How Front reinvents how work gets done

Mathilde Collin
5 min readJan 17, 2017

This article was originally written by my co-founder Laurent. I’m re-publishing it on my own channel, not only because I wish I had written it, but more importantly because I want to use this account as a repository for all the content that I think is important to understand Front as a company — and our vision is a big part of it.

As founders, we’re expected to have a clear vision for our company. When investors ask what’s our vision for Front, we usually reply along the lines of “reinventing how work gets done”. This answer works well: it’s broad enough that nobody can contradict that (to some extent, every B2B company is reinventing how work gets done anyway); it’s ambitious, and ambition is rewarded in our field; but it’s also extremely short and undetailed.

Front is an email client specifically designed for teams. The basic idea is to bring all of your communication channels (email of course, but also social media, in-app chat, etc.) in one place, from which you can triage and assign messages, have internal conversations around them, and tie all this communication to the rest of the tools you use (Salesforce, Github, etc.). Technically, it’s true that we’re “reinventing how work gets done”, but that’s an extremely broad response to the specific question of what our vision is. This post is an attempt at a more satisfying answer.

1. Reinventing how work gets done doesn’t mean much until I tell you what I mean by work.

First, Front doesn’t deal with EVERYBODY’s work: we’re building an email client, so we’re targeting knowledge workers. If you don’t use a computer once in your workday, we can’t help you.

Now what’s a knowledge worker’s work? Decisions. Whether you write code, or make marketing plans, or manage hiring pipelines, etc. there is some craftsmanship involved, of course, but ultimately your job is to make decisions: What cloud provider should we use? What ad network should we partner with? What candidate should we interview? And so on, and so on.

Thus for a knowledge worker, better work means better decisions. A decision is the product of two ingredients. The first one is the available context: the information that you can access to help you inform a decision. Experience, training, memos, dashboards, they all fall under the “context” category. The second one is judgment, broadly defined as what you make of the context available. Someone’s judgment is influenced by several factors like character or personal values, and can thus change over time, but overall, it’s much easier to improve someone’s context than their judgment.

2. The best way to help knowledge workers: with additional, better context, right where they need it.

The email inbox has become the primary location of decision making for knowledge workers. That’s where new information is received, and where decisions are communicated. Unfortunately, the current “default” way of communication is to do it in “single player mode”. In email’s current form, collaboration takes extra work: you have to CC, BCC, use email lists, forward to the right people, etc. It’s work on top of work. So you just hit the big blue “Reply” button at the bottom of your message, and move on to the next decision.

No one is to blame. It’s a textbook example of a “tragedy of the commons”: you know it’d be better for everyone to keep everybody informed, but you don’t want to invest the time yourself, as being the only one to do it won’t help YOU get ahead. Even if you’re more of a team player, you don’t want to bore everyone with potentially insignificant details, and distract them from their own duties.

But in this process, troves of context are lost. The company as a whole doesn’t get any smarter as it fails to take advantage of the information generated by each of its parts. Instead of everyone benefitting from each other’s decisions, we’re all growing apart.

The ideal situation is the one in which, by default, each knowledge worker has access to the maximum amount of information available to the company, and each of their decisions can be fed back into the system to benefit others. But for a new default to take root, it has to be no harder than its alternatives. This is a software design problem, and this is the one we’re trying to solve at Front.

3. What does it look like in the product, in concrete terms?

Our commitment is just that: that’s it’s no harder to generate, capture and access additional context for your team, as it is to do so for yourself individually.

Say a customer is contacting you with a question that was never asked before.

Step 1: access context

You’ll be more efficient if you can easily see who this customer is, access their communication history across all channels, as well as their order history and payments, etc.

Features in Front:

  • Internal comments on conversations
  • Each conversation is assigned to a team member
  • The integration pane and open API allow for 3rd party or custom “mini apps” to receive and display additional information relevant to the conversation.

Step 2: communicate decision

Based on that information, you decide on the best course of action and communicate it back to them.

Features in Front:

  • Hitting “Reply” is still the default behaviour. Although this time, we work behind the scenes to make the conversation available to all parties (people and software) that could benefit from it
  • The native channel integrations make sure you don’t have to leave Front to reply to your correspondent, no matter what channel they want to use (email, SMS, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)

Step 3: context goes back to the company

In effect, you’ve created additional context for all future similar interactions. This context isn’t siloed in your inbox but shared with the entire team.

Features in Front:

  • Conversations are public by default: anyone can go back to the conversation at any time to see the original context again.
  • There is only one conversation per team: Front automatically merges duplicates so that there is no ambiguity about which “version” of the conversation thread contains the important information.
  • Shared tags, shared links with 3rd party apps, etc. all make sure that the metadata is also shared with the intended parties.

And thus we’ve gone full circle. Every new conversation, instead of trapping more information in an individual worker’s silo, is now an opportunity to improve the entire company’s decision-making process. It’s all (mostly) in the UX, it helps you make better decisions, and make more of them. That’s how Front is reinventing how work get done :)