Zealous Users, A Burrito Truck, Parkour—A Glimpse into the Culture of Slack

One company, ironically called Slack, with a firm grip on its mission and market, was the fastest startup to elicit the elusive $1 billion valuation.

In startup parlance of today, one buzzword is scalability, denoting an ability to stably and viably expand under surging demand and workload. A system that “scales” can maintain or increase efficiency when tested by larger operational demands. A “scalable” company maintains or improves its quality and profit under increasing sales and delivery.

 L. Ron Hubbard wrote in his article of March 19, 1971, “PERSONNEL PREDICTION”:

“Prediction is the button that is usually out in personnel handling.

“How many will we need in ____ weeks or months? is the key question. It is the one Personnel [HR] should continually work on. . . .

“Man tends to run in today and seldom in tomorrow much less next week or year. . . . He is even unable to predict the fate of his habitat, the planet.

“Thus Personnel should be very wary of this fault.”

Slack is a business communication platform launched in 2013 by CEO Stewart Butterfield and three co-founders in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The fastest company to receive a billion-dollar valuation, it is now headquartered in San Francisco with offices in Vancouver, Toronto, Dublin and Melbourne. Butterfield, co-founder of photo-sharing website Flickr, built Slack upon the blueprint of an abandoned multiplayer game called Glitch.1

Slack is a “freemium” service (free with a premium charged for its suite of proprietary features and functionality) providing channels (supplanting internal email) for messaging, documents, photos, project management, etc., fully integrated with an array of business and social media applications.2

The platform’s usability and popularity in the business world, driven almost exclusively by word of mouth and through social media, resulted in the company going from eight employees in 2013 to eight hundred in 2017.

Within 24 hours of its 2013 launch, 8,000 customers signed up for the service. Two weeks later it was at 15,000, and for a period of 70 weeks its user base grew 5 percent weekly.

Slack rose to the occasion and in 2014 alone hired 60 engineers.

Slack raised $120 million in October 2014 for a $1.2 billion valuation. By January 2017, the company had a $3.8 billion valuation.

The company’s meteoric rise and ability to navigate scaling at high velocity has spotlighted its strategy to put customers’ concerns first and foremost.

“Pretty early on, we combined quality assurance and customer support into one group that we called Customer Experience. They do everything from parsing customer feedback and routing it to the right people to fixing bugs themselves,” says Butterfield.3

He goes on to describe Slack’s deft fusion of big think with attention to the smallest details: “The pattern was to share Slack with progressively larger groups. We would say, ‘Oh, that great idea isn’t so great after all.’ We amplified the feedback we got at each stage by adding more teams. . . . We’re pretty fastidious about tagging all of these incoming messages, collating and entering and retaining the data that people are sending us.”

Ali Rayl, head of Global Customer Experience, was on the original team of eight, and spoke of Slack’s ability to weather change: “One thing that we emphasize a lot with the team is proper change management practices, which is constant awareness that things will change and it is a necessary and exciting part of being in a growing company. Do not get too attached to any one thing that is happening because the growth of our company will necessitate a difference.”4

In building the Customer Experience team, Rayl cast an inquisitive eye toward brands known for fervent, fanatical customer loyalty, like Apple, Virgin America and Zappos; but she drew particular, whimsical inspiration from Señor Sisig, a burrito truck that Slack employees would flock to daily for lunch, whose woman at the window knew every regular’s usual order. “The experience of that super personal touch, where I am a person to that person giving me a burrito—that’s [expletive] amazing,” says Rayl.

Butterfield compared rapid-fire growth to the high-adrenaline urban sport of parkour*. “If you slow down, you’ll crash. You’re constantly surveying the landscape for a ledge you can bounce off or a wall you can run up or a handrail you can flip over.”5

Constant analysis of statistics has also been fundamental to their near vertical ascent. “Hard numbers tell an important story; user stats and sales numbers will always be key metrics. But every day, your users are sharing a huge amount of qualitative data too—and a lot of companies either don’t know how or forget to act on it,” explains Butterfield.6

With eight hundred employees and five million daily users worldwide, Slack has demonstrated considerable acumen for prediction, personnel, service and scalability in a dynamic market.

It would appear Slack is anything but slack.


*parkour: (noun) the activity or sport of moving rapidly through an area, typically in an urban environment, negotiating obstacles by running, jumping, and climbing.
Word origin: Early 21st century; French, alteration of parcours, “route, course.”
English Oxford Living Dictionaries: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/parkour

    1. Wallace, David. “Companies That Scaled Quickly.” InfographicJournal.com. Business Infographics. Infographic Journal, May 23, 2017. Web. June 25, 2017. 
    2. Slack. “Where Work Happens.” Slack.com. Slack, n.d. Web. June 25, 2017, 
    3. First Round Review. “Slack’s Founder on How They Became a $1 Billion Company in Two Years.” FastCompany.com. Fast Company, Feb. 4, 2015. Web. June 25, 2017. 
    4. Risman, Adam. “Slack’s Ali Rayl on Supporting 5 Million Daily Active Users.” Blog.Intercom.com. Inside Intercom. Intercom, May 21, 2017. Web. June 25, 2017. 
    5. Bercovici, Jeff. “Slack Is Our Company of the Year. Here’s Why Everybody’s Talking About It.” Inc.com.Inc., Nov. 23, 2015. Web. June 25, 2017. 
    6. First Round Review. “Slack’s Founder on How They Became a $1 Billion Company in Two Years.” FastCompany.com. Fast Company, Feb. 4, 2015. Web. June 25, 2017. 


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      Issue: 17071901INT

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