scorecardHot startups like Miro and Canva are racing to dominate virtual whiteboards, an emerging category of workplace tools that sparked Adobe's $20 billion bid for Figma
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Hot startups like Miro and Canva are racing to dominate virtual whiteboards, an emerging category of workplace tools that sparked Adobe's $20 billion bid for Figma

Paayal Zaveri   

Hot startups like Miro and Canva are racing to dominate virtual whiteboards, an emerging category of workplace tools that sparked Adobe's $20 billion bid for Figma
Tech4 min read
  • Virtual whiteboards are becoming essential workplace tools, as evidenced by Adobe's bid for Figma.
  • But analysts and VCs think these whiteboards will be just one piece of visual-collaboration suites.
  • Firms like Miro and Canva are building out platforms to compete with one another.

When Adobe announced its $20 billion bid to acquire Figma, executives at the design giant praised the startup's virtual-whiteboard tool, FigJam, and made clear it was a driving factor in the deal. Adobe's own tool had failed, and the firm wanted a springboard into a growing category that's shaping up to be the next big thing.

The $20 billion price tag only further signaled the boom around virtual whiteboards, which allow users to collaborate visually and are quickly becoming essential tools alongside videoconferencing and workplace messaging. Though these tools existed before the pandemic, the sudden shift to remote work catapulted companies like Miro, Mural, Canva, and Figma into the spotlight, providing new ways for colleagues to work together from wherever they are.

"[Virtual whiteboarding] was niche, and now it's sort of mainstreamed," Chris Marsh, an analyst at 451 Research, told Insider. "It found a whole bunch of new use cases."

Besides Figma, Miro has gained momentum over the past two years, growing to 40 million users from 5 million users. Canva's easy-to-use design tools have 100 million monthly active users, some of whom are now bringing the tools into their workplaces. Canva says its whiteboard tool alone has 10 million users.

Mural and Lucid have also become popular, and collaboration companies like Box, Monday.com, and ClickUp have added whiteboard features to their suites. Analysts at 451 research surveyed hundreds of IT professionals across company sizes and industries and found that visual-collaboration tools like virtual whiteboards will be "game-changing" for employees over the next two to three years, the analysts told Insider.

But industry insiders think virtual whiteboards will become just one piece of a visual-collaboration arena. They believe the companies that will survive are the ones that can build a platform around their whiteboard tools and create more reasons for companies to use them.

"One needs to try and become a platform so that you can service several ways of communicating, so that you don't become a point product," said Harry Nelis, a partner at Accel who led the firm's investment in Miro. "But then the second bit is you need to be able to offer products that either go deep enough in a particular task such as workshops or that are tailored towards particular applications."

Going after a 'visual collaboration' tool kit to replace legacy tools

Companies are using virtual whiteboards for things beyond brainstorming, such as product road maps, employee onboarding, and team content hubs. As a result, companies like Miro, Canva, and Lucid are on similar paths toward becoming larger visual-communications platforms.

"Whiteboarding is just one of the many use cases of visual collaboration," Varun Parmar, Miro's chief product officer, told Insider.

Miro is adding integrations with other workplace apps to allow users to share information from those apps with Miro and use it for more tasks. It's also using its growing user base to source templates to show its users how to use its product in different ways.

"From our perspective, visual collaboration is a stand-alone product category," Parmar said.

Canva's design tools are quickly being adopted by workplaces and replacing traditional tools from Microsoft and Adobe for slide presentations and static documents. It recently announced a 100 million monthly active users, a rapid increase from 50 million in mid 2020. For context, it took Canva seven years to reach that first milestone of 50 million users. The increase follows Canva's recent announcement of its Visual Worksuite, which has apps for whiteboarding, creating social-media content and documents, editing videos, and more.

"Our goal is to really unify all the visual-communication needs within an organization," said Cliff Obrecht, Canva's cofounder and chief operating officer. "So as everything becomes more visual, what's really been missing in between the Microsofts and the Adobes of the world is this visual-communication suite."

Experts are wondering whether firms making virtual-whiteboard tools can remain stand-alone companies or whether there will be more mergers and acquisitions among them.

When Adobe announced its bid for Figma, Scott Belsky, Adobe's chief product officer, told Insider he saw virtual whiteboards becoming as important as PowerPoint or other slide-presentation tools. He said the tools that will stand out are ones that have multimedia capabilites like photo editing, graphics, or video, integrated and that's where Adobe can add value to FigJam.

"Imagine if you're whiteboarding something with your team and you can instantly kind of throw in a video and quickly edit, and then circle something and show them what you mean," he said.

Analysts have said visual-collaboration tools like Miro, Mural, Canva, and Lucid would make good acquisition targets for software vendors looking to expand their productivity and collaboration platforms.

There's only so far a user can get with an integration of a particular tool into a larger work management platform where people are doing most of their work, Marsh said. "I think the value ultimately will be that it just needs to be a native part of this environment."

Got a tip? Contact this reporter via email at pzaveri@insider.com or Signal at 925-364-4258. (PR pitches by email only, please.)




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