Slack’s New Podcast: “‘This American Life’ Meets ‘Office Space’ Meets ‘Monty Python'”

Can a podcast make you love enterprise software?

Slack’s New Podcast: “‘This American Life’ Meets ‘Office Space’ Meets ‘Monty Python'”
[Photo: Flickr user Chad Kainz]

For a Silicon Valley phenom, Slack has an atypically low-key personality. Yes, its goal–getting the busy people of the world off email and into a more modern and efficient form of teamwork–is audacious. Sure, it’s been remarkably successful, racking up 750,000 daily active users for its messaging platform and reaching a valuation of $2.8 billion in less than two years. And yet the company, led by Flickr cofounder Stewart Butterfield, is anything but bombastic. Instead, it comes off as unassuming, quirky, and humane.


Now it’s doing something in keeping with that character: It’s launching a podcast. The first episode of Slack Variety Pack debuts today. You can listen to it right here:

Slack CMO Bill Macaitis

Slack has sponsored podcasts before, including 99% Invisible, StartUp, and Reply All. (99% Invisible host Roman Mars even conducted a live edition of his show about design during Slack’s first-anniversary party at a San Francisco nightclub last February.) This is something different: a podcast imbued with the values the company tries to bring to its service, created specifically to appeal to the sort of people who use Slack, or might be good prospects to do so.

The idea is to present “stories about work and life, told in a very human voice,” explains Bill Macaitis, Slack’s CMO. “Funny, inspirational, serious, innovative. It was something we hadn’t seen a lot of podcasts doing.”

Both Serious and Silly

The pilot episode’s tone is energetically lighthearted and upbeat, for the most part. A segment on quantum computing is laden with jokes, asides, and sound effects. And even the most sober item, on a schoolteacher chosen to be part of a private company’s plans to colonize Mars, isn’t exactly hard-hitting journalism. (It doesn’t address how Mars One plans to accomplish that feat, or the vast skepticism over whether it knows what it’s doing.)

“We love those stories about people who are transforming industries, or who have found their purpose in life,” Macaitis says.


Butterfield makes a cameo in one segment, asking The Office alumnus B.J. Novak for his productivity tips at a hockey game. And a bit that has kids reciting open letters to their grandparents explaining why they don’t use email–“You asking me why I don’t reply to your email is like someone asking you why you have not replied back to their telegrams”–never mentions Slack explicitly, but clearly riffs on its mission.

The staff of Pacific Content, producers of Slack Variety Pack. From left: Jennifer Ouano, Dave Shumka, Chris Kelly, Pat Kelly, Steve Pratt

Nothing in the pilot amounts to a hard sell for Slack, or even a straightforward explanation of what it is. Even so, the service’s integration into the show’s 22 minutes and 28 seconds runs deep. Like Slack, it’s organized into channels, such as “Office” and “Random.” And segments are interspersed with homilies of the sort you see when you log into Slack (“everything is worth doing well”).

Slack Variety Pack is produced by Pacific Content, a company based–like a third of Slack’s staff–in Vancouver, British Columbia. “Our shorthand is that it’s This American Life meets Office Space meets Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” says cofounder Steve Pratt, a veteran of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “This is kind of our dream project, and we’re thrilled to be doing it.”

Though Slack hired podcasting pros to produce the show, it’s taking an active consulting role in its creation in a way it couldn’t when sponsoring somebody else’s series. That collaboration, naturally enough, happens within Slack’s own service. “Slack is actually an incredible editorial tool,” says Pratt. “It’s been great for us to get feedback from Bill and Stewart. Their notes have been really smart.”

For now, Slack is underwriting a dozen biweekly episodes, each around 20 to 30 minutes long; some segments will be broken out into self-contained stories. Whether the company will stay in the podcasting business after that is yet to be determined. But “if the response is really positive, we would love to continue,” says Macaitis.

About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.