There is a new outliner for the web and mobile called Transno. It looks to me to be a clone of Dynalist. I know Dynalist was inspired by Workflowy, but this looks like a bit more than just inspiration to me… Might be worth looking into?
I was curious about the same thing so I put my Google skills into test.
Note: the info below was based on my rabbit hole journey about two weeks ago when I first noticed then marketing on Twitter. They have then deleted their tweet, but you can still see the conversation here: https://twitter.com/daniaoren/status/1193819910843117568
Stage 1: a Mubu clone?
I first noticed that Transno looks very similar to Mubu. In fact, some of the pages were identical on a pixel level. Like, 100% identical. Below, Transno is on the left, and Mubu is on the right.
Some background information: Mubu is an outliner that was released around the end of 2016. I’m not sure if they were ever inspired by Dynalist, but they may have been. Correct me if I’m wrong, I think we’re the first to mention the idea of having multiple views (including the prototyped mindmap view) while maintaining a WorkFlowy-like fluid data input experience. I had this idea because I was both an outliner user and a mindmap user, and for a programmer, it’s easy to see that their data structures are the same (hierarchical trees), so why not?
If the founders of Mubu have seen that post, it’s fair to say they were inspired. I don’t know if Mubu ever intended to clone Dynalist, but their visual style is more like Shimo rather than Dynalist. Mubu did have the selling point of being accessible in mainland China while access to Dynalist is slow and unreliable.
So at this point, I thought Transno is a Singapore clone of the Chinese Mubu (they mentioned they are based in Singapore in that deleted tweet). But something feels off… so I continued down the rabbit hole.
Transno is currently in such an early stage that they don’t even have a proper website footer, so I had no idea what company is behind it. At first, I assumed it was a hobby project by some individual who hadn’t incorporated a company for the project, or that the individual would rather not disclose their identity. My assumption was further confirmed by the fact that their iOS app was released under the name of “xueying yin”, rather than a proper company name. We went through the iOS App Store process so we know you do need a proper business set up to show a proper developer name.
Stage 2: side project of an established project?
A quick Google search tells that this company’s flagship product seems to be another product, unsurprising called Lark. The description was vague, but it was clear that it targeted teams and businesses with a billion workspace features.
Another quick LinkedIn search revealed that Lark has 90 employees. I don’t know how many of them work on Transno and how many of them work on Lark, but it’s a pretty big ass company (we’re only 2).
Conclusion: Mubu resurrected by ByteDance!
Is that the whole story? Not so fast! Something still feels off.
Lark has 90 employees, I bet they have proper designers. Why would they rip CSS off Mubu like that?
Puzzled, I started browsing their employees on LinkedIn, hoping I could find a designer who has worked for Mubu. Instead, I found a certain cofounder of Lark who is also a VP of ByteDance.
ByteDance… wait. Now all the dots are connected! I had an eureka moment.
Back in April, Mubu was acquired by ByteDance. It wasn’t really a surprise to us, as we’re well aware of how small the outliner market currently is.
Apparently, ByteDance saw potential in selling this kind of outliner to teams and businesses, bought Mubu, established Lark, and shoveled Transno there, probably reusing lots of the old Mubu code.
And ByteDance has reached out to Dynalist about corporate development (a.k.a. buying your company) back in 2018, and they mentioned they’re trying to establish some business products in the United States to diversify their offerings. Transno is based in Singapore which also makes it easier to be marketed to the rest of the world, unlike a Chinese product who is bound by the local legislations. It made sense. ByteDance was strong in social media products like TikTok and Toutiao, and as Alibaba acquired Teamambition and Tencent might expand Wechat to Wechat Enterprise, it makes sense that ByteDance wants to incubate a bunch of business productivity products and see which ones work, Lark and Transno included.
ByteDance is huge. They have millions if not billions in the bank, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. If a product takes off, they can throw millions into R&D. On the other hand, if a product doesn’t take off, they can kill it anytime. As a huge business, I imagine they aren’t emotionally attached to their product as we are. Everything is just a business decision, we totally understand and respect that.
So that’s what I got from looking into Transno. I didn’t expect the post to start with sharing what I found and to end with an analysis of the Chinese tech company landscape… Please ignore the part that you deem irrelevant, sorry!
Let me know if you detectives find anything else! Always curious to learn about our competitors.
Some serious research is going on here. Ever thought about a journalistic career?
My first thought was that the document based approach reminds me of Dynalist and the bullet/outline design looks similar to Workflowy. But it has some interesting features like the collaboration.
I started the research thinking there should be some straightforward answer, but then I went down the rabbit hole…
Yup, I agree live collaboration is pretty cool. I guess it’s mandatory for selling to teams, their primary targeted audience.
Yep but to be honest they are missing some crucial things. The documents need quite long to load and the app is missing a quick way to jump around documents and nodes (no bookmarks, no Ctrl+O).
I imported a document with ~10k nodes, Transmo can’t handle that at all. Zooming in and out takes decades and the app regularly stops working completely.
Compared with Dynalist where everything happens blazing fast this app is in an early stage so one can’t really compare it to Dynalist performance wise. But it was nice looking into it tough and maybe some of the better features will find their a way into Dynalist one day
Definitely! We’ll be taking tab on Transno
In my experience indie developer apps never survive getting bought out by a large company, so I’m glad you guys didn’t take the offer!
If somebody buys dynalist they’d probably want it to embed in some bigger products.
There wasn’t an offer, because we weren’t interested in discussing it at all
I agree apps usually don’t end up well when sold. Like Wunderlist… I read somewhere that the founder tried to buy back the company after selling it, but he couldn’t. Sad story.
That’s for sure one of the main reasons that makes this product so great and so valuable! And by mentioning that, I must say that I don’t keep looking for alternatives. I did the switch from Workflowy once and that was it. Dynalist is on a pedestal to me, mainly because it’s so much adored by its founders. They know how to properly take care of it. I’m fully satisfied. And I can understand who isn’t - for some people there will be always something missing. And one tiny little feature that another service offers them, it’s usually enough for them to make the move. That easy… It shouldn’t be like that. To me, even if they stopped improving the product (I know that won’t happen), I would still keep using it. Long live Dynalist!
Thank you for the kind words, Fabio!