Which startups are using Slack

Why Slack is conquering corporate communication

When Marc-Alexander Christ wakes up in the morning, he reaches for his smartphone while still in bed. He looks to see if there are any new WhatsApp messages, and immediately afterwards he opens Slack. The app is a messenger for companies and is currently taking companies by storm. "For us, it replaces the majority of internal emails," says Christ.

He is one of the founders of Sumup. The startup sells a small credit card reader. The highlight: You can simply use it with a smartphone and accept card payments immediately. Ideal for mobile retailers such as food trucks or small shops. 850,000 dealers in 31 countries are already using it.

The team has also grown rapidly: the startup employs 900 people in nine different cities from Sofia to Sao Paolo. Christ and the other founders come from Berlin. Here he sits with 200 employees, spread out in various coworking spaces until the new office is ready to move in. Most of the team, however, works in London. The company moved its headquarters to the British banking center in 2011. “There wasn't necessarily a vibrant financial scene in Berlin,” says Christ.

Coordinating employees between London, Berlin and the other locations was a challenge from the start. Many video conferences were part of everyday life. Skype was therefore used intensively at Sumup for a long time, especially since the program also has a chat function and was also used as an internal message service. “Most of them used their private Skype account,” says Christ. You always had to ask for the username first. In addition, some users stayed in the groups after they had already left the company.

With Slack everyone gets company access, all users are automatically in the contact list, but only as long as they are in the company. Video calls are also possible with Slack - it's just one of countless additional functions that the app offers.

The program has quickly become the most important communication tool for startups. In Berlin alone, over 50,000 people use the service every day. But word of the advantages has spread outside of the digital scene. "Slack is used by the DAX company through to the dental practice in Wedding," says European boss Johann Butting. Large companies are now by far the largest user group. 60 percent of the DAX companies are already using the program. But also companies such as Birkenstock, Sixt or the heating manufacturer Viessmann.

Slack is now a repetition of a development that has been taking place in private life for several years. Not so long ago, it was popular to make appointments via email. "Today it's ridiculous to email your friends to arrange meetings," says Slack chief developer Cal Henderson. For most of them, this has been replaced by messengers such as WhatsApp. Younger generations in particular hardly ever use e-mail.

Most office workers, on the other hand, moan about the daily flood of news. In the previous year, a total of 771 billion emails were sent in Germany - a large proportion from or within companies. According to GfK, each employee spends an hour and a half working on the digital mail; an average of 600 e-mails accumulate in the mailbox every month.

That's exactly what Slack wants to change. After all, more and more companies are also using WhatsApp, Skype or other chat and messenger services for work. That has its pitfalls: Often the private and professional accounts are mixed up. Data protection problems can also arise. Especially since the end of May, the new European data protection rules have been in place, warnings are given against using WhatsApp for business purposes, as the app automatically tries to get access to all contacts. "We meet all the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation," promises Slack manager Butting. Of course, what some customers are still missing is data storage in Europe, but the company is working on that.

Slack is particularly suitable to replace internal company mail. In many companies, they make up at least half of the news. But what is the advantage if the messages are moved from the mailbox to the Slack app? “It's much easier to get an overview of discussions and topics,” says Sumup founder Christ. Because with Slack, communication is organized in so-called thematic channels that anyone can create as required. At Sumup, these groups range from general company-wide issues to marketing, human resources, technical issues and private channels where employees meet up for sports or after-work beer.

"Slack also increases transparency in the company even further," says Christ. Because most of the channels are open and can therefore be viewed by every employee. Of course, there is also the option of communicating in closed groups or sending direct messages to one or more people. Channels for users outside the company can also be set up in order to communicate with customers or service providers.

However, the service is far more than an email substitute. Startups in particular, but also many other companies, use numerous services these days. From Internet storage like Dropbox to special software for customer support or marketing to Google Calendar, which can be integrated into Slack. There are now more than 1000 applications as dedicated apps for Slack, plus countless programs that companies write individually. The Berlin food delivery service HelloFresh uses more than 30 applications intensively. "Slack offers a central place where all threads come together," says Nuno Simaria, Hellofresh's chief technology officer. From information about software errors to customer inquiries.

“Collaboration is communication,” says European boss Butting, who previously worked for Dropbox and Google. For the latter, he even wrote a memo under this motto. "For years, collaboration tools were built around documents and files," says Butting. He thought that communication should be the focus, files should be included if necessary. "When I saw Slack for the first time, I thought someone finally got it."

The makers wrote the program for their own needs. The startup, now valued at $ 5 billion, is actually a waste product. Originally, Stewart Butterfield and Cal Henderson, who had previously built the popular Flickr photo service and then sold it to Yahoo, wanted to develop a computer game. They also wrote a communication program for their own work organization, as they were also dissatisfied with the available alternatives. The game idea failed, but they quickly realized that their internal messenger could also be attractive to others.

In the meantime, even Amazon and Microsoft are said to have played through a takeover. Because, especially for the leading office software provider, Slack is becoming a challenger. With "Microsoft Teams", the software giant has already launched its own Slack alternative on the market.

Maybe also because Butterfield doesn't want to know about a sale: "If it makes sense for them to buy us, it makes sense for us to remain independent". Instead, he believes he can challenge the Windows group. "Anyone who said in the early eighties that Microsoft was going to be bigger than IBM would have been laughed at," he says.

The only thing they are more skeptical about at Slack is whether it will work out by eliminating e-mail. "E-mail is the cockroach of the Internet," says Henderson, the chief technology officer, "not to be exterminated."