Messaging platform Slack integrates with Salesforce, creates a fund and eyes bot startups – interview with James Sherrett

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Shortly after SaaStock 2016 Dublina conference about B2B SaaS business, we had the chance to speak to James Sherrett, the man leading Slack in Europe.

Slack is a leading messaging platform for teams that brings all communication together. The San Francisco-based startup has raised $540 million from some of the world’s best recognized investors such as Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, DST, Google Ventures, Horizons Ventures. Slack has 3 million daily active users, 930,000 of them paying, 600+ employees, 77 of the Fortune100 use Slack.

Earlier this week, Slack signed a “deep product partnership” with Salesforce — an integration that will make it much easier for businesses to share data across the two platforms, specifically around employee conversations and sales account information. Slack, a startup that launched only in 2014,  says it is the company’s biggest partnership to date.

What makes Slack a good tool for startups? How does Slack compare with similar tools for startups?

Slack is changing the way teams communicate by solving the key issues that are pain points for everyone in modern work – team communication, access to information and simplying teamwork. Anyone who has been on numerous reply-all email chains will understand this! Slack gives start-ups the ability to pull all their communication into one place, then make it instantly searchable. Start-ups also comment on Slack being fully integrated with all the services that they already use, highlighting its accessibility.
I think there are a lot of benefits that can be experienced within the startup culture – speed of decision-making, quality of execution and getting to market with real customes as quickly as possible. Then continuing to get customer feedback and iterating the product to meet that feedback.

What is Slack’s position in Europe? What problems and challenges do you see?

Our customers are in Europe so Slack is in Europe. Three of our top 10 markets are in Europe. Overall, our user base grew tenfold last year and we’re seeing strong demand across all industries, regions and size of organization for more efficient and effective team communications. Growth has constantly exceeded our expectations; the challenge is just keeping up. European customers have some different patterns of adoption based on diverse cultures as well as specific data privacy and residency needs. We’ve learned about European customers’ needs and how we meet them.

What differences do you see between Slack users in Europe vs the US?

We see very little actual difference in terms of the problems Slack is solving for customers. Everyone wants to work more effectively, to communicate more clearly and to be more successful in their work every day. With our first customers in europe over two years ago we had to learn to meet their security and privacy needs. We did that very effectively and we’ve continued to evolve how we meet their needs as the regulatory context has evolved – from Safe Harbor to Model Clauses to Privacy Shield.

Slack opened a new fund investing in startups. Why a fund? What is its focus?

We created an $80 million developer fund, in partnership with Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Index Ventures, KPCB, Spark Growth and Social Capital to drive innovation on the Slack platform. The money will go towards developers who create “Slack-first” apps — software, bots and plug-ins that are specifically designed for the platform, but aren’t necessarily exclusive to Slack.

We’re deeply committed to supporting a diverse and valuable ecosystem of third-party apps and now we’ve got 600+ in the Slack App Directory. With the launch of the Slack Fund and App Directory, we’ve been able to both support developers, and help our customers get more value from Slack and all the Apps they use. So Slack gets better with each integrated App, and each App gets better when integrated with Slack. Our focus remains on our core mission – to make our customers’ work lives simpler, more pleasant and more productive. We recently announced the first beneficiaries of our fund, which included Butter.ai, a bot that promises to artfully help you find all your company files hidden away in various drives, and Birdly, a bot connecting teams to Slack and Salesforce.

Where is Slack’s European headquarters?

Slack’s European HQ is in Dublin, Ireland. We opened the office in May 2015, and by the end of 2017 we will have created 180 new jobs across roles such as customer experience, technical operations and sales. We are also expanding our presence more broadly in Europe, with an office in London today and additional offices in the coming months.