Interview: Meet the LucidChart Team

Laying out diagrams and charts should be easy. But for the most part, it’s not. I had to use Visio for a painful few weeks during a class, and was constantly frustrated by it. I was pleasantly surprised to find how much nicer LucidChart is even though it is a web app. It’s a diagraming app that works great, with more native features than many native apps.

That’s the best thing about LucidChart: it’s a web app that actually works better than its competing native apps. It’s an unusual phenomena, so keep reading to hear more from the LucidChart team about how they did it, as well as the newest feature they’ve just added to LucidChart.

Tell us a bit about the LucidChart team: when did you get started, where are you located, and what motivates your team?

LucidChart started in 2009 but was really released in its current form in 2010. We’re located in Salt Lake City, Utah – 15 minutes from four ski resorts! I would say there’s two main motivations for our team: 1) making our customers happy and 2) pushing the boundaries of what’s being done with web apps.

What was the inspiration for LucidChart?

Our co-founder, Ben, was working at another startup a couple years ago where the team was working on some complex workflows. Ben was the only person with Visio because it was so expensive, and he would print or email PDFs of the enormous diagram to other team members, each of whom would scribble notes and comments, leaving Ben to collate all the duplicate or conflicting suggestions. It was a huge mess and wasted everyone’s time.

So Ben started writing the app to make his team more productive. When he released an early alpha version, it quickly gained traction and LucidChart was born.

Why did you decide to make LucidChart a web app instead of a traditional Mac or PC program?

There were two driving reasons to develop LucidChart: simplicity and collaboration. Simplicity, you can accomplish anywhere. Collaboration, on the other hand, is a completely different ballgame between native apps and web apps. With that in mind, the decision was simple.

LucidChart now does a great job importing Visio files. Why can’t you export a file in Visio format too? Will you add this in the future?

We wanted to first build import so that all the Visio users ready to move to the cloud could easily do so. We’re happy to announce that we have just released a beta version of Visio export, again making us the first web-based service to take this important step. We think our current users will find this feature valuable, and that it will also make LucidChart appealing to a broader range of users. In many mid-size and large companies, for example, some of the organization may want to stick with Visio while others want to move to LucidChart – the import/export feature of LucidChart makes it easy to still work together until the rest of the organization sees the light!

The new iPad integration is very impressive. Was developing for the iPad more difficult, and will you make LucidChart specialized for other touch interfaces?

Thanks for the compliments. Because LucidChart is built entirely on Javascript, making it work on the iPad was actually pretty quick and straightforward — it was definitely easier than building and supporting a separate native iPad app. At the same time, optimizing for the iPad (or other mobile devices) presented a set of challenges; there are restrictions on the usage of both memory and processor time that simply aren’t in place in typical desktop browsers.

We definitely have plans to optimize LucidChart for Android tablets, with the timing a bit dependent on the improvements in the mobile browser. We hear that shouldn’t be far off. As for others, we’re playing it by ear to see if there’s any big movement in the market.

What do you find most challenging about developing cutting-edge web apps?

One challenge is that the cutting edge sometimes doesn’t move as fast as we would like, and we are dependent on third party support for these new features and standards.

For example, browsers implement widely-varying subsets of the HTML5 standards involved in offline functionality. For now, we have chosen to implement offline support using WebSQL instead of IndexedDB, due to WebSQL’s better performance and stability, despite Mozilla deciding not to implement WebSQL in FireFox. When IndexedDB becomes supported and stable across different browsers, we will be able to switch over.

The Chrome Market is the newest way to market web apps. Have you seen much success from it so far?

When the Chrome Web Store launched, we were one of the first featured apps. Since then, we’ve actually become the ‘top paid app’ with more than 50,000 installs. Our user signup rate for visitors via the Chrome Web Store is quite a bit higher than traffic from other sources. So the Web Store is an important source for new visitors to our site, and it has an even larger impact on the number of new users. It turns out that a visitor to our listing on the Chrome Web Store is almost as good as a visitor directly to our own site.

Do you think you could work with only a browser, on a device such as a Chromebook? Do you think the world is ready for online-only computing, or do you think we’ll continue to use native and web apps together?

My primary laptop died recently and it took about two weeks for my new one to arrive. During those two weeks, I exclusively used a Chromebook we received at Google I/O. Honestly, I was able to easily do about 90% of what I wanted to. I’m still an Excel junkie so that made the other 10% a bit difficult. I think devices like the Chromebook can fulfill the needs of a lot of people but certainly not everyone yet. I think our engineering team would agree that it would be a lot tougher for them to make that kind of switch right now.

Do you have any upcoming features or other products you can share with us?

We just released a LucidChart plugin for Confluence and Jira is in the works – we’re excited about integrating with an exciting platform like Atlassian. We also will be significantly improving the UI for the iPad to make it more tablet-friendly.

We have a few big things up our sleeve…but we’ll have to keep those quiet for now.

Thanks LucidChart Team!

We’d like to extend a special thanks to the LucidChart team, and especially Dave, for taking the time to do this interview with us. We’ve been very impressed with the LucidChart team’s work with all of their latest features, especially the iPad integration and Visio import and now export.