Slack’s VP of engineering breaks down the message he’s using to convert e-mail holdouts

Slack's enterprise growth
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It’s already one of most talked-about startups innovating in workplace productivity and collaboration, but Slack’s Michael Lopp is working hard to respond to enterprise decision-makers who say they just can’t let go of traditional e-mail.

Though it is based in San Francisco, the firm’s vice-president of engineering has been making a series of in-person appearances across major cities that gather some of Slack’s largest customers in areas like financial services and telecommunications to discuss why they are using its chat rooms and other tools. Next month, meanwhile, the company will be hosting Spec, its first-ever developer event, to gain even more partners and further its traction within corporations.

Unlike emerging firms in areas like AI and blockchain that compete head-to-head on key features, Slack’s main rival remains e-mail programs such Microsoft Outlook and Google’s Gmail, both of which have been bringing out Slack-like products of their own.

“We’re really in these ingrained habits of getting work done. We think, ‘If I need to get work done, I need to send out a message to these three folks,” Lopp told B2B News Network. “It’s a matter of getting a team, or an organizational culture, to reimagine that. We know it could be better. (Slack’s) a facilitator of that, just asking the question of how we can do it better.”

The fundamental thing that gets people thinking about Slack, according to Lopp, is the idea that everybody’s already on the platform and will respond quickly, versus sending an e-mail and then following up to see if someone has read it. Coworkers can post in a chat room or send a direct message instead to move conversations along.

“Meetings are still happening,” Lopp said. “But when they do it’s not just the conversation but the decisions that they are making that are important, rather than (sending an e-mail around to ask) ‘Who’s the expert in Java?’”

In some cases, however, Slack’s becoming a place for decision-making too, Lopp said, particularly the kind of hallway conversations that don’t require a room full of people and a week’s notice to get a time on everyone’s calendar.

Of course, deployment decisions around messaging and collaboration tools have traditionally been made by IT departments, where some staff have been dedicated to managing Exchange servers. Slack’s adoption, meanwhile, has been driven partly on the sly by product or engineering teams, Lopp said. That bottom-up path to adoption is now changing the leadership conversation about what tools an organization really needs.

“The trend that’s changed in about the last six months is that there’s enough of a buzz (about Slack) with other teams or companies that people are starting to look at their IT policies,” he said. “There’s something that’s interesting where customers say, ‘We’ve heard about this from our peers’ and so we’re now able to have a conversation about some kind of top-down rollout.”

Possibly to address some CIOs’ concerns, Slack’s portfolio includes Enterprise Grid, which recently added new features to assist with security and compliance requirements. Lopp said since it was launched about a year ago, some 150 firms are now on Enterprise Grid. 

“A single Slack instance in sales is fine, but from a context of where am I in the organization, you want to be able to split into different workspaces,” he explained. “They don’t want that information overflow. Grid gives them a lot of ability to slice up the company on a functional basis.”

Besides the developer conference, Lopp said he’ll continue to be the keynote speaker at a number of Slack’s events. Whereas other firms might put their CEO or CMO up on stage instead, he suggested writing books such as Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager give him a way to connect with enterprise audiences.

“If you can hear the enthusiasm in my voice, hopefully it comes off as authentic,” he said. “One of my leadership philosophies is that a happy team is a more productive team. This is the product matching my leadership philosophy.”

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Shane Schick

Shane Schick

Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.