Inside and Out: How We’re Building Our Startup on Slack
Our team has been developing complex applications for several years, but in the last 12-months we broke through to a new level of velocity. That happened when we fully embraced Slack across our company’s operations. If you’re considering an app like Slack or Hipchat for your organization, maybe our experience will be helpful.
First a bit about what we’re building. MarketSpace collects, organizes, customizes and visualizes developments about the companies, products and people you care about, such as your competition or your investment portfolio. We watch a wide set of sources: like news items, product reviews, job listings, social posts, app updates and ratings — and let you choose what matters to you. To achieve high signal-to-noise, we use machine learning and human curators together for classifying and organizing content; not unlike the kind of curation you find behind Apple Music or Apple News.
MarketSpace is an “invisible app.” While you can use MarketSpace in a beautiful web interface, you and your team are as likely to use it every day through an email digest, RSS feed, mobile notifications, or inside other applications that are already part of your workflow.
What we have found in the last year is that Slack now touches and improves just about every aspect of our operations, across development and testing, system monitoring, workflow, data operations, customer development and now even the delivery of the service itself.
Development and Testing
Coding is the heart of our team’s work, so like most Slack users, check-ins to our code repositories all flow into Slack. QA flows there, too, which is particularly convenient for remote testers. Even non-coders like me tune into our dev channels on Slack, because when code is pushed it’s usually time to test what’s changed. The process of coding and testing as a team finds its rhythm through Slack, and stuff happens faster.
Since Slack isn’t itself a task tracking system, we use Trello to document and store requirements. But Slack is where those requirements actually get shared and evolve.
Healthy operation of our system relies on dozens of independent processes, as data objects (news, social, video, etc.) flow in and are de-duplicated, enhanced, tagged or deleted. Of course, any of those processes can fail, and when they do, it’s usually urgent. We’ve invested time in connecting those processes to Slack, so that when they fail, we know immediately. We’ve even hooked up a channel to monitor announcements from our ISP when there’s network trouble.
We also use Slack to keep everyone up to date on the “North Star” metrics that measure how we are performing against key targets. For example, we constantly track how many of the classifications in the system have been provided by machine learning, as opposed to those that required human intervention. The daily report on this gives us cause to celebrate when it rises or passes a milestone; when it dips, we’re on it fast to figure out why.
Slack integrations aren’t just for observing what’s happening, they are also great for tasking ourselves to get things done. Just about every task for our extended curation team runs through Slack with an hourly report of jobs to be done, linked directly to the page where the work is executed. Our curators save time, and on the hour, everyone can see how we’re doing.
Our workflow is now so deeply embedded in Slack that whenever we need to add some operational step or process, we ask ourselves first, what part of this can we handle or manage with a Slack integration? Often, our work becomes simply developing ancillary pages that hang off of Slack-driven functions.
Like many companies, we’ve embraced Slack logging for every significant customer touch, like a new signup, user comment, completed survey, asked a question or interacted with an A/B test, among others. For our customers who are themselves on Slack already, we’ve invited them as free single-channel users to our #hotline channel, giving the customer direct access to the entire team through Slack.
We also log all of our outbound marketing activity into Slack, so that the whole team can see when we tweet. All of our Twitter activity, Facebook activity etc. comes for the team and is available in real-time. In this way, not only do the marketing folks have visibility on what code has been pushed, the developers can easily see what the marketers do all day long, too. This kind of transparency across functional teams drives agility and accountability.
Even with all of these integrations in play, we’re not quite finished. Not only are we building on Slack, we’re also building for Slack. As an invisible app, we’re offering our core product experience — your curated feed of company data — through Slack. MarketSpace lives in a channel that anyone on your team can use to stay up to date on developments like app rating changes, new product reviews or competitive app updates. As a Slack integration, users can tune into their MarketSpace without even needing to create an account, helping us grow even more quickly across work groups.
This integration completes the circle of our relationship with Slack. Slack gives you visibility on just about everything happening inside your business. With MarketSpace integrated into Slack, now you can also see what’s happening outside of your business, in the market where you hope to thrive. For us, that combined view makes Slack even more of a killer app.