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16 Pieces of Paper: An Analog Process in a Technological Word

Some of the biggest ideas are said to have started on the proverbial back of a cocktail napkin. Synlio is not an exception to this rule, but more of an embellishment if you will. It’s the cocktail napkin idea - but expanded and reimagined.

When we first started our journey 3 years ago, Synlio was actually called the Cobalt Professional Services Network, a network of service providers. One could refer to it as Angie’s List or Homeadvisor for the commercial market. We met with potential customers and based upon those conversations we felt like we had created a winner right out of the gate. Yet few of those prospects signed up. Many said the same thing, ”How will this help us with our RFPs?”

Long story short, it was that fateful feedback a year and a half ago that gave birth to the 16 pieces of paper that ultimately created the structure and functionality of what we now proudly call Synlio, the RFP Automation platform that reimagined the RFP process for the commercial, facilities, and community property management market.


Looking back, it makes me smile to think that we founded a technology company on 16 pieces of paper, a sharp pencil, and an eraser. No crazy mind mapping tool or project management software platform. We chose the simplest and most analog approach possible, because it just works.

There is a reason why an analog approach proved to be so successful during our 180-degree product shift. There is something extremely therapeutic and creative about this analog approach. Holding a pen--physically moving it on a piece of paper--forces complete focus on the task at hand.

For me, just the act of writing or drawing something on a piece of paper fuels the creative process. It organizes and encourages creation and participation by forcing deeper thought through a hands-on approach. Changes are recognized and tied to effort, and not just simply achieved by the mere click of a mouse.

It’s a re-creation, re-drawing, or new approach of what was before. It requires grabbing an eraser or crumpling up the existing paper, only to be replaced by a new one. This physical and analog process leads to and enforces complete immersion in the creation process.

At Synlio, we have embraced this process and made it a vital part of our corporate culture. All of our various in-person meetings utilize a version of the same analog approach. Whiteboards and large sticky notes are utilized as we throw out even the most random ideas, individually writing them down and then sorting them together in buckets. This process puts us all on the same page as we continue to evolve our product.

When you come to visit the Synlio offices, you will not only see our vision, mission statement, and core values posted, but equally important our ”Idea” wall, which features those 16 framed pieces of paper. We all pass by this wall each and every day. It is the first thing we see when we arrive and the last thing before we depart back to our personal lives.

It is more than just a cool conversation starter. These 16 frames serve as a constant reminder of a culture where egos are checked at doors and challenging each other is not only encouraged but required. As much as we all embrace technology in every aspect of our busy lives, sometimes it all comes back to the basics--like a pen and some paper--to bring ideas to life and their subsequent success.

Take Away

It’s the simple things in life that can yield the most significant reward. Technology impacts our lives every minute of every day, yet oftentimes it is the back-of-the-napkin ideas and sketches that make all of the difference.

I challenge us all to embrace this creative process in our lives and organizations and sit back and watch what happens. This analog process works for us as we create amazing RFP software and has become an integral part of our company culture. Share your napkin idea story. I would love to hear it. Is it still part of who you are today?

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