The strategy behind Slack's launch

When the product was first coming together, Butterfield and his co-founders returned again and again to Paul Buchheit’s now-famous blog post, “If your product is Great, it doesn’t need to be Good.” Known as one of the creators of Gmail, Buchheit has a simple thesis: If you do a few things incredibly well, the rest doesn’t really matter. [...] Buchheit’s words strongly resonated with Butterfield and his team.

"We don’t cut corners, and we try to focus on the few things that are most important to our product vision."

For Slack, those three most important features are:

    • Search [...]
    • Synchronization [...]
    • Simple file-sharing [...]

These may not be checkbox features, or buzzworthy new concepts, Butterfield notes; they may not even be things that users think they’re looking for in a solution. But when it comes to a successful go-to-market strategy, perhaps the most important decision you can make is to build a product you believe is different from everything else out there, and an important change for the audience you're going after.

“We had a lot of conversations about choosing the three things we'd try to be extremely, surprisingly good at,” Butterfield says. “And ultimately we developed Slack around really valuing those three things. It can sound simple, but narrowing the field can make big challenges and big gains for your company feel manageable. Suddenly you're ahead of the game because you're the best at the things that really impact your users.”

Blue Ocean Strategy talks a lot about the need to create a differentiated value curve. It looks like that's exactly what Slack did, by focusing on a set of key things that they had to do much, much better than their competition in order to stand out from the crowd.

I would say that since this interview, a fourth pillar that emerged is the ease fo creating integrations. Being able to very simply send pieces of information and content from apps to Slack channel is a killer feature for many teams, and something that other chat products didn't really do well before.

Towards apps that help you get your job done

David Cummings has some interesting insights about the future of productivity applications. He argues that we will more and more see apps that focus on a specific job, with one application of record per job function:

Phase three is new vertical-specific SaaS applications as well as more specialized solutions that represent portions of more complicated products. One way to think about it is that there is an application of record for each job function (that is, a product that people in that job function spend a large number of hours per week to perform their job). [...] What job functions currently use a generic solution, but would be better served by a more specialized solution?

One specificity of such apps is that they will guide the user on how to do their job well, moving towards prescriptive solutions:

One of the biggest trends for SaaS over the next five years is new products that offer prescriptive solutions in place of general tools. What I mean is that there are a number of well-defined categories like CRM and ERP that are essentially customizable front-ends to specialized databases (e.g. CRMs are mostly contact management databases). These new products are still going to have the specialized database behind the scenes, but the front-end is more of a business process management system that actually tells the user what to do next.

This also corresponds well to the "First SaaS explosion" as described by Clément Vouillon:

As SaaS penetration grew (businesses of all sizes are ready to buy SaaS now) and as the technological barriers kept going down, many verticals saw an explosion of new players. These new startups very often focus on a more specific part of a vertical and offer products with better UX/UI than what the bigger players can do.

It's going to be interesting to see whether this leads to further fragmentation down the road, or whether big players will just gobble up smaller ones in order to beef up their offerings (the way Salesforce did it with Eloqua and Pardot in the marketing automation space).