One of the fastest growing startups ever, and equally adored by users and developers. No wonder everyone is trying to crack the Slack code to success. We’ve had a closer look at Slack’s formula for rapid growth, and at why the Slack App Directory is so popular with developers.
Valued at over $7.1bn after new capital was raised last year and with 8 million users and counting, Slack has definitely succeeded in creating that elusive brand love companies long for. Self-proclaimed slayer of e-mail, the startup’s “Wall of love” on Twitter is filled with hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic tweets about time saved, fun at work and better communication.
But when studying the case of Slack, it soon becomes clear that the success of this friendly, fun and colourful messaging platform is based not only on a loyal and enthusiastic following of users but also on a vibrant community of developers. We’ve said before how much we love their design and few companies showcase the value of building a strong ecosystem and of creating an attractive and functional app marketplace, better than Slack.
#1 The Slack App Directory Itself – A Central Place for Apps
It was in 2015 that Slack first launched their marketplace for apps, the App Directory. At launch, the App Directory contained around 150 different apps. Today, it features more than a thousand apps, with new ones being added every day.
Any app built on the Slack API can be added to the App Directory. This allows developers to easily and conveniently place their apps right at the fingertips of the millions of users who are active on the platform every day. The Slack App Directory also has a very substantial SEO value, which is passed on to developers linking back to their websites.
In only three years, the App Directory has actually become one of Slack’s most important competitive advantages. How so? Well, smaller competitors may be able to mimic the basic messaging platform but they still won’t have the muscles to develop and support every feature and use case supported by the Slack ecosystem.
#2 The Slack Fund – Investing in Innovation
When launching the App Directory, the then 2-year old company also announced an $80 million VC fund with the sole purpose of investing in startups building apps on top of Slack. The Slack fund created huge hype around the platform and generated a lot of interest among developers.
By strategically investing in new ideas and applications that add value to their universe, Slack has managed to grow their ecosystem incredibly fast . This has proved to be a successful way to encourage bold ventures, or as Slack puts it, to “take a bet on founders who are taking a bet on us”.
Among the companies who most recently received funding are Polly, an app that lets customers build enterprise surveys & polls in Slack, Loom, a tool for video collaboration and Drafted, a referral hiring platform whose app enables you to run your entire employee referral program on Slack. They all add advanced and valuable functionality to Slack, thereby relieving Slack of the need to develop these functions themselves.
#3 A Valued Community
Recognizing the value of a thriving developer community, Slack treats all developers building on their API as their own. No effort is spared as Slack constantly aims to support developers in their work, offering all kinds of training, help and advise. Meetups are arranged all over the world, and in this spirit, the company has managed to grow the community to well over 200,000 developers who are regularly contributing to the Slack platform.
Slack realized early on what enormous potential an app marketplace brings, and what a win-win situation it creates for all parties involved. One could say that the App Directory allows Slack to outsource the business of complexity and diversity to their community of enthusiastic developers around the world; so that Slack can focus on refining their core product and their API.
#4 A Roadmap to Success
An unusually high level of transparency is one of the key features that has made Slack so popular with developers. The team at Slack, including Ceci Stallsmith, Paige Paquette, Megan Robershotte and Matt Haughey are doing a great job of keeping the public Slack Platform Roadmap up to date, announcing and explaining coming features of the App Directory.
The roadmap is updated every third month and provides developers with valuable insights into what lies ahead. In the introduction to the Roadmap, three major themes are outlined:
- Slack wants to become the platform where enterprise software is built, discovered and used.
- Slack aims to make essential Slack Apps indispensable. To do this, Slack wants to supply developers with all building blocks needed to create truly great app experiences.
- Slack wants to enable customers of all sizes to bring their work into the platform through integrations, by providing best practices, blueprints, and great tooling.
In other words, the Slack team wants to do everything they possibly can to help their community of developers succeed. What’s not to love, right?
#5 An Attractive API
From a technical point of view, Slack is appealing to developers thanks to their user-friendly API. With extensive documentation, plenty of tutorials and a great FAQ, Slack shows its dedication to helping the community succeed. Slack also produces a specific blog and maintain a separate Slack Platform twitter handle, entirely devoted to the API.
Building Apps on top of the Slack API allows developers to fully leverage the existing Slack infrastructure with everything from push notifications, emojis and gif support – so developers can devote their energy to developing new features. The need to “reinvent the wheel” disappears and developers can focus on actually inventing new things.
#6 A Smooth Submission Process
Slack offers an extremely straightforward process not only for development but also for app submission. At first, the sheer number of options and different ways to hook into and connect with Slack can be a bit intimidating. But this is outweighed by the extensive checklists, guides, and tutorials offered at every stage of the journey. Slack publishes all kinds of material to help developers succeed in every part of the process – from the ideation stage, all through development, marketing, and monetization.
The on-boarding process is guided by a long and detailed checklist, and every step has to be completed and confirmed before an app can be submitted for approval.
#7 Ideas For the Future
Slack even lists ideas for future apps that, based on requests from their customers, they believe would have a good shot at becoming popular.
Below are a few of our favorite examples of ideas that Slack recommend their developer community to look into. They do add the disclaimer that some of these functions might be developed in-house, or that someone might have already created an app for them, but then they go on to stress that ”just because an app has been built doesn’t mean that a second app can’t do the same thing and be very successful”.
Examples we love from Slack’s App Idea Board:
|Marketing||Social & Fun|
So What’s Next?
Based on the love that Slack receives from users, developers, it seems safe to assume that Slack is still just at the beginning of its journey. Exactly where that journey will lead is impossible to know, but an educated guess would be that in the near future we will see more SlackBots powered by Artificial Intelligence, and more functionality built on Machine Learning.
When intelligent bots start to use advanced tracking to find patterns and get to know each individual user, Slack will increasingly be able to offer us the exact information and service we need, right when we need it. Slack’s CEO Stewart Butterfield, has mentioned the Chinese platform WeChat as a model for what Slack could evolve into.
WeChat went from what was initially a messaging tool to what is today an all-encompassing platform where users can do pretty much anything; from ordering pizzas and paying bills to follow the news and connect with friends – all within one single app.
One of WeChat’s strengths is that it has succeeded in filtering, collecting and repackaging the overload of information and options we all face on a daily basis, in a way that makes it not only feel but actually become more manageable and less overwhelming – and Slack is already having that effect in workplaces around the world.