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Keep Note-Taking Simple with Workflowy | Jesse Patel Interview

The Paperless Movement® Community is wholeheartedly built on collaboration and the sharing of ideas and views. Especially in the note-taking/ productivity space. And, it just so happens that it’s because of our members and YouTube followers that we pursued our latest chat with Workflowy’s Co-Founder, Jesse Patel. And wow! Are we glad we listened!

Workflowy has been around since 2010! A really long time in the digital productivity world! And yet, despite it being on our radar, we’ve never really delved into the app. But, recently Tom’s interests were intrigued when PPLMVMT members and YouTube followers became persistent in their asking of him to test it out.

So he did…

Tom shared his first impressions on YouTube. And while filming the video he called Workflowy directly and spoke to Rodolfo Terriquez, just to make sure that he tested everything expertly. Rodolfo is part of the Marketing and Growth team at Workflowy and he was a great help! Today, however, we dive into the recent LIVE Chat Tom had with Jesse Patel.

In it, they discuss why Workflowy is a different note-taking app, and why Workflowy fans – PPLMVMT Members included – are dedicated, long-term users! Jesse also re-defines the Note-Taking Competition and gives us his take on the potential of strategic collaborative thinking… everything done digitally.

Hit play to listen to the Podcast! Take it all in digest the full blog post below!

How Workflowy started

Workflowy has been around for more than a decade now. They kicked off at a time when digital productivity apps weren’t even a thing. That time is in such stark contrast with our current digital realities. Today, note-taking enthusiasts are faced with the issue of app overwhelm, overly complicated settings, and apps coming and going. Not to mention, having a productivity app for anything you could possibly need and sometimes, even for things you don’t need at all. It seems Workflowy’s steadfast, resilient and persistent nature is something to be proud of.

In the podcast, Jesse shares that many productivity apps we are familiar with, for example, Roam Research and Dynalist have clearly cloned some of their ideas and built their own products around them. Mainly, their trademark feature around the basic idea of building a really fast outliner – Text files that have a tree structure, for organizational purposes. However, this isn’t an issue for Jesse, but more on that later.

Workflowy tends to appeal to either Super A Type, hyper-organized people or to those that really need something to help them get organized.

Jesse Patel

The Workflowy Brand Story

The idea for Workflowy arose from Jesse’s prior work experience in project management and his frustration with the lack of useful tools. Super overwhelmed, he found that all these systems he was using would just kind of stop working when he got to something that was on the leaf’s edge of the system. All the mainstream outliner tools like; Google docs or Microsoft Word – the things people actually use – didn’t let you ‘zoom into’ your digital list of tasks at all.

So, he took it upon himself to create a Note-taking app that would solve his workflow problems.

It was in Berlin, where he decided to really start building the app and he built the first version working out of the SoundCloud offices – when they were still around 11 people. He liked it so much that decided to quit his job and go all in! But, he started to just lose his mind! He was just not good enough of a software engineer to develop the product he wanted. That was when he recruited his Workflowy co-founder, a friend from college to work with him on it.

After creating their brand name – in 5 minutes (you need to listen to hear more on this one!) It was a successful Y Combinator experience that made them realize they were onto something. Within a day of their launch, they had 10,000 real users, who loved it and who would keep using it!

The whole interface of Workflowy is fluid.

Jesse Patel

Resurface information when we need it

When it comes to our digital files and notes, we need optimal organization and retrieval methods for our files to be of purpose. We can use tags and/or folders, there are benefits to both. However, folders can be limiting and cumbersome, especially as files can live in different folders at the same time and can easily lead to the duplication of data and general confusion.

With Workflowy however, you have the ability to hold infinite files and you have a number of ways to organize them too. Being able to resurface your information when we need it later on, quickly, easily, and reliability are critical factors in what makes a pro-digital notetaker. This is compared to someone who just takes casual digital notes or jots a few things down. 

Workflowy – How does it work?

Workflowy is basically an infinite tree of lists. A bulleted list, where every bullet is also its own document. This allows for an incredibly flexible, powerful, and, minimalist way to take notes. Letting you structure your ideas succinctly. You can adapt them and make systems within them, as well as make them as complex as you need, but its unique appeal is its overall simplicity. 

Workflowy is an infinite nesting structure that lets you organize your world exactly as you want it, whether a big project that has sub-bullets that you can zoom in to your tasks or goals. Or conversely, using it for big picture planning and system building.

This may sound like a typical hierarchical folder structure, but, as Jesse explains, folders are a rigid format, whereas the whole interface and concept of Workflowy is one that is fluid and far simpler. You simply click, type, and drag it to where it fits.

You can thus create a high-level structure on the fly but wait, there’s more:

  • Super flexible, with your information in whatever structure you want
  • Great for focus; zooming in and collapsing bullets – only displaying what matters right now
  • Ideal for turning lists into super-powered kanban boards
  • Create live copies of anything. View and update from anywhere
  • Built-in sharing permissions
  • Great for big picture planning 
  • Easily tag and assign items
  • Everything in Workflowy is only a quick search away.

Like most other worthy note-taking apps and much to our pleasure, Workflowy has backlinks. They recognize it as a key addition, an obvious one even. In Workflowy, when you create backlinks, you can also reorganize them and create a mini structure within your backlinks too. That’s incredible!

Workflowy vs The Note-Taking Competition

Despite there being so many productivity apps around and some blatant copies of their features, Workflowy are not concerned. They don’t see competition as an issue for their growth. It is evident that Jesse has respect for tools like Obsidian and Rome Research. All this in spite of an overcrowded marketplace. He even offers praise to other apps on the market:

“Obsidian as a company I think it’s cool. I mean, I think the fact that they have local first [approach] and it starts up really fast, is cool.”

“I think Rome did a lot to just say: ‘look at all the things you can tinker with’ and promoting the idea of bottom-up organization and just building a really strong kind of cult to market to.”

But, ultimately Jesse believes that there’s still a lot of room for helping people. There are still a lot of really important unsolved problems. In particular, a really hard unsolved problem is: having deep thoughts with other people. If you’re say: two scientists and you want to do something groundbreaking. It’s really hard, other than basically in-person and writing long papers together to have detailed, deep conversations with people digitally, and in a note-taking app.

I really want that this competitive thinking goes away and we actually start helping improve productivity.

Tom Solid

The future of productivity apps

Jesse and Tom both believe that there is still a lot of scope for new ideas in the digital note-taking and productivity space. Areas that have not yet been explored. And this, despite feeling flooded with so many productivity tools, many of which are trying to do the same thing. Tom’s vision for the Paperless Movement® is to create a platform that is seen as “neutral ground” for different tools and apps.

We feel genuinely inspired by Jesse’s line of thought as well: “there’s still a lot of room for helping people… there’s still a lot of really important unsolved problems in terms of thinking… thinking together with other people is, in particular, a really hard unsolved problem.”

The barrier to my successes, is not so much competition as is my own ineptitude.

Jesse Patel

Workflowy & The Paperless Movement®

Aggressive and unhealthy competition is outdated. Instead, we seek to strive to work collaboratively and actually help improve everyone’s productivity. We also strongly believe that we can expand our way of thinking; collaborate with others, improve our ability for structured thinking, and foster creative problem-solving. These are all areas where we have so much more power when using digital systems. We are just not able to do these things on paper. 

Which is why we get tired of seeing questions like: “what is the best note-taking app?” There are better ways to look at this, instead, ask: “what is the purpose of my notes?” Because, we know that note-taking is just the beginning, we want to utilize the information we gather, to help create new ideas rather than continuously collecting more information with no purpose.

Verified Partners Announcement

For this reason, we have our Paperless Movement® Verified Partners scheme. We have Partners covering different apps, some of whom may be considered competitors, but not to us. All of us use numerous tools, and knowing how to use them, and learning from the tool experts themselves is a phenomenal solution. If you want to find out about Workflowy, ClickUp, Evernote, and more, you can find out more HERE.

What platforms is Workflowy available on?

Workflowy has been built for Desktop, iOS, or Android. However, it’s not available for Windows phone users.


We can see why Workflowy has such dedicated and committed users. The simplicity of the structure and the idea of infinite nesting can really help users develop deep ideas naturally and without losing context. When we keep it simple we can learn how to get a better understanding of the different ways we can leverage our tools.  We are super excited to have delved deeper, and a massive thanks to Jesse, and our Members for sharing!

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