In deciding what startup to start, I’ve been thinking about what problem space I want to tackle. An area that’s drawing my attention is team communication and collaboration, especially for
Looking at the current industry-leading solution for tech companies, Slack, I see a large opportunity for improvement in how teams and companies communicate and collaborate.
Below is my thinking around the problem space after conducting many research sessions. I’d love your thoughts and feedback on it (comment below).
Slack doesn’t scale. The more people in a Slack workspace, the noisier it becomes. Slack is based on IRC and is a messaging client. It was built for synchronous communication and not for collaboration. As a result, the way to scale Slack for a large company is to create more and more channels. This increases the amount of information generated in a company. Whilst this can be a good thing, Slack users don’t have the ability to filter high-quality information from low-quality.
This causes a number of issues:
Employees feel overwhelmed. There are too many channels and too many messages.
They miss important discussions happening in channels and especially in threads.
They can’t find or refer back to earlier discussions.
Slack becomes difficult to navigate and easy to lose your place in. This causes people to forget to respond to messages or even where to respond to a message.
These pains are particularly felt by companies that rely on written communication for collaboration since they produce a lot of information that is consumed inside Slack. These tend to be companies that have one or more of the following characteristics:
Already mentioned above are the problems with Slack. However, to its credit, what Slack does well is:
The last 2 points are particularly important since they are two separate and strong network effects that make it difficult to replace Slack within a company.
Slack alternatives tend to fall into two categories:
Slack clone but with Feature X. Feature X is usually something like task management, project management, notes, etc. Examples of these apps are
The problem with the apps in the second category is that they end up competing with two existing tools. For example, not only do they need to ensure their chat functionality is better than Slack’s but they also need to ensure their task/project management features are better than Asana / Monday / Jira / Notion / G-suite, etc. They then need to break the network efforts of all these products within a company to see strong adoption. To their credit, they reduce the number of apps you use or need to search for information, which was a minor pain point that came up in a few research sessions.
With 270 million monthly active users, Teams is the biggest competitor in the space. It’s adopted by companies that primarily use the Microsoft suite of products. Teams is extremely well integrated with the rest of the Microsoft suite. These tend to be used by older / larger organizations e.g. Accenture, and Pfizer.
Teams doesn’t have much adoption from tech-first companies or startups. It’s not clear to me why this is. Anecdotally I’ve heard:
Performance is not so good.
Microsoft reputation (e.g. not perceived as industry-leading software to use).
Slack is the established default.
If you have more insights into this, please let me know.
A replacement solution for Slack needs to do what Slack does well. Namely:
You can then improve on the things that Slack does poorly (namely information overload) by adhering to the following principles:
As mentioned, one of the reasons Slack works so well is that it has large adoption within a company. There are two ways to replace this network effect: Top-down and bottom-up.
Top-down: Convince the C-suite executives to replace Slack with an alternative tool. This is difficult to accomplish as changing the primary communication tool of any company will meet a lot of resistance internally. This is especially true the more employees a company has. The other problem with this approach is that it requires a large upfront investment in building a product with many features before it’s viable for the entire company to switch.
Bottom-up: Drive adoption within a company by getting independent teams of 2 or more people to use your product. This is actually the approach that Slack used to gain adoption. Eventually, enough teams inside a company were using Slack that it made sense for the entire company to adopt it.
I think there is an opportunity here to take this a step further: Drive adoption within a company by getting independent individuals to use your product. It’s much easier for an individual to adopt a product on their own than for them to need to convince a coworker to use a product with them.
I feel I now have a good foundation of the problem space and its constraints. The next step for me is to use this to brainstorm potential solutions.
Thanks for reading and please do share your thoughts with me.
Also published here.