'Slack' it to me!

Slack is a cloud-based team collaboration tool co-founded by Stewart Butterfield, Eric Costello, Cal Henderson, and Serguei Mourachov. It started as an internal tool used in the development of Glitch, a now defunct online game. 

Slack’s annual run rate is about $100M – not that much for a 650 employee company. Slack was valued at $3.8B when it raised $200M back in april 2016.

This growth is nicely documented and explained primarily by its business model, its rigorous focus on user feedback and creating a sticky ecosystem with third party apps. However, it does not explain the popularity, its coolness. Honestly, it is a team messaging app. Inspired by IRC (see below). We don’t see a whole lot of excitement about HipChat, or Yammer, or Facebook’s chat experience. But Slack is offered as a ‘benefit’ at the Silicon Valley elite. So what makes it so cool? We all know: “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck …”. 

Slack is exactly like that, but then the other way around: Slack looks different, sounds different and Slack is fun. Very different indeed! So, let’s investigate this! 

IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat. IRC is a protocol that facilitates communication in the form of text. Clients send messages to the server, receive replies to those messages and receive copies of some messages sent by other clients. Users can enter commands by prefixing them with a ‘/’. IRC supports channels – the basic means of communicating to a group of users. IRC bots are scripts or programs that connect to IRC as a client that perform automated functions.

Slack looks different – and looks are everything

Slack uses a color scheme that feels more at home in a rock star game than an enterprise software app. Compare that to the different hues of blue of Hipchat, Yammer or Skype.

And it’s not just the logo. The user interface uses the same vibrant colours and a nice curvy sans-serif font: Lato. Lato is used throughout the interface. Lato – polish for ‘summer’ – is a warm and pleasant font. Unassuming and increasingly popular – also because WordPress uses it in its Twenty Fourteen theme.

The quick brown fox jumps o|

Although Slack looks beautiful, its interface focuses on utility – loosely inspired by material design.
The quick brown fox jumps o|
Lato – typography sample

Slack sounds different

Slack really goes out of its way to have playful copy on every opportunity. Some examples:

  • “… we’ve summed them up for you in a lovely little list on our blog …”
  • “Sending and reading messages in Slack is dead simple.”
  • “Always get plenty of sleep, if you can.”
  • “Please consider the environment before printing this Slack.”

Slack always talks directly at you, never in a third person. “Hi, how can I help you?”.

Slack is more fun!

The apps and bots make Slack fun (and super useful). For example, each time “drink” occurs in a message, a bot can message back “Don’t forget to pay for your drinks – the piggy is up there somewhere!”. Or the giphy slack app: just type /giphy whatever and a nice gif is sent. I often lose a day or two playing around with it. Even the name is fun: a productivity app with a name that means ‘not busy, moving slowly, sluggish’. The many integrations make Slack sticky and useful – the fun make people want to use it. A killer combo.


Slack is cool because it is different. Slack is different because it looks different, sounds different and is more fun. Awesome that being different results in $3.8B value!