Two key facts about Slack may seem, at first blush, to be contradictory. On one hand, large numbers of companies have rapidly found it essential to their work. On the other, it can be surprisingly difficult to explain exactly what it is.
Ten months ago, I called it a “business messaging and search tool.” That was when the company announced that it had 500,000 daily active users–a number that seemed astounding at the time for such a young service–and it was accurate as far as it went. But it failed to convey the breadth of the company’s long-term ambition.
Tonight, at an event in San Francisco, the company is revealing that it’s reached 2 million users daily active users, over half a million of whom work for companies that are paying customers. And it’s announcing a couple of pieces of news that are designed to help make the service into a definitive hub for almost anything that involves being productive at work.
One of the announcements is about something so obvious that it’s a little surprising it doesn’t already exist. Slack is introducing an app directory, which will make it easier to find and install useful tools that integrate with the service. There will be 150 of them at launch, including offerings from Dropbox, Google, Trello, and Twitter, with more to come.
Even without the directory, Slack users have been setting up integrations between the service and other products with abandon: Slack says that there are more than 4,000 such integrations available, and they’ve been installed more than 2.2 million times.
The other news involves the company giving startups one of the strongest possible incentives to build cool tools that work within Slack: money. It’s created an $80 million venture fund that will invest in “Slack-first” enterprise offerings–services which, at least at first, work only within Slack. The fund pools money from Slack and a bunch of the industry’s best-known VC firms: Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Index Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, Spark, and Social+Capital.
“Our mission is to make work better, more productive, simpler, more pleasant,” says April Underwood, Slack’s head of platform. “We’re finding we’re not alone in that mission.” Already, there’s a boomlet of Slack-centric startups, including Growbot (employee feedback), Birdly (expense reports), and Howdy (standup meetings).
For Slack, backing “Slack-first” startups is only partially about seeing a direct return on the money it invests. The more people can do within Slack, the more time they’re likely to spend there–and the less hesitation they’ll have about paying for the service. (Already, the average user spends 10 hours a day logged in.)
Encouraging other companies to build capabilities that work within Slack has a side benefit: It means that Slack itself can focus on its core features, which, come to think of it, really do focus on messaging and search. Underwood told me that plenty of companies are eager to tackle other tasks that people might want to do within Slack. “There’s a pent-up supply of developers who are really interested in solving problems for people at work,” she says. “We want to help.”