From the ashes of a failed video game grew the world’s fastest growing business app in history and we think there’s got to be more than a few pearls of wisdom in the strategy of messaging service giant, Slack. With over 2.3 million users on a daily basis, the app has replaced the ever-ubiquitous email in some companies and is a serious booster to in-office productivity. How do we know? Well, companies like NASA, Pinterest, the US Department of State and Buzzfeed can all attest to its usefulness, as some of the app’s most prominent devotees.
We spoke to Slack’s director of customer experience, Ali Rayl, about the inner workings of Slack and discovered more than a few lessons we could apply to our own businesses. Here are the top five reasons we think Slack is growing at such a rapid rate and like any good company, it starts from the ground up.
1. ‘Building a great staff culture’ isn’t just something they talk about – it’s an actual, working plan.
“It’s something that we go through with all of our new hires, Stewart [Butterfield, CEO and co-founder] comes in and does a CEO welcome with every batch of new employees,” Ali explains. “He goes through the history, the values, the goals, the expectations, so we try to set people up to understand like, you’re joining Slack and it’s really, really intense but it also should be really, really great for you. This is a place where we genuinely want you and you and you and you to all succeed so the culture is one where, and I do this with my team when new people come in, I’m like, ‘I am here to serve you, you are doing the work, I don’t know as much about what your pinpoints are as much as you do so you need to tell me and my job is to make you succeed.’ So it’s a lot of empowering and just ‘how do we just make this better?’”
2. They don’t use email. Ever.
“I am so bad at email now, I check my email inbox maybe once a week,” Ali laughs. “I get push notifications, I see something has come in and I have to deal with it, and then it just piles up in the back of my mind. I don’t look at email and I have always kind of hated it but now I really don’t like it. We don’t get email at Slack, so when I’m negotiating with outside vendors I get emails but it rarely happens.”
3. They actually listen to their customers.
“One thing you can do with Slack is emoji,” Ali explains. “Type a colon and then you can start typing letters and we help you autocomplete that emoji. One of the most popular ones is thumbs up. When you type colon ‘thu’, you get thumbs down, thumbs down is alphabetically before thumbs up. But, emotionally thumbs up is before thumbs down. So, one of the things a customer wrote in was that: I really want these in emotional order, not alphabetical order, and we’re like ‘ding’, that’s a fantastic idea! One of our co-founders went behind the scenes and did this, pushed a button and we got back to the customer and we’re like: ‘emotional order for you!’
4. The work perks are more genuine than gimmicky.
“We’re not a super ‘perk space’ company, so we don’t have the ping pong table or the foosball table [but] we have preserved a few things,” Ali says. “We’ve preserved 3pm coffee hour, and now we have a barista in the San Francisco office. We hit this point where we [originally] would go out and overwhelm a coffee shop, and we had to tell them: please stock up, we’re coming at 3 o’clock, it just got ridiculous.
“I like that that we’ve preserved the coffee hour, so now we have a new cohort of employees starting every Monday and… when you have someone new, you just make sure you’re at coffee and you hang out with them, and you get to introduce them to new parts of the company, and it’s been a good thing to preserve not only because it gives you some very unstructured bonding time… but it’s [also] nice to have that deliberate cadence in your day where you’re like I have 15 minutes to do something and then I’m going to go at 3pm, what can I do in 15 minutes? Starting to think about that kind of focus, and what can I do in this amount of time is super valuable in a company that’s growing like ours.”
5. Staff have a sense that they’re contributing to something bigger and better and they do it as a team.
“Every minute you work, you know you’re building value in the company which is very rare and precious, when you have a base understanding of that and feel it, that work is so gratifying,” Ali says of the early days of building the company. “We were all in that place and we were all just working super hard but we all knew that every day things were getting better, things were getting more valuable. We were making a solid core. I think a lot of that was relying on one another to not be alone.”