Madison startup aims to harness the power of the checklist

Be it individuals, families, students or businesses, it seems everyone has an endless “to-do” list. Without writing down the tasks one needs to complete to get through the day, most people can’t keep track of all the things they need to finish.

Some still take the pen and paper approach, and countless list-making apps can be found on smartphone home-screens. Within businesses, where many tasks require careful collaboration among team members, these methods can sometimes allow important tasks to fall by the wayside.

Mark McEahern and Philip Crawford put it at the top of their own “to-do” list to solve the problem of streamlining checklists and making them more efficient in business and personal settings.

“It all started when Mark read ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ by Atul Gawande,” Crawford said. The book inspired both to examine how the power of checklists can be harnessed to effectively improve people’s lives.

Their company, Manifestly, has developed a product that aims to do precisely that. The company was profiled as part of a business series done this fall by UW-Madison students.

Unlike other checklist apps, the Manifestly app focuses on recurring workflows, standard operating procedures, and most of all, collaboration. Many tasks within businesses often happen multiple times, and Manifestly can help businesses track these workflows, streamlining repetitive processes.

The app can not only keep track of these tasks, but also distribute them, create workflows, standardize processes, meet compliance and more. These tasks are also accessible to all involved, increasing accountability and decreasing the risk that an important task accidentally goes undone.

“What we have are collaborative checklists for organizations. Very few tools target that niche,” Crawford said. While Manifestly is looking to fill the gaps left by other popular checklist apps, it is also finding success collaborating with apps already in popular use within companies.

“Slack has been a very important integration for us,” said Crawford. “Slack is currently the number one way we get new accounts.”

Manifestly’s app is built to seamlessly integrate with Slack, a communications platform gaining traction with many companies for its ability to bring team members together. Manifestly is looking to continue to take advantage of Slack to gear the product towards improving task management programs that may not sufficiently cover the needs of a team.

The road to the successes being enjoyed by Manifestly has been full of the twists and turns expected of a startup. By being creative and dedicated, Crawford and McEahern have tried to look at each challenge in a positive light.

“We’re bootstrapped 100 percent, and the disadvantage you have is you don’t have money to pay to get a lot of things done. It’s difficult,” Crawford said. “But the pro side of that is when you’re bootstrapped, you don’t have the pressure. You can actually take (more time) to figure out the product market fit.”

Crawford sees Manifestly being a strong market fit with the future of task management.

“The future will be a connected web that includes a lot of (artificial intelligence),” Crawford said, “and we want to be a tool where these workflows are done by a combination of both people and AI/software systems.”

By Rachael Andrew
Andrew is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.