With companies constantly looking for new ways to drive productivity by helping their team collaborate more efficiently, it’s no wonder that over the past several years we’ve witnessed the rise of a new breed of chat-based productivity tools. Whether you want to interact with your whole team or have one on one conversations, tools like Slack, Trello, and Asana have revolutionized the way teams interact. Out of all the existing tools, Slack has emerged as the champion of these new tools by making enterprise software both sexy and efficient. It boasts astronomical growth as evidenced by its 2.7 million daily active users since its launch three years ago, and prior to earlier this month, it seemed like it would remain unchallenged as the leader in the space.
That is, until the announcement of Microsoft Teams.
On November 2nd, Microsoft announced the launch of Teams, a new chat-based workspace for their Office 365 product suite with the goal of bringing together people, conversations and content—along with the tools that teams need—so they can easily collaborate to achieve more. It will be available in 181 countries and in 18 languages to commercial customers with Office 365 Enterprise or Business plans, with general availability expected in the first quarter of 2017.
After several years of being the runaway favorite of chat-based productivity tools, finally Slack will finally have a challenger and worthy adversary to compete for market share. How does Slack feel this newfound competition? In short, not worried whatsoever. Just hours before the official announcement about Teams, Slack ran a less than gracious full-page ad in the New York Times that was filled with snark and half jokingly looked Microsoft dead in the eye and proclaimed bring it on. It was a bold move, yet it wasn't unprecedented.
The move was inspired by a now legendary Apple tactic from 1981. Once Apple found out that its biggest competitor, IBM, was launching its own version of the personal computer, Apple took out a full page ad in The Wall Street Journal that was equally filled with snark and is now remembered as a highwater mark for passive aggressive advertising.
Snarky advertising tactics notwithstanding, what does the announcement about Microsoft Teams mean for Slack? For years now, Slack has been the definition of a Silicon Valley darling—it has a passionate, grassroots following that has snowballed into an unignorable powerhouse to a degree that hasn’t been seen for years. It's one of the few enterprise tools that people are vehemently passionate about. There's also the so called Slack virus where someone sees what can be done on Slack from a friend who works at another company and they become impassioned to get buy-in from their organization to adopt Slack as well. How many other enterprise-level tools can boast similar passion from their users? Not many, if any at all.
Slack has always felt, looked, and sounded different than the boring enterprise competition, but still, that's not their $2.8 billion secret sauce. When asked about what made Slack so wildly successful, founder Stewart Butterfield commented our team has always focused on education, feedback, customer happiness, and metric analysis to drive our success.
But that's just the tip of iceberg. Slack's success is due to it being an open source platform that incentivizes developers to create their own tools. It even worked with its investors to raise an $80 million fund to invest in developers who build on Slack. The direct result of this are literally thousands of different tools that all integrate with Slack. These tools run the gamut from productivity enhancers to more lighthearted, fun tools that reflect the delineation of the oft-discussed work/life balance. Additionally, Slack has also been known to drastically reduce internal emails and integrate with the tools and apps you’re already using, all within Slack.
When analyzing the Microsoft Teams integration set, to say that the product integrations are heavily Microsoft-focused would be an understatement. Excel, PowerPoint, and Word all integrate with Microsoft Teams, as does Skype.
Despite all of its success, Slack was ripe for worthy competition. It was just too powerful, too talked about, too prolific, and too widely adopted to not have a legitimate adversary. It's interesting that its competition came from Microsoft because now we have a classic David (startup) versus Goliath (publicly traded giant) scenario. One of the keys for Microsoft Teams being successful will be if it can integrate beyond Microsoft products and services. When reading the Slack full page ad in The Times, it's tough to decipher whether or not Slack is scared or encouraging of this new competition. Regardless, this matchup will prove to be one of the most interesting developments in the history of enterprise software.