Should Slack fear Microsoft Teams?
A little reminder for those who are not familiar with these environments: what are we talking about? Slack and Teams are called “persistent group chats”. In other words, they allow within a team the fluidity of a chat (vs a Yammer-type social network) and the persistence of content specific to the social network (vs an instant messaging).
Here is an overview of Teams:
And here’s Slack, if by any chance you haven’t experienced it yet:
Don’t be surprised at the resemblance between them, Teams makes no secret of being a copy of Slack. Improved copy in my opinion because the conversations seem to me to be more structured and easier to follow and I don’t imagine that it could be more complicated to find old information than in Slack.
Since this writing, Slack has improved conversation tracking by introducing a discussion thread feature. It just goes to show that competition is stimulating, but it’s just incredible that we had to wait until 2017 for this and, in the meantime, users who were put off by their first experience will not come back.
But it does not matter: I think that these tools are intended to be part of instantaneity and that this “messy” aspect is inherent in their nature (even if I still expect Microsoft to have their experience of large volumes in business to them. allow you to anticipate what for Slack can be seen as a youthful mistake).
We will see in use.
Teams was so inspired by Slack that it inspired the leaders of the latter with an open letter published in the New York Times, the content of which you will find here.
An ironic open letter where Slack gives some sort of advice to the Redmond giant to succeed in this niche. The tone is clear “it’s nice to copy us but you are not us, you have the wrong DNA, you will not make it”.
Slack, indisputable leader of a market it created
An offensive approach that shows that Slack isn’t afraid of Teams (and I am sure they are convinced that they have nothing to fear).
An arrogant approach specific to a number of start-ups which have managed to find a place in the sun among the “old people” and think themselves impregnable because they have won over users and are in tune with the times. Today not to “slacker” is not to be “hype”, to prefer Microsoft is to be backward.
Slack is the original. “Real” users want Slack. Slack has created a market. Slack is cool. Slack is working fine. Even companies have ended up listening to their users and giving them Slack.
A priori Microsoft has missed the train and Slack is here to stay and grow.
Hype and niche products don’t survive in business
But we must beware of hasty conclusions, especially in the world of corporate IT. If the consumerization of corporate IT is on the way, pure players (general public players entering the business market) are now challenged by “legacies” who have learned the lesson (see my previous post on Office 365 ).
Remember Netscape. And Internet Explorer, although much inferior, ends up winning.
Remember another open letter that was talked about a lot in its time.
History will remember that Apple will never succeed at the time in acquiring in business the status it had in the general public. Moreover, ironically speaking, the real winner of the battle between Apple and IBM at the time was… Microsoft.
Today Slack is “hype”. Tomorrow it will be commoditized and all players in the software enterprise will have their slack like.
Today Slack is a niche. To survive, a niche player must be profitable on its one and only product, while generalists can occupy a niche by paying themselves on mainstream products. Look at corporate social networks. French side BlueKiwi seems to be terminally ill, Jive, the exemplary pure player, is struggling. The only ones who seem to be able to afford to continue to have and develop such an offer seem to be those who can “pass” it in the midst of more global deals. You have to have a corporate social network in your offer, but you don’t earn money only with a corporate social network when others, already in place, can provide it with very little or no margin. And ultimately it was IBM and Microsoft who won.
Because it must be understood that beyond the Hype, a solution like Slack (and probably Teams) cannot suit the needs and uses of everyone in business. It works in the IT department, in R&D, for a few specific teams, but by no means for everyone. Slack is expensive, very expensive.
How to sell a niche product at a very high price when a competitor already established in companies offers it not for free but included in a suite that everyone has? Slack faces a challenge that no one to my knowledge has faced before them: depend on a single niche product that has a competitor available in a suite present at the customer’s premises and therefore activatable at zero marginal cost.
There is one chance for Slack: that the product is infinitely better than Teams. Unfortunately the famous open letter only gives arguments to Microsoft since each point mentioned could just as much be used by Teams against Slack. I would even add that by dint of resting on its laurels, Slack has totally neglected its user experience, to the point that one can wonder whether they did not wish to be divisive between those who had “the state of” Slack spirit ”and the others. Arrogance frequent among startups with a new model that will sweep away the old one whilein business IT, the evolution is more in the direction of cohabitation than of creative destruction (again remember corporate social networks).
Let’s be clear: Microsoft’s position in the company means that even with a much inferior product they would have had the skin of Slack in the long term, whereas there they have a product at least equivalent and, in my opinion, superior in terms of usability. . Less divisive.
Slack? Let them die.
There was a rumor at a time when Microsoft wanted to buy Slack for just under $ 10 billion… but the decision was made to develop an in-house product. A wise decision because the development of Teams has certainly cost infinitely less and will achieve the same result.
It reminds me of a meeting with Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, in Paris about ten years ago. When asked if he intended to buy Viadéo to accelerate the French market, his answer was: “Let them die”. Understood, my product and my strategy are better, no need to spend money for nothing, they will die eventually. Ironically LinkedIn has since been taken over by Microsoft, but I’d be curious to know if Satya Nadella thought of Hoffman while doing this arbitrage.
The debate is no longer even on the quality of the product, its usefulness, its ROI. There is no objective reason for a business with Office 365 to pay for Slack. It is abrupt but indisputable.
So I know it’s not popular to go against the “hype” and the “cool” of the moment, but I don’t see how Slack can get away with it. Of course there will remain a market for Geeks, small businesses, start-ups in their early days… But most of the market is promised to Microsoft. As usual.
Beyond the Slack case, this is a subject that all startups tackling the corporate market, mainly for internal uses, should think about. Opening a market and dominating it deserves respect but is not a guarantee of victory. One day the traditional publishers, after having let you evangelize, arrive with a similar product, even inferior, but within a global offer which makes its marginal cost almost zero and “kills” the market. At this stage the startup has no choice but to sell itself or to disappear. This is why in the “consumer” market new entrants can take power and kill the old leaders while in business IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP are still there. Who has managed to settle permanently over the past 10 years? Salesforce? Who else? CQFD. Unless you are really better, tackle a key process or establish yourself as the center of an ecosystem the first disruptors are rarely the winners.
Bertrand Duperrin is Digital Transformation Practice Leader in Emakina. He was previously consulting director at Nextmodernity, a firm in the field of business transformation and management through social business and the use of social technologies.
He regularly deals with social media news on his blog.