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How did Slack become so popular?

Slack just closed a new financing round of $200mn at a $3.8bn valuation. Slack was only launched in August 2013, the growth has been staggering. So how did Slack do it? While the messaging sector already seemed saturated, the corporate internal communication possibilities were not as developed. Still, Slack faced a myriad of competitors, but still managed to come out on top. Here are some of the main reasons why Slack was able to grow as fast as it did.


Location – Slack is situated in the heart of Silicon Valley. Many competitors have not had such luck (or did not take the step to relocate, which could have been very beneficial). Nowadays, this is not a huge advantage for Slack anymore, Slack has long since turned its attention to larger markets. But at the beginning this proved very useful. Silicon Valley is a place of early adopters. Most of the best new startups originate from or flock to the Bay Area, so Slack was able to get first feedback right off the bat. And together with early users, Slack was able to grow and develop according to their users’ needs.


Integrations – did you know Slack has its own “store” for Slack Apps? Slack allows companies to integrate their tools into Slack, centralizing a lot of their different tools in a single place. For many companies, this was not possible before, and is a huge advantage over other corporate chat services. From the IT department to the Marketing department, there are many handy integrations which make life easier.


Education of the User – Slack faces a big challenge in acquiring new users, because they not only have to convince a single user, but a whole group of users to change to their messaging platform. As Slack Founder Stewart Butterfield put it: “If one engineer at a startup tries Slack and says, ‘I hate it. I am not going to use this,’ that’s it for us. We won’t get evaluated.” So what Slack has invested a lot of time in was educating users about Slack. Slack needed to explain to them what possibilities Slack offers, and how Slack can help them personally. Instead of convincing all users of a team though, Slack aimed at the administrator/team leader of the group, who in turn was able to convince his/her team members.


Additionally, Slack makes it very easy for users to transition into a new messaging platform – teams within larger organizations can use Slack on their own, while company-wide a different communication system is still used. So a few teams are able to test it out, instead of the company having to make the decision to transfer to the new messaging system completely at once.


Usability – although Slack seems like a simple chat platform, there is an attention to detail which makes Slack just so much better. Personalized emojis, different styling for code, the Slackbot – these small things create a playful, well-rounded experience. Using Slack is easy and fun – which is what a lot of companies are looking for – communication tends to be quite difficult when the company grows, and Slack ensures that employees stay on top of what they need to know.


Addiction – Slack is addicting, and the addiction is probably the strongest factor in their rise to unicorn-status. Similar to how people are constantly on Facebook, no one wants to miss out on social activity around them. Since Slack allows unlimited groups, you can have groups for certain activities and interests within your company (e.g. a group dedicated to soccer, or a group for weekend activities).


Apart from that, you are not limited to a single team/domain – there are a lot of public Slack domains out there, for all interest groups. The more domains you join, the more messages you can sift through and the more people you can contact. You just keep going back to Slack with these possibilities.


Business Model – the model is simply brilliant. Signing up and using the service is completely free – it does not matter how many users you need for your team. However, it is only free up to a point. “Only” 10,000 messages are stored for each team. At first this seems like a lot, but at some point you realise that going back in your chat history is necessary – but these messages will be gone forever unless you upgrade. At the point you have reached 10,000 messages, you have become reliant on Slack though, changing the messaging platform would require a huge change in your company.

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