Saleforce recently captured attention with its eye-popping $27.7 billion acquisition of Slack – the largest software merger in two years, the largest ever for Salesforce and one that arrived in the middle of a pandemic no less. Reasons for the acquisition are pretty clear. If Salesforce wants to join the enterprise elite, trillion-dollar club, it will have to own a bigger part of the customer experience than CRM, and Slack gives it just that beachhead. For Slack, the acquisition provides the power to enter the enterprise big leagues – something it has struggled to do thus far for reasons I pointed out last year.
The World Moves Fast – Communication Should Too
What is perhaps more interesting is what this acquisition signals.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff had a vision for the social enterprise, going back a decade. Chatter debuted in June 2010, described as “the industry’s first cloud-based enterprise social collaboration application and platform.” Pretty bold for 2010, right? Seems like it didn’t fully realize the vision it had.
While there were several issues that held Chatter back from mass adoption, I believe the biggest contributor was Chatter’s focus on asynchronous-only by default, which is not engaging and feels slow. The world moves fast. People want instant answers, instant gratification to their messages. They want real-time communication, and the comment thread model of Chatter (and the early social companies) falls short of today’s expectations. Slack makes up for these deficiencies in a manner that people simply love and drives engagement.
Building Communication And Collaboration Technologies Is Hard – Really Hard
So why has Slack been so successful at executing Benioff’s own vision when his company fell short?
User experience has been at the forefront for Slack from the very beginning. It wanted to make chat great for teams, and that was its sole focus. Chatter, on the other hand, was built by “a bunch of database guys, and enterprise social was a very different animal,” according to former Chatter product lead Chuck Ganapathi.
Chat Has Become The Nervous System Of The Internet
This makes a powerful case for why it is so hard to build products outside of your company’s core focus. Even companies as well-capitalized and resourced as Salesforce get it wrong when they get too far out of their primary domain. In the end, you pay for the technology you want twice – once on the internal build that doesn’t work, and then again when you either partner with or rent a solution from a SaaS or API player who specializes in that area. Or, if you’re big enough, you make an acquisition.
So why is this acquisition so important for both companies right now? Timing. The reality is Covid-19 changed the world. Connecting and collaborating digitally became an absolute imperative for nearly any company that wanted to remain in business over the last nine months.
But even before Covid, it was clear chat or some form of real-time messaging was becoming the dominant way we communicate online. Bret Taylor, Salesforce’s president and COO, referred to Slack as the “central nervous system for the teams that use it.” I would extend the analogy, arguing that modern chat technology in itself is even bigger than that; chat has become the central nervous system for the internet and its users.
Two Billion People Chat Daily
It’s the medium through which all business happens, but it is also how people connect with not just friends and family but, increasingly, with their doctors, their children’s teachers or a business partner. It’s become the mechanism through which people date, send money, order food or buy goods and services. Chat now sits as the primary connection point for most of our everyday activities and interactions; it’s where everything happens – and if we’re talking dollars, this is a much bigger slice of the pie than just messaging in the workplace.
Slack is a phenomenal technology for connecting and collaborating with colleagues within the proverbial corporate walls. After all, 12 million people used it daily last October when Slack last reported daily active users (DAU). That number is probably close to 20 million now if I had to take a guess. Coincidentally, that’s about what our company’s DAU is, so we know firsthand how hard it is to build a product that can handle that kind of scale and cater to a large and diverse user base.
At the same time, a workplace messenger is just one use case for chat as the nervous system for business. There is a whole other world outside of the four walls of corporate America where chat is taking on a new level of importance. That includes talking to doctors over new telehealth apps, talking to teachers in education apps or on Zoom, connecting with other fans at watch parties for sporting events and concerts, or simply connecting with a seller on eBay or a similar platform.
Currently, if one adds together the monthly active user numbers for the top six global messengers, research shows that nearly 6 billion people now use a leading global messaging product each month. WhatsApp alone handles 100 billion messages a day. So while Slack leads in the workplace messenger use case, along with Microsoft Teams, it is just one use case of messaging, and the 125-150 million or so daily active users that those products touch represents the tip of the iceberg when compared to the global population that uses chat as part of their lives every day.
So, while everyone (except perhaps Microsoft) should congratulate Salesforce and Slack on a potentially well-made match, integration efforts, execution and ongoing innovation will be crucial to their respective success. Additionally, we’re excited to see where else chat flourishes and what new, innovative use cases will come out of all the change that 2020 delivered.