There’s an argument raging among digerati right now whether Slack is a bona fide platform. One can’t argue, however, that Slack hasn’t become the central online workplace for more and more people, as its mission to make work more productive and more fun takes hold with more than two million people using it every day (roughly 25 percent of them on paid accounts).
The company’s announcement this week that it is launching a platform and funding it with both tools and money will make it that much easier for the company to lock in customers, since they will be able to interact with more and more apps from inside Slack, often via the rudimentary AI features of the service’s “bot.”
Stewart Butterfield did well on his first major entrepreneurial venture. His company’s initial product, a multiplayer game, never shipped, but Ludicorp, which he helped found in 2002, sold its next project, the pioneering photo-sharing service Flickr, to Yahoo in 2005. Butterfield stuck around Yahoo until 2008 and then returned to entrepreneurship as a founder of Tiny Speck.
As with Ludicorp, Tiny Speck started as a game developer. And as with Ludicorp, Tiny Speck’s launch game, Glitch, never caught on. However, an internal communications tool Tiny Speck built and used while developing Glitch, called Slack, has become one of the most popular business tools of the moment, one of the few explicitly business tools that has also taken off among consumers. Capturing some of the most useful elements of both email and messaging, while eschewing the bloat and unfriendliness associated with each, Slack has enjoyed massive success.
Microsoft doesn’t have quite the money in the bank that Apple has (just under $100 billion as opposed to the more than $200 billion at Tim Cook’s disposal), but it has plenty to fund many, many years of experimentation as the Windows and Office cash cows slim down. The Steve Ballmer era at Microsoft was characterized by a protect-the-queen mentality that didn’t lose its grip until Satya Nadella succeeded him as CEO in early 2014.
It’s easy to denigrate some of the initiatives started or accelerated during Nadella’s tenure so far as the acts of a copycat, but the shift from “devices and services” has freed the Redmond giant to expand from its core while rethinking how it manages that core. When Microsoft has one of the best email clients running on Apple’s iOS, something profound has changed. Nadella is operating, in a no-longer-Microsoft-centric tech world, with interoperability on his mind.