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A former rising star from Facebook builds a rival to its own Workplace app

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Rousseau Kazi worked for Facebook for nearly his entire career.

The San Francisco start-up launched publicly on Wednesday and is entering a crowded field that includes Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Teams, Google Hangouts Chat and Slack, which is preparing to go public. But unlike Threads, these productivity services place an emphasis on real-time conversation.

That’s why Threads’ most direct competitor is Workplace, a service launched by Facebook in late 2016. Workplace, which is used by the likes of Walmart and Starbucks, focuses conversations around employee posts, just like the consumer version of Facebook. These discussions are not happening in real time. They are asynchronous, as Kazi describes them.

And Threads, Kazi said, is better suited for these types of work conversations than Workplace by Facebook.

Threads has a few features that Kazi said will make the service stand out. Specifically, Threads users have a context bar that shows them how many of their colleagues have read a conversation or intend to weigh in. Users can mark a conversation for follow up, adding it to a list of items to respond to. And after everyone on a team has weighed in, users can highlight a specific comment as a decision, broadcasting to their team the conclusion of their virtual meeting.

“Workplace is more inspired from Facebook, which was deliberately designed to help you connect with your friends and family,” he said. Threads “is deliberately designed to help growing teams have discussions and make decisions.”

The product allows nonpaying teams to have up to 150 conversations. Companies can pay for a premium version of the software that allows unlimited conversations for $10 per month per user.

The company has raised just under $11.5 million, including a $10.5 million series A round that was announced on Wednesday and led by Sequoia Capital.

Mike Vernal, a partner at Sequoia Capital and the former vice president of product and engineering at Facebook, said the firm invested in Threads based in large part due to Kazi’s work at Facebook. Vernal said he is a big fan of Kazi, who is exceptionally talented and “one of the fastest rising people I worked with Facebook.”

At one of Facebook’s hackathons, a team put together a tool that took shaky user video and stabilized it. Everyone at the hackathon was impressed by the tool, but no one knew what to do with it, Vernal said. Kazi adopted the software and led its development into Hyperlapse, an Instagram app that lets user make stable time-lapse videos.

“Hyperlapse wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Rousseau adopting it and helping develop it on the side,” Vernal said. “He’s always struck me as someone who is generous, and when he sees something that’s good and might delight people in the world, he’s happy to jump in and make that happen.”

Now Vernal and Sequoia are betting that Kazi will be able to turn Threads into the discussion board service for professional environments.

“On the internet, there are forums and places like Reddit which are discussion boards,” Vernal said. “That’s a largely under explored area of workplace communication. I think that’s a ripe area for innovation.”

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