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What is Slack?

Kai Ryssdal and Maria Hollenhorst Jul 22, 2019
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Slack co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield in Aspen, Colorado.
Maria Hollenhorst/Marketplace

Slack, the company that gave us group instant messaging, reaction GIFs and dancing parrot emojis in the workplace, went public last month. The platform now boasts more the 10 million daily users and its public offering was one of the most anticipated of the year.

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal recently sat down with Stewart Butterfield, the co-founder and CEO, to talk about how he wants to change workplace communication.

People are really used to using email to mediate their communication” Butterfield said. “There are hundreds of millions of people whose working lives are mediated by email who should be using Slack or something like it.”

These days, Slack faces competition from big companies including Google, Cisco and Microsoft. Below is an excerpt of their conversation.

Ryssdal: Are you still a small scrappy startup?

Butterfield: I don’t think so anymore. We’re a gangly adolescent, maybe.

Ryssdal: Going up against Microsoft. That’s got to be intimidating.

Butterfield: Well, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that picture of the Microsoft team when they’re still in Albuquerque in 1977.

Ryssdal: Of course. With Bill Gates and Paul Allen, sure. You guys are that picture. Is that the comparison you’re making? ‘Cause that’s a gutsy move.

Butterfield: No, but if you look at that picture…I can’t remember if it’s ’77 or ’79, but by 1982 the tides had turned and IBM which was the biggest and most powerful, most valuable company in the entire world just got bested by Microsoft … so the point I’m trying to make here is, sometimes the small startup with real traction with customers has an advantage versus the large incumbent with multiple lines of business and a lot of stuff to protect.

Click the audio player above to hear the interview.