The Slack Story

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Have you ever heard the phrase “like cogs in a wheel” and wondered what it means? It means when all the cogs, or gears of a machine function well individually, the machine as a whole picture can function smoothly without running into any major bumps. 

“That’s a weird idiom to begin the article with, what does it have to do with Slack?” you might ask.

Well, before I worked at the company I’m currently working at, I used to work for a small start-up with a few other people. I had no complaints about my fellow employees, they were very sweet people. But communication intra-firm was a little “old school”. We never really had the sense of a team, we were split into departments and we rarely spoke to someone outside our own department.

Picture this, you have a lot of projects active at the same time and following up the changes and iterations through messages or email. It’s a very strenuous process.

What if you had different channels to communicate about each project, and the ability to reply in threads to each message so eachso it’s each person’s input can be taken into account? 

Slack brings about this change in a very easy to adapt manner. If X marks the spot, someone ought to put a big X over Slack because this software is a true treasure in itself. 

What is Slack?

Slack stands for "Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge", and was developed by Stewart Butterfield, Eric Costello, Serguei Mourachov, and Cal Henderson during the development of Glitch, an MMORPG. It is a business communication software best aimed towards companies, with an aim to reduce the redundancy of the older ways of communication.

Slack began as an internal tool for Tiny Speck, Butterfield’s company, and was created out of necessity to enable better communication between the various departments of the company. Tiny Speck didn’t intend for Slack to be a SaaS but they later realized the product’s commercial potential.

A tool intended for a videogame company is now being used by companies such as Pinterest, Shopify, Udemy, Robinhood, IBM, Oracle, Lyft, and even Slack themselves. Companies from all corners of the world use and love Slack. 

A roaring start

When Slack was announced, it became the fastest-growing startup. It reached $1 Billion after eight months of production, without spending a single cent on advertising. They didn’t even have a Chief Marketing Officer. 

Remember Glitch? That didn’t work out, due to a failure to attract an audience large enough to sustain itself, and Glitch was shut down for its own good. But this led to the birth of Slack and the funding process began.

The company received $17 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Accel, and Social Capital in 2014. In April 2014 Slack raised $42.75 million and in October of that year, they raised $120 million in venture capital with a $1.2 billion valuation led by Kleiner Parkins and GV. 

In March 2015, Slack signed a deal to raise $160 million in funding, and the funding round valued the company at $2.76 billion. Institutional Venture Partners, Horizons Ventures, Index Ventures, and DST Global were some of the new investors. 

In April 2015, Slack raised $160 million and their leading investor was Social Capital.

In April 2016, they raised $200 million, with the help of Thrive Capital, GGV, Comcast Ventures, and some of the preexisting investors like Accel and Social Capital. 

In September 2017, the company raised $250 million, with Softbank Vision Fund providing 45%, or $112.5 million. This round put Slack’s total raised funds at $841 million and valued the company at $5.1 billion.

In December 2018, the company announced that it would go public through Direct Public Offering and went public in June 2019, on New York Stock Exchange with a market value of $19.5 billion. 

In January 2021, Salesforce, a cloud-based CRM company announced that they would acquire Slack for $27.7 billion. The acquisition closed in July 2021.

What does Slack do differently?

Slack’s motto is “be less busy”. It pays emphasis on visual design, with a variety of themes, and fonts to choose from. It also has an interactive, easy-to-use design that can be comprehended in a matter of minutes.

Slack offers a list of channels, with the option to add more channels or for users to join an existing channel with the click of a button. For example design, marketing, customer service, content writing can all be individual channels with messages relevant to those channels being sent in it, and a general channel for company-wide announcements.

This is one software that screams FUN at every corner. Every line of text can be responded to in its own thread, or be reacted to with preexisting emojis, or users can upload their own images to add as emojis. 

A feature that I personally love is notification time customization. The user gets full control over when they receive notifications, mine is set up to receive notifications between 8 am and 6 pm on weekdays.

Integrations in Slack

Cogs in a wheel, yes I remember. We’ll get to that in this section.

Slack has a wide variety of options to send media. Images, GIFs(pronounced JIF, I’ll fight you on that), videos, links, documents, and anything else you can think of. 

Links can be sent in chats, threads, or as a Direct Message(DM), and links from Youtube, SoundCloud or Spotify open an embedded player within Slack, which by the way works seamlessly.

Another such integration is GIPHY. With the command /giphy Dwight Schrute, I’ll be provided with an endless array of GIFs related to my keyword. This cuts down SO much time, mainly the time spent searching for a gif, downloading it, and dragging it onto Slack, and then sending.

Slack also has bots integrated into it, one of which is Kaapi. This bot asks questions every day at a fixed time, asking for work-related progress and updates. The admin can also ask icebreaker questions, for the team members to answer. The answers can go to any channel(preferably a channel with all of the team members in it) and these answers can be public for the whole team to view and respond to.

My team and I generally have a lot of fun by replying to the answers in threads, reacting with short GIFs or videos, and pulling their legs. This is what builds a sense of connection amongst each other, this is the reason we check up on each other even during our off days. 

I can say that Slack has helped me get closer to my fellow employees, and now I see them as friends, rather than “that lady from HR”. This is what enables us to have a smooth flow of communication, and a better interpersonal relationship which at the end of the day results in improved team morale and boosts overall performance.

Where does the software slack off?

Nothing is perfect, and Slack isn’t either. 

Slack has been heavily criticized for storing all the messages on the cloud and it’s controlled by Slack. It was also prone to network outages, Facebook and Instagram being the recent victims. 

Slack was also hacked in 2015, and some sensitive user data such as email, username, passwords, and phone numbers were compromised. Learning from this mistake, developers quickly implemented two-factor authentication.

But that too proved ineffective to a group of hackers who hacked EA, the publisher of games such as FIFA and Battlefield. They gained access posing as an employee who had lost his phone and reached out to the admin for the two-factor authentication. EA later stated that and stole 780GB of source code from the game compilers channel.

Many users have also reported that the software is “too addictive” and eats up more time than they’d like to admit. It’s easy to get sucked down the Slack rabbit hole.

Closing thoughts

Slack is a software that checks a lot of boxes and offers a wide array of productive and fun features. It has four plans, namely Free, Pro, Business+, and Enterprise Grid. There’s a plan suitable for a company of any size, although many start-ups can make use of the free plan at the cost of sacrificing a few features.