Slack Is Investing $80 Million in Slack Bot Startups
What do you do if you’ve raised $340 million in venture capital and you don’t necessarily need all of it to run your business? Well, you could set some of that money aside and invest it in other companies. That’s what trendy workplace chat vendor Slack is doing.
Today the company is announcing an $80 million fund to invest in startups that that build software that integrates with Slack. It also launched the Slack App Directory, a catalog of 150 chat bots and Slack integrations.
“We want to further the ecosystem and accelerate teams that make a bet not just on Slack but are really aligned with our mission to make work simpler, more pleasant and more productive,” says Slack platform head April Underwood. “One of the most direct things we can do is provide them with capital and connect them with customers.”
Underwood says some of that money will include funds that Slack’s investors have already invested into Slack, and that some of it will be new financing from investors such as Accel and Andreessen Horowitz.
The company also revealed that it now has 2 million daily active users—not bad given that there are plenty of other ways you can chat with your coworkers online. Slack’s success has been in the integrations between it and other popular collaboration tools, such as the product management app Trello and the code hosting service GitHub.
Some folks have even chosen to build companies dedicated to building Slack bots that provide more features. The idea behind Slack is to not just provide a chatroom for you and your co-workers, but to create something more along the lines of an operating system for other developers to build useful tools that you interact with through a chat interface. Slack’s new investment arm will help it grow the number of useful tools available to users.
Slack has already invested in three companies: Small Wins, a stealth startup founded by former Engadget editor-in-chief Ryan Block; Awesome, makers of a bot that creates summaries of Slack chats; and Howdy, a company that makes “virtual assistant” bots for Slack, as well as an open source platform called Botkit that helps developers build their own Slack bots.
The chat app as operating system is an idea gaining currency in the tech industry right now, thanks in large part to the success China’s WeChat has seen as a platform for apps. Meanwhile, Facebook is investing heavily in M, an artificially intelligent personal assistant that can be accessed through Facebook Messager. Atlassian HipChat, one of Slack’s main competitors, recently unveiled HipChat Connect, a platform for building deep integrations into the chat application.
But the idea of using a workplace productivity tool as a platform for the creation of other software isn’t new. For example, Salesforce launched its AppExchange marketplace in 2005, offering a clearing house of Salesforce tools and integrations and popularizing the idea of creating custom app stores. And much like Slack, Salesforce even invested in some of the companies that sold software through the AppExchange, such as the accounting software company FinancialForce.
But not all of these app stores have been particularly successful. In the early 2010s, social networking, not chat, was seen as the interface paradigm of the future, so “Facebook for corporations” companies like Jive and Yammer launched their own app directories hoping to establish themselves as hubs for all workplace communication and collaboration. Now, five years later, these directories still exist but are far less hyped. App directories may have been good ways for their hosts to show off how many integrations they offer, but they never quite grew into workplace equivalent of the Apple App Store, and stories of breakout successes that launched on such platforms are few and far between. The closest may have been Manymoon, a popular project management service that topped several app marketplace charts and was acquired by Salesforce in 2011, only to be unceremoniously shutdown in 2013 after being rebranded as Do.com.
Slack’s decision to not just create a platform but to actively invest in the companies building on it may help it create a more viable marketplace for new startups. But the big question is how long chat in general will be the favorite interface paradigm for collaboration tools.
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