Slack: Pivoting From a Game to a Communication Empire

In a world where digital communication reigns supreme, one platform has risen from the ashes of a whimsical online game to become an enterprise software giant. Yes, we're talking about Slack.


A Trip Down Memory Lane

Let's turn back the clock to 2009. In the vibrant city of Vancouver, Canada, a man named Stewart Butterfield, renowned for his contribution to Flickr, decided to try his hand at creating a game once again. Previously, Butterfield had attempted to build a game called Game Neverending, but it eventually evolved into Flickr, the photo-sharing service that Yahoo acquired in 2005. Driven by the dream to succeed, Butterfield assembled a team consisting of Cal Henderson, Flickr's original chief software architect, and former Flickr employees Eric Costello and Serguei Mourachov. Together, they founded Tiny Speck, the company behind an artistic, non-combat massively multiplayer online game.

The Birth of Glitch

In mid-2009, the world was speculating about Tiny Speck and their plans. The general consensus was that they were working on an exciting new social gaming project. But all remained a mystery until Tiny Speck revealed their creation - Glitch, an online game set inside the minds of 11 giants. The game was free, with in-game purchases and a paid subscription model for power users.

A Whopping Pivot

Years later, Butterfield would make a pivot of unprecedented magnitude. From the remnants of his fantastical game, Slack was born. This new platform would revolutionise the way people work, leading a shift towards online productivity tools.

The Birth of Slack

Fast forward to 2012. The team, having learned from their previous experiences, began working on a new project. This time, it wasn't a game, but an app that would change the face of corporate communication - Slack. By March 2013, the team had a working model of the product, and in May, they launched it to a select group of companies for a trial run. The feedback from these early users was instrumental in shaping Slack's development.

The Art of Learning & Adapting

One of the most significant insights from the initial trial was how the product functioned differently as the team size increased. As soon as they recognised this, the Slack team made crucial changes to the product and began the testing process again, each time with a larger group of users. By August 2013, they felt confident enough to share Slack more broadly and announced a preview release.

The Importance of Customer Feedback

Slack's success story underscores the importance of making customer feedback the centrepiece of a company's efforts. During their beta period, Slack focused on minimising risks by creating explanatory materials for individual users and resources for team administrators. They also spent a considerable amount of time educating customers about the product category and how Slack could serve as a superior solution.

Customer Service & Feedback

Throughout this journey, Slack's co-founders made listening to their users a core competency. They created multiple channels for users to share their feedback and iterated on the product accordingly. They even made sure to respond to every single piece of feedback, be it via email, Zendesk help tickets, or tweets. This commitment to listening to their users and acting on their feedback has been crucial to Slack's success.

The Magic Number

Every company needs to find its magic number - the metric that sheds light on who is genuinely using the product and how to keep them. For Slack, that number is 2,000 messages. Regardless of any other factor, after a team has exchanged 2,000 messages, 93% of those customers are still using Slack today.

The Uniqueness of Slack

What sets Slack apart from its competitors is its focus on a few core features: Search, Synchronization, and Simple File Sharing. These features may not sound revolutionary, but they have been instrumental in making Slack a success. The company has gone to great lengths to ensure these features work exceptionally well, which has resulted in a product that is loved by its users.

A Conclusion

Slack's journey is a testament to the power of perseverance, adaptability, and customer-centricity. From its humble beginnings as a game to its current status as an enterprise software giant, Slack's story demonstrates the potential of a great idea, a dedicated team, and an unwavering commitment to customer feedback. So, the next time you use Slack for your team's communication, remember the fascinating journey of this billion-dollar enterprise.

Back to blog

Stories for Startups.

Get Smarter Every Week - We Send You Cool Stories About People Making Money, and Tell You How They Did It.

Stop anytime.