Slack will integrate more bots to become the WeChat for work

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield told SXSW that the average users spends over two hours a day actively chatting on the popular for-work messaging app.

stewart butterfield slack sxsw

Every new Slack user gets a welcome greeting from the messaging app's Slackbot, but that's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of bot-enabled functionalities that Slack wants to add in the next five years.

“We’re trying to make some bots, but we’re really about facilitating bots by other companies,” Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield told the audience during his South By Southwest panel on Tuesday.

Butterfield revealed that the average Slack user spends two hours and 20 minutes a day on the platform, not just with the app open, but actively sending messages or uploading files. According to the CEO, utilizing Slack’s third-party bots for ordering office supplies, booking travel, or simply asking when a coworker is coming back from vacation makes employees feel 32 percent more productive during the workday.

“These bots wouldn’t make sense as part of email, or a Wiki page, or a task manager program,” Butterfield added, claiming that Slack has the potential to become the go-to communication platform for bot-enabled functionalities and third-party integrations. This year alone, Slack launched a Skype integration and video conference calling.

Slack's 5-year plan is to seamlessly integrate a suite of third-party integrations and become the “Windows of bot applications,” Butterfield said.

Slack might end up resembling a service more along the lines of WeChat, the app that has gained a massive audience in China by becoming a one-stop shop for messaging, photo-sharing, mobile gaming, and even online bill-paying.

“I love the shirt I’m wearing, but I would never install the clothing store’s app," Butterfield said. "There are way more apps than we could ever download. I wish, though, that it was like some of these Chinese apps so I could message the store about buying another one if I can’t tell which one it is from their catalogue.”

Slack is not the only company interested in bringing more functionality to its messaging app. Facebook has been deploying new features in its own Messenger, like placing voice calls, requesting Uber rides, and making Venmo-style payments. While Messenger is geared toward consumers, Slack is focused on work messaging (for now). However, Butterfield acknowledged growing competition from Facebook. In January, the social network launched Facebook at Work, an internal collaboration platform with well-known social features.

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Butterfield noted that this competition from bigger tech players could be a motivating factor behind the company seeking a new round of funding. However, the CEO did not confirm the recent rumors that Slack was in talks to raise between $150 and $300 million in financing. If it did raise that much money, Slack would be valued at around $4 billion. Butterfield did say that given the option, he would choose to keep Slack an independent company. 

“If there was ever a company to take all the way—with its success so far and the potential for the future—this one’s it,” Butterfield said. Previously, he was a co-founder at Flickr, now owned by Yahoo. Earlier this month, news surfaced that Microsoft was looking to acquire Slack for $8 billion, but ultimately nixed the idea and invested that money into Skype.

Siding with Apple on privacy and security

The Slack CEO also addressed a recent string of incidents where internal work conversations in the app have been made public either through media leaks or court orders. Despite these incidents, Butterfield still believes that Slack is a more secure method of communicating sensitive information than, say, text messages.

“We have had companies conducting business over text messages, and [in the case of a legal situation] wouldn’t you prefer to hand over just your workplace messages in Slack and keep texts private,” Butterfield said. He reminded the audience of the sexual discrimination lawsuit at Tinder that was substantiated by personal text messages.

Butterfield even mentioned Macworld contributor Glenn Fleishman and his idea to potentially prevent Slack convos from being leaked. Glenn tweeted that Slack could implement embedding a unique pixel to see every time a message had been screenshot. However, the CEO said that Slack is not considering such feature.

 

When asked about Apple’s recent privacy turmoil with the FBI, Butterfield said that Slack had filed an amicus brief in support of Apple. Slack joins other tech companies, like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, in offering public support for Tim Cook.

“I don’t agree with the government compelling Apple to do that kind of work,” he said. “Given all the things the NSA has done in the past, it seems well within the bounds [to hack into Syed Farook’s iPhone]. This seems like a cherry-picked case to get public sympathy.”

Butterfield pointed out that because Slack is an internal communication platform, it’s inherently more secure. The company has no plans to create a product intended for external messaging.

“[Opening it up] makes it more susceptible to things like spamming, phishing, hacking, and excessive LinkedIn requests,” he said.

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