Smartsheet redefines collaboration and workflow management with its enterprise-ready cloud app. Just take the classic spreadsheet and mix in the features that pack a punch, like file-sharing, real-time collaboration, and work automation, make it a powerful tool for coordinating anything.

Smartsheet partnered with DocuSign to provide an integration that extends project workflows, making it easy to plan, track and manage projects that require approvals and signatures.

We recently sat down with Brent Frei, one of the co-founders and CMO of Smartsheet to get a pulse on his take on the Cloud and what makes an app “essential” to an organization.


Everyone is chattering about shifting to the Cloud. What is your take on the opportunities here?


The big shift to the cloud is a bigger deal than the shift from mainframe to client/server back in the ‘90s. The business apps are immediately adjacent to each other in the cloud – they’re accessible anywhere from any device and they can more easily talk to each other!

You’re starting to see a lot of identity management software being built right into primary platforms, like Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce. The major application platforms have mature APIs, and there are a lot of tools being built to hook different apps together to create integrated and extended workflow.

It’s great, because it’s making it possible for a lot of apps to work together.  However, that isn’t a sufficient enough reason for the phrase  “there’s an app for that” to apply everywhere.


Why do you think that?


Anyone can create an app for a specific need. However, we need to keep in mind that everyone has a unique point of view regarding their needs and how they prefer to work. Naturally, they’ll bring their own preferred apps to the table and, even with all of the identity management and built-in integration, this can create a big challenge quickly.


What do you see as the main challenge?


Well, the fact that the apps work, look and operate differently actually exacerbates the problem. In today’s environment, with expanding organizations, mobile work platforms, and the desire to work remotely, collaboration is the key.

Real-time collaboration can solve a lot of the operational challenges that businesses face everyday, including breaking down silos, being more efficient and cost-effective, and being quicker to market. The only way you achieve this is through centralizing project management and creating that essential utility.

That’s why we think you can take some primary tools like Smartsheet and DocuSign and hook them together in pretty comprehensive workflows that cover 80-90% of what you need to do without having to work with a lot of other apps. We’ve intentionally focused on partnerships where the utility is encompassing enough to where you don’t have to cobble together a bunch of different apps to get work done. We see DocuSign as a universal tool that is vital to the digital workflow in securing eSignatures and approvals and makes a great fit for creating these extended, connected workflows.  


You mentioned the term “essential utility”. Can you expand on that concept? What is it that makes an app essential?


The essential utility to me is something that is pretty much required for every knowledge worker in the company. The apex of it is the hardware, the network access and the computer that everyone needs, but when you start getting into the software, it really boils down to a select few. Email, calendar, some sort of file storage, and some form of office tools like word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software. I would argue that these are essential utilities. You have to have it because most people are getting work done using some fashion of this software.

I think the very next essential utility is what we do, which is, at its core project management. But we’ve taken a step further. More broadly it’s Work Management and Work Collaboration. We’re all working on something and ideally it’s being managed some fashion, and, there may be a few primary people that are running the tool but all the rest of us have to be connected to it.

If you built a tool that is entirely flexible and geared toward the way people want to work or choose to work, then it becomes an essential utility. And I think we’ve come up with that next essential utility.

Part of the reason is because it borrows from something that is already an essential utility: the spreadsheet.

We utilize the elements from within a traditional spreadsheet that people already use for coordinating work. We want to move away from number-crunching or deep formulas, and focus on the elements for coordinating work. We’ve taken these elements and broadened it with project, database and workflow capabilities that people need in today’s workplace to be highly efficient.  .


It’s safe to say that these essential utilities need to work seamlessly with other tools that people may use.   


Yes, absolutely. This is one of the reasons it becomes essential or that primary platform because it can connect to the other tools people are using, either upstream or downstream or even in the middle, and build a solid workflow without jumping from one tool to the next.

That’s why we’re in business. You can imagine if you’re someone who’s managing contracts, like a real estate agent, you’re coordinating a lot of elements like tracking progress, contact information, dates, etc., and you need a tool to help coordinate these moving parts and be able to secure signatures as needed without making it a cumbersome, manual process.


We’re nearly halfway though the decade! What are key emerging trends to keep in mind? 


One of the things that we consistently hear from our enterprise customers is the need for visibility. Visibility into who’s doing what, on which project, in which department, and with whom.

It’s key to removing many of the silos that technology can inadvertently create in organizations today. A truly powerful capability that we’re currently building are visual workmaps where users can truly see all of the connections in any project at any given time. We feel continuing to build on this will open up a clearer world of how we get work done.


This sounds very exciting! We look forward to hearing more about that. Thank you so much for your time and invaluable insight.  


You’re quite welcome.


Brent Frei is the chief marketing officer of Smartsheet. Before co-founding Smartsheet, Brent was the CEO and co-founder of Onyx Software Corporation, a Bellevue-based customer relationship management (CRM) software company that consistently ranked top five amongst CRM vendors worldwide. In his ten years as Onyx CEO, Brent oversaw the generation of $600 million in direct revenue. In 2001, Brent was recognized by the Smithsonian Institute as a "Pioneer in Technology" and was awarded Dartmouth College's Thayer School of Engineering Fletcher Award for lifetime achievement. Brent has also held roles at Intellectual Ventures, Microsoft and Motorola. An active sportsman and father to five children, you’ll rarely find Brent sitting down. He even uses a stand-up desk.