A third space for work

Why I’m joining Pesto.app as Founding Head of Product

Daniel Liem
6 min readApr 6, 2021


Work will never be the same. We are midway through a dramatic shift from office-first to a flexible and remote-first future. But while we’ve enjoyed some of the work-from-home benefits like increased productivity and flexibility, some key problems have emerged: teams suffer from burnout and loneliness, and they are missing serendipitous collaboration.

I’ve spent years in the future of work — from angel investing in Linear.app and n8n.io and supporting our future of work efforts at Obvious Ventures, to being a former product manager at Dropbox and Uber (where I built productivity tools for engineers). But never have I seen such tectonic shifts in the way we work.

As a result, it feels like there’s no better time to double-down than right damn now. An afternoon virtual coffee with a former summer roommate from Stanford, Doug Safreno, was all it took to be convinced about Pesto’s long-term vision. That’s why I’m excited to announce I’ll be joining as their founding head of product, starting next Monday.

Pesto is a platform that brings the best parts of the office online by making it easy for teams to collaborate over audio, video, or text. It’s better than Zoom because it’s more fluid (i.e. doesn’t require scheduling), and it’s better than Slack because it’s more than just a text-based communications platform.

Teams can join “rooms” to have meetings and will default to audio, just in case you’re not ready to show your face because you haven’t made your hair yet or are feeling video fatigue. You can still visually present your personality and build a connection using customizable avatars (as you see all over this post), giving remote workers a face in the room without the stresses of video.

If you want to avoid a meeting and just have a quick question, you can chat over text. If you’re focused and heads down or taking a break, you can set your status as such and “close your door” to conversations. This gives teammates the tools to balance connectedness with space for productivity and life.

It’s fast, fun, and inclusive; Pesto recreates the “office glass wall” feel by enabling teams to see who’s meeting who without actually hearing what they’re saying. If it’s a lunch break or watercooler session meant to be open to everyone, you can easily join them. If you wanted to temporarily bring on an external guest, you can share an invite link. This improves closeness within teams and eliminates silos when working remotely.

Putting my investor hat on, there’s so much to love about Pesto:

A massive area of opportunity:

This problem space is an open canvas — no one has it figured out yet. What we’ve learned from the pandemic is that many people love the flexibility of working from home because it helps them avoid the commute, spend more time with their kids, take a nap in the middle of the day or live wherever they want. Additionally, businesses are able to save tremendous costs on physical offices and can now tap into talent they would have otherwise been limited to due to geography.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-manage-the-new-hybrid-workplace-11616328000

The industry is reacting: companies like Thumbtack, Zapier, Gitlab, InVision, and Automattic are 100% virtual (some of whom have always been since pre-COVID), while Dropbox, Slack, Twitter, Github, Brex, Coinbase, Square, Reddit, etc. are now remote-first (i.e. their office spaces will be desk-less but left available for teams who’d rather collaborate in person).

Others like Facebook, Microsoft, Alphabet, IBM, Salesforce etc. are adopting a hybrid model (i.e. allowing part of the week in the office, part of the week at home). None of us knows what the leading model will be, but one thing’s for sure: how the office works will never be the same.

Pesto can help unlock any of these new kinds of work models by creating a synchronous, internal solution for teams, and solving common remote working problems along the way.

Compelling traction & customer love:

There is a growing cult brand around Pesto; teams who use it are evangelical about the product and are using it daily. So far the entire traction is 100% organic and shared through word-of-mouth. These are important metrics in the early days of modern enterprise tools, as they are often strong indicators of breakout potential in the future.

Their users are global — from teams in the Bay Area and Canada to Asia, Latin America, and Europe. For some parts of the world, teams have the option to go back into the office already… yet, they’ve told us they prefer to continue staying remote. Why? Because of the flexibility of working from home or the office, which Pesto continues to make possible.

A strong team behind a loved product:

One of the few pictures I had of Doug (far left) and me sailing across Lake Michigan during our internship at Groupon

This decision is personal to me — I’ve known Doug and Vivek since Stanford (Doug was my freshman summer roommate while we interned at Groupon — we’d build random projects together like Laddiator), so this is life coming full circle.

This might be the most fun part of the job: to get to build with close friends I deeply respect from school again.

Doug and Vivek double-handedly built the entire product on their own, at first with no funding (bootstrapped) then with the help of Manu @ K9 Ventures for their $1M pre-seed round. Try it out yourself — you’ll be blown away that Pesto was only built by two people all this time! Previously, they and a couple of others from our class ran and sold a company called Stacksware to Avi Network (acq by VMWare). Talk about being 10x engineers.

The team is now expanding and growing fast to support its growth, with two inbound engineering hires (Sean and Anna) in just the last month and more to come. When you see this kind of momentum, you know something special is happening.

Our team: Sean, Anna, Doug & Vivek!

Nothing excites a product builder more than charging into a hard, meaningful, global problem head-on.

I felt a gravitational pull to participate in this category because it truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I can’t be more thankful for the years of support from the Obvious Ventures team — especially Nan Li, James Joaquin, Andrew Beebe, and Vishal Vasishth — for their encouragement to dream big, think critically, and take risks every day. To be at the forefront of investing in awe-inspiring founders who make Earth a better place is the privilege of a lifetime. The experience has fundamentally rewired my priorities and sense of purpose in this world and lends itself to why I’m joining Pesto. Now is the time for me to walk the walk and be in the shoes of founders I’ve worked with for years — though, as Nan might say: startup land is more intertwined with venture capital than one may think!

2019 Halloween in the office!

My last day at Obvious is this Friday. As I flip my hat around to be back as an operator, I’m ecstatic to get this journey started and fuel my career in the future of work.

We have a lot of work to do. If you have as much conviction about remote / hybrid work as I do, let’s chat: daniel@pesto.app or @dcliem.

That’s me!