Slack, the next big thing in business communication

Enrique Dans
Feb 16, 2015 · 3 min read

Eighteen months after it was launched, team communication facilitator Slack now has half a million active users, and according to the firm is the fastest-growing business application ever (its user base has quadrupled in the last six months), with more than 60,000 teams working together through more than 1.7 billion messages.

Its founder, Stewart Butterfield, was one of the creators of Flickr, which was far and away the best photo app before Yahoo! turned it into a zombie — which sadly is the case with just about everything Yahoo! touches. Conceived as an email killer, Slack puts the emphasis on instant messaging, in the form of a chat window with a tool bar on the left with several channels, ordered from top to bottom on the basis of their intrusiveness (direct message, private groups, etc.)

At the very top of the screen is a list of channels and subjects that light up when you have missed messages related to them, along with a red number if you were directly mentioned. From there, an extremely flexible tool box allows teams to use Google Drive, Hangouts, Twitter, Trello, GitHub, Mailchimp, Dropbox, or whatever else occurs to them. Ticket systems, analysis reports, etc., are all available through a powerful search engine that can locate any piece of communication, event, or thread just by using any of the words included in them.

The result is a communication tool that is infinitely more efficient than email, much more “welcoming”, and making it easier for newcomers to get a feel for a company’s culture. Companies try it out, they adopt it, they integrate their favorite bars… and very, very few drop out. From a business perspective, it offers a very open and flexible freemium service in which the core of the product can be used free of charge, with the possibility of adding functions for hardcore users. During the first year 135,000 companies have signed up to the pay service, bringing in 12 million dollars every 11 days. Such a state of affairs will continue for as long as the product continues to fulfill the promise of its creators: once you start using it, you’ll never stop.

For the moment, Slack is proving to be a very versatile tool, and highly recommendable for companies that are beginning to draw up communication structures, for dispersed teams, or for improving communication and information circulation over traditional approaches.

Obviously, Slack is not alone in trying to reinvent corporate communication: tools such as Microsoft’s Yammer, Cotap, Zula, and Spain’s IMbox.me are also trying to carve a niche for themselves in this area, one where success doesn’t just depend on the types of tools used, but also on the support given by consultants or the knowledge provided by technology directors. But a brilliant launch strategy, which prompted more than 8,000 companies to sign up in the first 24 hours, and that didn’t cost it a dime in advertising, has given Slack impressive growth and generated no end of stories in the media. The company has captured the imagination of growing numbers of directors, and seems to have started an acquisitions strategy to reinforce its core tool.

It’s too early to call victory, but without doubt we are seeing an internal communications trend that will have a huge impact on corporate habits, possibly to the same degree that email did in the late 1990s.


(En español, aquí)

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

    Enrique Dans

    Written by

    Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at enriquedans.com

    Enrique Dans

    On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

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