Acquisition of approximately $20 billion cloud-based collaboration and productivity platform reflects accelerating demand for technology tools that allow people to work together even if they don’t share physical office space .
The purchase of Figma, whose tools are used by designers and developers, is Adobe’s largest acquisition ever and expands its reach into new areas.
Tools like Figma’s interactive virtual whiteboards and its design and prototyping offering are especially essential in areas like software development, which tend to rely on highly collaborative processes. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of these collaboration and productivity software, and the hybrid work environment prevalent in enterprises is driving a new generation of these tools and software.
The growing popularity of social networks helped fuel interest in an earlier wave of collaboration technology companies, including Jive Software and workplace chat company Yammer, later acquired by Microsoft. Corp.
in 2012 for $1.2 billion. Facebook would later borrow its own formula for Workplace, its enterprise social networking tool.
In the years before the pandemic, Slack Technologies and its messaging offerings defined enterprise collaboration, helping fuel Microsoft’s decision to launch a competitor, Teams in 2016. Slack was acquired by Salesforce.com Inc.
last year for nearly $28 billion.
Big tech companies, including Alphabet Inc.
Google, Cisco Systems Inc.
and Microsoft are offering their own suite of products with new twists on collaboration and productivity.
Startups using collaboration concepts, including digital workspace company Notion, document company Coda, and apps platform Airtable, have taken off among software, design, and product teams. . Their adoption expanded during the pandemic shutdown as businesses transitioned to remote working.
“10 years ago there were great examples of new forms of collaboration, such as Google Docs… It took a while for that to become more widely applicable,” said David Wadhwani, president of digital media at Adobe. He will oversee Figma, 10, and its CEO and co-founder, Dylan Field, 30.
Business leaders say they expect collaborative software to continue to grow in reach and capability, become more visual, and strive to achieve the level of collaboration that occurs in physical office spaces. As companies grapple with back-to-office or hybrid policies, “demand is very high across the board to help solve this problem,” said Jim Szafranski, chief executive of presentation software provider Prezi. In some ways, the focus has shifted from doing the actual work at the start of the pandemic to building a collaborative culture and relationships in remote and hybrid environments, he said.
Szafranski said collaborative tools are becoming more visual, rather than just text-based, and are more focused on group participation so employees aren’t left behind in remote environments.
While tools like video conferencing and chat apps play an important role in helping teams communicate, what’s on the market today still doesn’t offer the same level of collaboration as a physical workplace, a said Paul von Autenried, former chief information officer of Bristol-Myers Squibb. Co.
and currently advising on technology issues to executives and boards.
Calls for workers to return to the office are a sign that there’s room for collaboration tools to improve, von Autenried said, particularly in areas of less structured and more spontaneous interactions.
Figma itself was inspired by Google Docs, making it cloud-based so people could work together in a digital space instead of creating different versions of the same project, Field said. Figma was different from other tools because it allowed people in various technical and non-technical roles to easily collaborate in the design process on a single platform.
Wadhwani said Figma’s next generation of collaboration and productivity tools are also inspired by the world of gaming, where many people participate in a real-time task remotely. “It’s a multiplayer game type ability,” he said.
Adobe’s acquisition of Figma is a turning point, said Jake Saper, general partner at Emergence Capital. The venture capital firm, known for investing in Salesforce.com Inc. and Zoom Video Communications Inc.,
passed up a chance to invest in Figma in its round B.
“It’s the old that buys the new,” Saper said. “The old way of building productivity tools was how Adobe started, [and it was] only intended for use by a restricted group of people.
Figma is not just for designers, but for a range of people involved in design, and that requires software that’s easier to use and share, he said. To that end, Figma was designed not as an app but as a web app because it’s easier to share, Field said. He said his company had an app, but it was a shell for web-based software.
“We thought the browser wasn’t recognized for its power,” Field said. This web-based approach, which reduces the need to download software, has made it easier for Figma to take off among a wider group of users, he said.
The fact that Adobe was willing to pay so much for Figma reflects this belief that its software was fundamentally different, Saper said. He said there was no doubt that Adobe was buying a smaller but rapidly growing rival, “but if Figma was just another piece of software with strong growth, Adobe wouldn’t have paid so much for it.” , Saper said.
—Thomas Loftus contributed to this article.
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