The App Improving Your Workflow: A Sit Down With the CTO of Sticky

Updated: Oct 3

Sticky is helping people improve their workflow while killing busy work in the process. Who leads engineering and how did the founding team come together?

Editor's Note: As part two of our three-part Founder Q&A series, we sat down with co-founder and CTO of Sticky, Tamzin Selvi to learn more about the inspiration to kill busy work. Parts one and three are available in case you missed them.

David Williams

The backstory on the CTO of Sticky

Let’s rewind to 2020, at the start of the pandemic. What were you doing then, and how did that moment shape where you are today?

At the beginning of 2020, I was living with my mom, who was diagnosed with stage IV mesothelioma. When the pandemic happened, remote work became a positive change. I got to be present for my mom during a difficult time and care for her. Unfortunately, she passed last year, but I was able to be there for every minute of her struggle.

I'm sorry to hear about your mom, and I'm happy you had that quality time—what a gift.

Thank you. It was.

I was also working on a time management platform and focused on some of the most challenging engineering tasks—building the entire mobile application, shipping projects, and sometimes building the back-end functionality.

Sounds intense! How did you maintain motivation?

My mom was my motivating factor every day. I wanted to put a smile on my face for her and put my best foot forward at work.

CTO of Sticky

I was already running regularly, but I really turned it up, which gave me extra energy. I wanted to be the strongest version of myself for my mom to witness, so if she needed to move on, she could rest assured that I was doing really well.

That’s so inspiring.

I was able to flourish in a remote environment.

How did the pandemic transform the way we work?

One thing I learned, or confirmed, is that the office is very distracting. In the office, you get pulled into one-off conversations, people talk near your desk, and your schedule gets hijacked more often. You don’t get things done because of these distractions, so your work bleeds into the evening and personal time.

When the office distractions went away, I found I could be extremely focused and do what I needed to during work hours. As long as I planned capacity properly, prioritized tasks, and managed my meetings, I didn’t need to work as many evenings.

People ate up a lot of time searching through notes so we could finally get a good discussion going.

Were there any challenges around transitioning to 100% remote work?

Definitely. There was a lot of pain, but what came into focus for me was how meetings were disjointed. You'd go into a meeting where everyone was trying to figure out what happened in the last meeting. People ate up a lot of time searching through notes so we could finally get a good discussion going.

Is that what attracted you to Sticky?

Yes. I heard about this application that was taking on notes, calendar events, and the things you need to get done. Even though we have many ways to take notes and existing note-taking applications, we're still unable to capture important information and then get back to that context easily. I saw a massive gap in the market, and no one's been able to create that context in a tool and tie it all together in a useful way.

When I started talking with Andrew Lassetter, Chief Design Officer, and Mike Lee, the Head of Talent at Menlo Labs, it all clicked, and I was like, yeah, this is a great idea! I totally saw the opening and wanted to jump in and build it.

I saw a massive gap in the market, and no one's been able to create that context in a tool and tie it all together in a useful way.

The founding of Sticky

You knew the idea was good, and you saw the need and timing in the market. But there also had to be founder magic, right?

Right. As an engineer, I've worked with so many designers in my career. It only took a few conversations to realize Andrew was the perfect co-founder. The way he meticulously thought about things, how he'd absorbed and organized things into a design system that made total sense to me, how he thought about the product and customer needs—his intuition was spot on, and I knew I wanted to work with him.

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Did you feel similarly when you found Sticky’s CEO?

In my mind, the perfect founding team is the PDE triangle, where you have representation from product, design, and engineering.

We wanted to bring on someone with a product mindset but also someone with that executive skill set. Even though we're all equal co-founders, we needed a boss—someone to wrangle us a little bit and be that stress factor to push things forward. It was an important opportunity, especially in making us a fundable team.

We have all the right parts of the business pushing against each other with the right amount of force to move in the right direction.

We interviewed a lot of CEO candidates, but no one checked all the boxes until David Williams.

With David, we have all the right parts of the business pushing against each other with the right amount of force to move in the right direction. There's no propulsion towards one side or the other, and we have a balanced force moving us towards our North Star.

David had product experience, knowledge of the market, sales, and the ability to fundraise. After meeting so many CEO candidates, I knew he was the one we needed, so it was really exciting when he was down to join the team.

How did the formation impact what you’re building?

I wanted to make the best note-taking solution and allow people to collaborate and share a note with someone who could be in the same note as the person who shared it. But it became clear that we're not building a simple note-taking application; we are creating a personal workflow tool.

We're not trying to give you the best note-taking experience. We're improving your workflow by giving you access to the right information in the right context.

That's where things have really changed.

A perfect example is recurring meeting notes. We're allowing users to click on a note associated with a recurring meeting and see all the previous notes taken within that context. Users can jump between time series and see what happened two, three, or four weeks ago. That's the start of our work on recurring meeting notes.

Another example is a concept called views, where you can create a space, drop in notes, and find all the related notes in that view. You can also jump between those notes to see and access all the associated information.

Can you speak to the beauty of Sticky as it relates to tasks?

Absolutely. It's amazing, right? You can be in a meeting, talking to people and taking notes, and quickly type /task and turn that note, or block, into a task. You're transcribing something that needs to get done.

Our system can translate between different types of blocks. In this case, your tasks are aggregated to a central point and exist in places of relevance. If we return to the recurring meeting notes example, you'd be able to see all the tasks for all the instances of that recurrent series and what's gotten done and what hasn't.

Most of us write down a task in a doc or note, and it remains there, stuck in that space. If you ever want to get back to it, you must search for the doc or note and find the task. It doesn't have a way of rolling up somewhere for you to be able to smartly or intelligently find it.

I think that's a really useful feature of Sticky—to help people track decisions, see those in real time later, and plan how to accomplish them during their week.

In a future post, we’ll talk more about product development and what lies ahead. For now, I have one last question. What advice or wisdom would you offer yourself or others if you could return to 2020?

I would tell myself not to be so bummed about what I couldn't get done. In retrospect, I did great, given the circumstances. I think I did great, given normal circumstances!

I'd also tell myself, don't worry, your meetings will get a lot better in the future. There's a tool coming that's going to help improve your workflow, so stay tuned for that.

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