So long are the days of time-guzzling emails and inefficient workflow systems. Since debuting about three years ago, Slack, at the head of the workplace communication space, has revolutionized the “office experience,” gaining traction with organizations of all sizes and across the world.
The Vancouver, British Columbia-based company’s Chief Executive Officer and founder Stewart Butterfield is an interesting character himself, having graduated with a philosophy degree from the University of Cambridge. Until age three, Butterfield lived with his family in a log cabin with no running water. At a young age, he taught himself how to code. Butterfield went on to found photo-sharing site Flickr with is ex-wife, which sold to Yahoo in 2005 for $35 million.
In 2014, the serial entrepreneur built and used Slack at his now-shut down video game startup named Glitch. It was the second time that he successfully spun out a business from a failed gaming company. From the get-go, the prototype of Slack was intended to make people’s working lives simpler, more pleasant and more productive.
The company allows its users to share and track documents, message their teams and send their coworkers emojis via a cloud-based set of team collaboration tools and services. Slack, an acronym for “Searchable Log of All Conversations and Knowledge,” lists clients such as IBM, Capital One and eBay, alongside thousands of startups. On the one hand, businesses join Slack in efforts to condense communications, working to keep employees on the same page and inspire a sense of cohesiveness. The offering is particularly attractive for companies with remote teams and those working across time zones.
While Slack is useful for one-line-at-a-time, real-time conversations, organizations such as Doist, the team behind productivity app Todoist, warn on the downside of it becoming a company’s primary means of communication. Doist quit Slack after two years with the software company, claiming that its channel was addictive, built for shallow communication instead of big picture discussions and was disorganized as simultaneous conversations could occur within a single channel. In response, the firm launched a service called Twist, designed as a less distracting version of Slack which offers collaboration without as many pings and digressions. As more of a streamlined approach to email, Twist focuses on specific topics within channels, as opposed to grouping all activity into a single channel.
In June, word got out that e-commerce giant Amazon.com was one of a few tech giants interested in buying out Slack as it sought out additional funding at a $5 billion valuation. This month, Slack announced a partnership with the Seattle-based company which will allow users to communicate with Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa via a new bot called Silent Echo.
Moving forward, Butterfield foresees the use of artificial intelligence streamlining corporate decision making. The tech CEO told Fortune in an interview that the company is trying to do to the inside of all the computers of a large corporation what Google Maps did for the physical world, by allowing users to find information more quickly. The company wants to provide every business with an “infinitely patient” virtual chief of staff with an infinite memory, which proactively recommends things users should pay attention to.
While the enterprise collaboration space is becoming increasingly crowded with Slack competitors and spinoffs, the company has a far-reaching leadership position as one of the first-to-market disruptors of traditional workflow systems. As it gains traction with major customers across the world, it stands positioned to be gobbled up by a Silicon Valley leader any day now.