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Why Slack Should Be Concerned about Microsoft Teams

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Stewart Butterfield, Slack CEO

Stewart Butterfield, Slack CEO, at Fortune's Brainstorm Conference

Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and CEO of Slack, suggested in an interview at Fortune's recent Brainstorm Tech 2019 conference that he isn’t concerned by Microsoft Teams and its recently announced 13 million daily active users (DAU), which surpasses Slack’s DAU count.
 
In the interview, Butterfield is poised, articulate, relaxed, and even self-deprecating when he talks about how he has grown to become a good manager, admitting “if you go back 10 years … I was just a horrible, horrible manager.” He comes across as both very likeable and knowledgeable. However, when it comes to dismissing Microsoft Teams, he’s wrong.
Slack needs to be concerned about Teams. And here’s why:
 
  1. Butterfield suggests that Bing competing with Google search shows Microsoft doesn’t win all market share battles. Indeed, this is true. However, the example fails because with Microsoft’s recent announcement, Teams market share has surpassed Slack’s.
  2. He suggests that Slack is more focused on quality and user experience than Microsoft. This is Butterfield’s strongest argument. Slack users love the app with a fervor the like of which I haven’t heard from Teams’ users, and Slack’s UX, newly updated for the desktop, “feels” more accessible and approachable. Indeed, Microsoft has been rolling out new features and making user interface changes for Teams at a frantic pace, which for many users may be off-putting. The flipside is that with Microsoft iterating quickly, in short order it may uncover the “secret recipe” that accelerates adoption of Teams, at the expense of Slack.
  3. Butterfield suggests that users now have more choices, contrasting this to a time in the past when virtually everything only ran on Windows (before iPhone, Android, and the Internet in general). The trouble for Slack is that with Teams as an option, more users are picking the Microsoft choice than the Slack choice. Slack is the “Windows” of workflow collaboration tools while Microsoft is the upstart.
  4. Butterfield talks about Slack as a fabric for integrating 98% of the other software in enterprise use. Perhaps… and yet, Microsoft excels at energizing and engaging developers, perhaps better than any other company, so I’m not sure this is a sustainable advantage. In fact, a key message Microsoft delivered last week at its Inspire event was around Teams as an integration platform.
  5. Slack has an edge simply by virtue of being "disruptive," Butterfield contends. Sure, being disruptive is terrific and it may help you achieve a “first mover” advantage and other “blah, blah, blah” attributes that can launch an IPO. However, what happens when the “fast followers” decide to compete in your market? Slack is the Netflix of streaming. Being successfully disruptive often galvanizes competition from organizations with deep pockets, and which, because they have broader product bases, can choose to fund a competitive battle for years and years. This is when Slack’s “focused” approach potentially transitions from a positive to a negative.
  6. Microsoft has focused on larger organizations and Slack has faired better with SMBs. True. And yet, another key message from Inspire is the opportunity for Microsoft partners within the under-serviced SMB market. As such, I expect the free Teams offer (for up to 300 users) to gain increased traction and focus as an account entry point.
In summary, Slack can, will, and should compete with Teams. This competition is healthy and benefits both end users and organizations. However, to compete effectively, Slack should focus on areas where it can win, and this doesn’t necessarily include all those mentioned in Butterfield’s recent interview.
 
If you’re an organization looking for a collaboration software, you should consider both Slack and Microsoft Teams, and maybe even Cisco Webex Teams. Most importantly, though, you should, without regard to a particular technology, clearly define what measurable business benefits you’d need to achieve success. Emotions can run hot when discussing Slack versus Microsoft; however, ultimately, your top concern should be delivering improved and provable business effectiveness.
 
I spend my time helping organizations succeed when implementing communication and collaboration systems. Bringing together key stakeholders as part of a Vision session is a great way to better understand both the objectives and the obstacles that might be associated with your cloud project; and ultimately increases the chance that you will be successful. If you have questions about how to run an effective Vision session or collaboration solution questions please comment below, tweet @kkieller or message me on LinkedIn.
 

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