Normally, the words “hack” and “The White House” in the same sentence would be a national security crisis, full of FBI investigations and prison sentences. But for the San Francisco-based startup HackPad, it was actually the White House that came calling. Just after the election, the government reached out to the company about having its teams use HackPad’s collaborative platform, which has been compared to Google Docs, but with a Web developer’s slant.
The company makes a simple collaborative tool for teams to create and edit documents as a group. In the name of expansion, HackPad is getting ready to create an API which will do two things: a) allow users to better integrate HackPad into their websites and blogs, and b) allow the data nerds more access to code, letting them rummage through HTML.
The hallmark of the product is a clean design and Web native features. While the Google Doc comparison is fair on the surface, the company says it’s more like a collaborative wiki, with more Web native tools, like sending automated email notifications to team members whenever an edit is made. “While Google Docs is trying to replace Microsoft Word, we’re not thinking about things like presentation,” says Igor Kofman, one of HackPad’s co-founders. “We want to get a lot of people together to solve a problem.”
The service is already a hit with Silicon Valley’s buzziest startups, like Upworthy and a few others that the company is not ready to discuss. HackPad first entered PandoDaily’s radar when Patrick Collison, CEO of the online payments company Stripe, raved about the company. For collaboration, his team uses a little bit of everything, but HackPad most consistently. Collison also said everyone in the startup world was using it. That street cred goes a long way in the Valley: Accel sought out and invested in 99designs and Atlassian, because all of their portfolio companies were using them.
Though young – about a year and a half old – the company is experiencing the kind of tentacle-extending adoption any startup would want. So it’s fitting that the highest office in the land would inquire, though the company is quick to point out that nothing has been finalized. But score one for the Obama administration for even knowing to ask. It’s not particularly surprising coming from a staff that was savvy enough to put the POTUS on reddit.
The White House isn’t the only government entity that is interested in HackPad. Amidst all the coverage of tech companies kicking things into gear during the turmoil of Hurricane Sandy last month, HackPad did little ballyhooing. (This is not coincidental, as Kofman said the company generally keeps a low profile, especially while still in its early stages.) But in the aftermath of the storm, as New York and New Jersey residents scampered for fuel, FEMA used HackPad to compile a list of gas stations in the region and organize a map of the data.
There are a few hurtles to clear before the company can realistically entertain the idea of serving the White House. The service needs to meet federal compliance, which generally has to do with settling issues around archival, Kofman says. In the case of FEMA using the service, he says he heard the organization “punched a hole in their firewall,” so they could access HackPad. Kofman said he doesn’t know whether or not that’s true or even what exactly that means, but it proves the point: HackPad was crucial at the time.
The next frontier the company would like HackPad to conquer is education. Kofman says the company has already seen educators using the service for collaborative note-taking with students, but the company says it could also see the service weaved into the curriculum – for example, having students fill out a HackPad page when they complete an assignment.
Outside of altruism, if expansion is the goal, perhaps serving students is not a bad strategy: get ‘em hooked while they’re young. Cynicism aside, it probably doesn’t hurt to give the kids something hackable anyway. It’s only a matter of time before the Word doc becomes the new binder paper.
[Image courtesy Boston Public Library]