Wrike CEO seeks a better world of work

Andrew Filev of Wrike sold his company to Citrix for $2.25bn on the promise of a more elegant digital workplace

Headshot of Andrew Filev, CEO at Wrike

Andrew Filev laughs when I remind him that, in a 2015 YouTube interview, he predicted that email will have become an irrelevance by 2025. With three years left on the countdown and mail still ubiquitous, it hasn’t happened… so will he recant?

“I’m gonna stick to it but frame it correctly,” he says. “If you roll back the clock, email was the primary communications tool but now, in the office, people are moving to messaging platforms and work management tools, and email is mostly used as an identity provider and notification service.”

He has skin in the game here of course. The company he founded and leads, Wrike, is a leader in the still not well enough known work management category that seeks to bring together the various tasks and tools we work with every day into a sleeker, more integrated stream. It’s a fascinating category and Wrike has done enough in its 16-year history to be acquired by Citrix for a bumper $2.25bn in 2020/21. But for all its its breadth and promise, work management, like many unification activities, faces walls made up of inertia, habit and reluctance to change. That said, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst, making many of us reinvent what tools we use and how we use them.

“The last several years have been a rollercoaster for everybody in a lot of different ways,” Filev says. “Most companies had to switch and it definitely accelerated digital transformation. I need to be able to communicate with you, my kids use Zoom for their school… messaging grew significantly with Teams and Slack but what we saw later was it started to overload people. That drove people to think more strategically about work and their digital workplace. Companies made this huge leap into this digital workplace universe and now they’re asking how they can do that in [the hybrid working world].”


I agree we’re at a crossroads and Filev believes there are precedents for software becoming a force for unification rather than just creating another toolset with which to grapple.

“A good metaphor is CRM or salesforce automation,” he says. “Remember the days when we had Rolodexes or Excel spreadsheets for these and then someone came up with the idea that there should be just the one source of truth or system of record? Workplace management is very similar in that it does a lot of work [to automate what] can be episodic tasks, projects, goals and workflow. All those things need their own place to live. It’s hard to manage individually, harder at [group levels] and impossible at organisational scale. But like any behavioural change, it takes time to penetrate through the market. There are people who can’t imagine work without it but there are others not so far along the adoption curve.”

The challenge for Wrike is that harnessing work tools is such an enticing prospect that everyone wants to do it. Hence the efforts of giants from Microsoft, Google, Zoom, Facebook and others to become hubs and edge into the work management territory of Wrike, Monday, Smartsheet and others. However, perhaps predictably, Filev likes his chances.

“I would associate Teams with video calls and messages, I would associate Zoom with video calls,” he lists, ticking off potential pretenders to the work management crown. “If I think about files and storage, Box comes to mind and if I think about CRM, Salesforce comes to mind. But if I think about work management, Wrike comes to mind.”

The competition is fierce but even under the ownership of the mighty Citrix, Wrike isn’t locked into the productivity ecosystems of the big insurgents and so it is free to integrate away with complementary software, without politics. That’s important in a world still bedevilled by issues of versioning and platform disconnects. That complexity is “what CIOs are getting paid for”, Filev says, but he’s highly cognisant of the challenge he calls “dark matter”:

“About 95% of matter in the universe is not visible and I feel that in the workplace we have the same thing. Ultimately, [much data and work] is not visible and it’s hard to justify asking for resources or for people to say, ‘here’s what I’ve done’.”

Next steps

Many companies of a certain size today struggle to come up with a second act: a next chapter that maintains the momentum of what first made them successful. But Filev says the answer of Wrike lies in a constant refreshing of code, especially as it relates to look and feel.

“The ‘W’ in the Wrike name came from Wikinomics: how can we have all the people in the organisation contribute so it benefits them, not just because the manager told them to do it. Right now, there’s a big wave to unlock citizen development and become power users and the CIO creates these guardrails around that.

“We’ve completely reinvented ourselves multiple times. Usability is paramount: bring the most modern user experience to the world. Dated project management software is highly siloed and bottlenecked while collaboration tools are disconnected from work management.”

For Filev, there remain big opportunities in workflow automation. These include big opportunities for Wrike to make money but also a big chance for customers to take some pressure off their staff. A recent research project backed by Wrike pointed to high levels of stress and near-ubiquitous demand for that fabled single source of truth. Hence the Great Resignation and the Quiet Quit of so many recent headlines, perhaps being a reflection of the frustrations of modern knowledge workers.

Filev says we need to learn from Agile software development showing us how to “work smarter, not harder … Employees are definitely driving demand for better tools and workplaces.” Hybrid working comes with sharp ends and unintended consequences too. More people are being offered more time off, leaving their colleagues exposed and saying, ‘oh wonderful, my colleagues aren’t here to help’.”

Ultimately, work management is still in its infancy, but Wrike and others offer a vision of the future where we make sense of the multiplicity of tools at our disposal and the harsh reality of time as the great gating factor.