The Visual Collaboration Platform Creately
In this exclusive interview with visual collaboration software expert Chandika Jayasundara, we explore how teams of all sizes use this visual collaboration platform. Creately started as a visual collaboration and diagramming platform in 2008. The founders identified two key problems to solve: the lack of collaborative online diagramming tools and the static nature of diagrams embedded in documents. They aimed to create an online canvas for collaborating on rich, interactive diagrams.
Origins at the University of Melbourne
Creately emerged from a research program at the University of Melbourne. Co-founder Chandika explained:
“I participated in a research program at the University of Melbourne, where I worked alongside my co-founder. We discovered that there is no effective way to collaborate on drawings online.”
The Creately team saw potential in combining collaboration with interactive diagrams that contained data and information, not just static images.
This post contains affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission at no additional cost to you.
Launching with a Pay-What-You-Want Model
The Creately team wanted to experiment with pricing when launching their paid product. They opted for a pay-what-you-want model. As Chandika explained:
“We internally had a debate of like, what should we charge? And we thought we should charge a certain amount, around $5 a user, which I thought was okay.”
“It averaged out around the price that we thought it would. Slightly above, you know, $6 was the average.”
This novel approach generated publicity and momentum for the young startup.
Solving Collaborative Diagramming
Enabling real-time collaboration was a core part of Creately's vision. As Chandika noted:
“We figured out that there's no real collaborative way to draw things on the internet, right?”
Creately saw potential in making diagrams more than just static images. Their platform could capture the rich data behind diagrams and connect them.
In the early days, Creately focused on educating customers about their online collaborative diagramming platform. As Chandika explained:
“In the initial days, it was more about educating the customer that, okay, this platform is robust, reliable.”
They relied heavily on content marketing and SEO to attract customers, as collaborative SaaS tools were still emerging.
Over time, Creately has continued improving its platform and expanding its capabilities. It aims to provide the most powerful and flexible collaborative visual workspace possible.
“Creately started itself as a visual collaboration, visual platform that we looked at a while back, all the way back in 2008 when we were first starting.”
Today, Creately is a leading visual collaboration platform that provides teams with an infinite canvas for brainstorming, diagramming, and whiteboarding. While the collaborative aspects were present early on, the full capabilities took time to develop. Chandika notes, “Collaboration was there from day one, but we didn't have all the bells and whistles at that early stage.” The platform has since expanded to include robust real-time collaboration, version history, permissions controls, and integrations with tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Jira.
Expanded Collaborative Features
While real-time collaboration was part of Creately from the start, the feature set has expanded dramatically. Capabilities like version history, permissions controls, commenting, @mentions, and third-party integrations have helped make Creately a fully-featured collaborative platform.
As Chandika explains, “Features like Slack and Microsoft Teams integration have helped teams seamlessly collaborate across tools. Reviews praise the collaborative capabilities, with one user stating Creately “allows multiple people to work on diagrams at the same time,” enabling “concurrent collaboration.” With robust real-time collaboration features, Creately enables seamless teamwork and innovation on its visual collaboration platform.
COVID-19 Led To Mainstream Adoption
“At the start of COVID, we realized we were in a position where we had maybe four competitors. We were always in the top five tools in this segment continuously. And in the six months into COVID, we realized, okay, this is gonna become mainstream and everyone's gonna build one, right?”
“we called it early on. And at that time, we were very much focused on the collaboration and the diagramming aspect of our platform.”
The COVID-19 pandemic led to a rapid increase in remote work and distributed teams. Creately was well-positioned to benefit from this shift. Chandika explains, “At the start of COVID, we realized we were in a position where we had maybe four competitors. We were always in the top five tools in this segment continuously.”
Creately had focused on collaboration and diagramming in the years prior, correctly predicting that “this is gonna become mainstream, and everyone's gonna build one.” Adoption of visual collaboration tools surged, with one study showing a 17% increase from 2020 to 2021. Users praise Creately's usefulness for remote work, with one review stating it “works great for distributed teams.”
Visualize Relationships with Venn Diagrams
Creately's Unique Features
Creately combines advanced diagramming with built-in data integration. Users can visually create diagrams and workflows and connect them to back-end data sources.
“Once you create a diagram in Creately, you can combine it with a database built into Creately,” Chandika explains. This allows a “multimodal view” of information, re-using elements across projects.
For example, a user could copy and paste part of a process flow diagram into another document. If the original diagram gets updated, it automatically updates everywhere it's used. This keeps information in sync across workflows without duplication of effort.
Creately also integrates with external data sources like Jira, GitHub, and Google Sheets. Users can visualize data from these tools, “and it'll always represent the latest information,” says Chandika. The goal is a flexible workspace where teams combine ideas, data, and discussions.
Differentiation Through Data And Knowledge Features
“we realized, okay, everybody's gonna get in here, we will need to find a better niche going forward. So we spent a lot of time in the last few years building these additional capabilities into the platform.”
“that allows us to specialize in helping the user that wants to capture the process or the document or the design, as well as additional information and have a rich central repository of visual workspace. And that's where we've been focusing on.”
Creately leaned into its original vision of linking diagrams to data and knowledge to differentiate itself as competition increased. Chandika explains, “We realized, okay, everybody's going to get in here; we will need to find a better niche. So we spent much time building these additional capabilities in the last few years into the platform.”
Key features include integrating and visualizing data from sources like Jira, GitHub, and Google Drive. Diagrams can also be linked, enabling a “central repository of visual workspace.” One user highlights this capability, stating Creately provides a “single source of truth by integrating…diagrams with external data sources.” Collaboration, diagramming, and data integration make Creately a uniquely powerful platform.
Visual Collaboration Platform Category Continues to Grow
The pandemic has accelerated the need for remote teams to collaborate visually. Chandika explains, “Collaboration is a continuing mainstream trend everyone adopts daily. There’s no change in the amount of growth, only a growing market for visual collaboration.”
When Creately launched in 2008, there were limited options for real-time visual collaboration online. But now, “we see a lot more competitors in this space as well. Platforms that are not really from this space are adopting these capabilities,” says Chandika. Basic whiteboarding tools from companies like Monday.com and ClickUp now offer some core features.
However, these generic tools can't match specialized platforms like Creately in key areas like diagramming. As Chandika explains, “the capabilities required even to do basic things like diagramming properly are not present in a whiteboarding tool.” Specialized players must differentiate on advanced functionality while “keeping your initial UX simple enough for general use adoption.”
Visualize Azure Architectures with Creately
AI Assistance and Generation
AI is the other big trend impacting visual collaboration tools. Competitors like Miro have already announced integrations, and Creately will soon launch AI capabilities in partnership with Microsoft Teams.
Early AI features are basic, just arranging bullet points visually. But Creately plans to take a different approach, viewing AI as a “co-pilot” to enhance teamwork. Chandika believes AI can “open up new angles of thinking” and “avoid groupthink.” He concludes that “applied in the right form, [AI] can be very, very powerful.”
Creately focuses on use cases like brainstorming, process mapping, and project management. Chandika gives the example of using AI for brainstorming, calling it a “huge superpower.” The AI becomes like having another team member, suggesting ideas, and forcing teams to think differently.
Visualize Root Causes with Fishbone Diagrams
Creately is focused on providing a secure and manageable platform for enterprise use. Chandika said, “Earlier this year [we] achieved our SOC 2, Type 2 certification and ISO 27001 certification. So we are, you know, fairly compliant, not fairly compliant, you know, fully compliant.” He also highlighted their “advanced management controls built in so that you can manage the data you have, manage how people share, how people access.” For enterprise adoption, Creately aims to be “integrated with your SCIM or Azure AD and so on and so forth. So it's really streamlined for enterprise use.”
We believe that
SOC 2, Type 2 certification, and ISO 27001 certification provide external validation that companies have implemented critical security controls to protect sensitive customer data. These certifications build trust with customers and business partners by demonstrating a commitment to data security.
Security certifications like SOC 2 and ISO 27001
As mentioned above, Creately has obtained key security certifications like SOC 2 and ISO 27001, ensuring enterprise clients' data and systems are secure. Chandika said, "We, you know, just earlier this year, achieved our SOC 2, Type 2 certification and ISO 27001 certification. So we are, you know, fairly compliant, not fairly compliant, you know, fully compliant." These certifications show Creately's commitment to security. strongdm covers the topic.
Management controls and SCIM/SSO integrations
Creately provides robust access and data controls for managing users and permissions. Chandika highlighted their “advanced management controls built in so that you can manage the data you have, manage how people share, how people access.” It also integrates with SCIM and SSO for easy onboarding and offboarding enterprise users. As Chandika said, it is “integrated with your SCIM or Azure AD and so on and so forth. So it's really streamlined for enterprise use.”
Use cases across departments and roles
A key benefit of Creately is its flexibility across use cases and departments. Chandika explained, “We have thousands of custom design templates people can use on Creately. And we are, you know, we see organizations able to use the product across all departments in different use cases.” Whether it's brainstorming, process mapping, project management, or more, Creately aims to support visual collaboration for every team.
Enabling Visual Thinking
A core goal of Creately is promoting visual thinking in teams and organizations. As Chandika said, “What we're getting into is helping people, introduce people to this power of various visual structures and various models of thinking.”
Templates and frameworks to structure thinking
Creately includes thousands of templates and visual frameworks to help teams structure their thinking, like SWOT analysis, business model canvases, and more. Chandika explained, “For example, a SWOT diagram, a strength weaknesses, opportunities, and threat diagram, Kanban board is another way…the business model canvas, it's a beautiful way of outlining what a business looks like from a very high-level view.” These frameworks make it easy for anyone to apply visual thinking.
Uncovering Team Insights Through Retrospectives
Making visual collaboration mainstream beyond basic flowcharts
While flowcharts are common, Creately wants to mainstream more advanced visual collaboration. As Chandika said, “Having a tool, okay, so we give it to somebody who does not understand visual frameworks, how to apply these things. They will still draw a basic flow chart or a bunch of stickies; they'll replicate what they'll do on a whiteboard because that's the visual structure they know.” Providing templates and frameworks enables teams to move beyond basic diagrams.
Creately offers security, integrations, and use cases tailored for enterprises while promoting visual thinking through templates and frameworks to make visual collaboration mainstream. Their certifications, controls, and flexibility allow adoption across the organization.
The journey of Creately from a research project to mainstream success has been exciting. This sparked their mission to create an online canvas for team diagramming and visual collaboration. Creately's novel pay-what-you-want launch generated buzz and an average revenue of $6 per user. But the real breakthrough came with COVID-19 remote work. Chandika explains, “At the start of COVID, we realized we were in a position where we had maybe four competitors.” Creately was poised to ride the visual collaboration wave they saw coming.
Competition soon flooded in, but Creately leaned into their vision of connecting diagrams and data. Now their platform integrates with tools like Jira, visualizing back-end information. Chandika says, “You can combine all these things and have a central place as a point of reference, as the central canvas of collaboration.”
The future looks bright for Creately as they expands into AI. Chandika believes it can “open up new angles of thinking” and avoid groupthink if applied correctly. Soon users will have an AI “co-pilot” to enhance ideation and teamwork. After 13 years of growth, Creately has cemented itself as a leader in visual collaboration. Their unique combination of diagrams, data integration, and security certifications creates a flexible workspace ready for enterprises.
See for yourself. Sign up for a free trial of Creately today to unlock visual collaboration for your team!
Watch our episode featuring Creately: In this Software Spotlight podcast, Michael Bernzweig interviews Chandika Jayasundara, Co-Founder of visual collaboration platform Creately, on the company's growth from a 2008 research project to over 10 million users today. Chandika explains how the initial vision of diagrams with data layers evolved to a focus on enabling collaboration across tools like Microsoft Teams. With recent ISO and SOC 2 certifications, Creately continues to build trust and integration capabilities.