’ve seen people do with Tome is just put together lots of images or videos. It’s been a great way to get a sense of a mood, like a mood board, of an artistic direction. Like we had one we were looking at the other day with scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and some Big Hero Six and some other things putting together this brand visual. And it’s really easy to put that together in Tome. You don’t have to worry about layout or anything, you just drag these images in and you have this finished looking thing that can start a conversation about a creative direction.
That also tends to work for some more casual things. Like I’ve been planning my wedding personally recently, and we were making floral color palette choices and that was really easy to do in Tome too. A lot better than G Slides as well, where the images aren’t overlapping each other and it’s foolproof festival layout.
One that’s really stuck out for me has been the mobile how-to guide. In the sense that if you’re doing something with your hands, if you’re baking, if you’re working out at the gym, you probably don’t have your laptop with you. So we’ve seen a lot of people build how-to guides on how to make apple pie, how to deadlift properly, how to upgrade your fence. And it turns into this really nice sequential story with video that you can open on your phone and just follow along as needed.
Henri, walk us a little bit through the development process, technical standpoint, some of the major lessons along the way, and any major pivots.
Tome is a React product through and through. And it is something we wanted to build that way and make as available as possible by virtue of being on the web from day one. I think we’ve tried in as many ways as possible to centralize complex code or custom code that we’ve done. So for example our text editor is the same body of code everywhere, even on our native iOS client. On top of that, I think we prioritized working in React because of just the development speed. We were initially thinking about whether this should be a WebGL thing or something even crazier because we really cared about performance.
But we found that we were able to put enough effort into the performance of this app to meet the bar there while keeping the development and iteration speed really high. That’s allowed us to, I think, be a little bit more precise with how we invest our energy into addressing problems that our users tell us about. We’ve been able to give people the product, have them use it at work, check in with them pretty regularly and learn from that, and tweak the product to do better at things they’re hiring it for week to week.
I think from a design perspective, when we were first thinking about what this format should be, I think we were initially talking about a way to make information a little bit more portable, but to take advantage of all the things that aren’t true today but weren’t true before.
So what’s true today? Video is pretty prevalent, we’re all looking at devices of different shapes and sizes, we’re also doing work that exists in different states but usually available on our computers, most of the time on the web, so putting a lot of those pieces together.
Tome was a format that combined the dynamic nature of let’s say files that exist on web services with this idea of not making intentional layout decisions, but just really putting content in its raw form onto a page and having this system figure that out for you.
So that goes back to this tile system that directly maps one-to-one with an artifact in your work. It could be a document, it could be a design mock, it could be a video file, or whatever. I think the manifestation of that on mobile now we found is really helpful. We found that it’s really helpful to just give people a really easy to consume version of their work but on the phone. Typically, you’d have to open a slide, really small on your phone. It’s a wide rectangle that’s set to fit on a tall phone. So really wasting about 60% to 70% of that display with black bars.
Then you have to unlock portrait orientation, rotate your phone, and then start to pinch and zoom to be able to read the stuff inside of it. All of that is really prohibitive and I think gets in the way of the collaborative process, building anything really when someone’s on their phone looking at slides. So we really wanted to flip that on its head and make it so that opening Tome felt as lightweight as opening an image that someone texted you or someone messaged you. Then flipping through it, leaving comments, all of that feels really native to the phone. And that’s unlocked by the format being dynamic enough to adapt.
Actually, one of the things that you remind me of, Henri, is that this isn’t mobile first, this is mobile foundational in terms of the design and the use and architecture. And that’s actually obviously part of the world we all live in. So looking at the next year or so, what should we expect from Tome? Keith, let’s start with you.
It’s a great question. We’re excited to get Tome into the hands of more people in different functions at more organizations. We’ve just been really inspired seeing use cases outside of tech teams in, sorry, product teams in tech companies. We’re just excited to make Tome even more powerful by building it publicly with our customers.
That being said, we’re working on a couple of really big ideas. One is the ability to do complete mobile creation and editing on your phone. Using the camera, using your phone sensors, using everything that’s intrinsic about the mobile device that we feel like the productivity tools of yesterday we just haven’t made good use of. The next piece is that we’re really working on more complete and better integrations so that you’ll never have to worry about, how do I move work from one tool to the other?
So one of the things I’m most excited about us playing with is just how we can unlock the content that’s sitting on the page as you speak to it. So whether you’re synchronously sharing your screen over Zoom or putting it on a TV or you’re leaving behind an artifact for someone to consume later, I think there’s all this potential to pair both the video of yourself speaking or some of your interactions with your mouse, things that we just didn’t think about before when PowerPoint or Keynote were first invented. To help you tie together the different elements of your story with the emotional emphasis that you feel in the moment when you’re speaking to those points. I think there’s a lot of potential that’s unexplored there that we unlock by doing something a little different than the SVG, PDF-based, Raster 16 x 9 slide.
Maybe the last piece that I wanted to call out is just a lot more interactivity. I think that slide tools in the past were built in this time when you couldn’t interact with the medium because the presenter was projecting it with a liquid crystal projector. And right now with the switch to remote and hybrid work, we’re all consuming artifacts on our own native devices. We just found that leaning into interactivity just helps with comprehension, to be able to move a graph, to be able to play with a prototype, to be able to rotate a 3D model. So we’re just really leaning into a bunch of interactive elements and more, in the sense that we have a few more things that we’re not to talk about yet. But it’s going to be a really exciting roadmap.
One thing we can maybe tease is that when sharing something right now, you’re at the mercy of building this reverse Rube Goldberg machine of these different transitions that happen as you unveil a point on a slide in Keynote or PowerPoint or whatever. We think there’s just so much room to improve that synchronous or even asynchronous magical storytelling component.
For example, you can imagine one day being able to turn yourself into a floating head that moves along the points of a page as you cover the different pieces in your argument. And being able to tap into the raw data inside that page because it’s not this Raster, SVG, PDF thing, it’s live objects dynamically rendered there in that format for you. So there’s a huge ceiling for what we can do there that can, I think, change how people perceive presentations.
Keith, Henri, thanks so much for being here today. We at Greylock are very excited to be partnered with Tome and are eager to see how people use it at work and in so many other ways down the line.
Thanks for having us, Reid.