Slack is on a collision course with WhatsApp

In our tech circles, we all use and rave about Slack. It’s a fantastic product. It was built for business, but with some fun, consumer-y touches. It makes us *want* to work. With Slack.

It’s been so good for work, that people are using it more and more for personal matters (see megan quinn’s Slack After Hours).

The other day I spent the evening with a lot of friends from non-tech small and medium businesses. I brought up the Slack subject. None of them use it at work. In fact, they had never heard of it. Frankly, it’s not that surprising: Slack is young and has had a lot of focus on tech so far — the potential for growth is enormous.

I started to explain what it was, and their unanimous reaction took me aback:

“Oh, but we use WhatsApp for that”.

In fact, they quickly got really excited about the topic and they started to share their “WhatsApp at work” war stories. In one of them, they had a major “compliance” issue (the guy works in a fund) where a boss was asking questions in WhatsApp and no one could really tell whether this was to be considered professional or business related material (NB: this state/church separation question will indeed be critical moving forward).

The point is: they have already integrated WhatsApp as a natural part of their work.

Think about it:

  • everyone has WhatsApp on their phone. Granted, I speak from a European perspective and the US might be a bit different. But with 1 billion users, there’s probably some truth to this.
  • you might argue the smartphone interface is not always the most appropriate for complex, longer business communications (Slack has had a desktop version since the beginning). But the reality is the WhatsApp web app is really, really good. No install is required (an IT dream?), and the sign up process is an absolute breeze. So this box is ticked already.
  • they are adding business-y features. Just this week they added some level of document sharing.

Slack is still miles ahead when it comes to integration with other services (the Github, Asana etc) and “bots”. They have been “open” since early on and they allow all kinds of integrations (thanks Product Hunt!) that make work easier and faster. The community is strong and people across the world make Slack better everyday.

But on the other end of the spectrum, the current consensus is consumer messaging apps will have to open to third party integrations (see also Benedict Evans’s take). WeChat’s success in Asia has shown the way. So it’s obvious that WhatsApp is working, and working hard on this.

How difficult is it to compete against an app that’s become as pervasive as phones themselves in many parts of the world? An app that people use every single day many, many times? Very difficult.

But Slack has shown so much talent and created such a strong community, it will be an interesting one to watch.

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