Growth at Slack – an overview

Fareed Mosavat tweeted an interesting thread about the approach to growth at Slack. Given that it’s a “enterprise software startup growing at consumer startup numbers”, we should all pay attention to what he said.

1/ So.. I take that back. This is actually a really big deal. Let’s talk about the 85k customers number. Two years ago, it wasn’t clear this was possible. It would have been easy to say “we are an enterprise company now, let’s focus 100% on those large customers”.

Instead, we built a new team to tackle the problem. It started out as “conversion growth”, but then we called it “Upgrades & Expansion”, and now it’s called “Monetization” as part of our broader Lifecycle team.

In the early days, we started with deep-dive qualitative and analytical research. Why do people pay for Slack? Who are our buyers? When do they decide to purchase? Don’t skip the research. You have to know where to start.

Then we started small experiments, primarily focused on removing the obvious barriers to purchase.  Early on, impact doesn’t matter nearly as much as building the muscles to move fast and learn from every feature / experiment / idea.

You have to have patience and give teams time to build their understanding before pulling the plug. We talk a lot about moving fast, iterating, etc in the growth world, but people rarely talk about how much time there is between successes. There’s a lot of waiting.

After 3 months, something clicked. We shipped a feature that had massive impact – “experiment framework must be broken” level of impact. After that we were off to the races. The team knew what it felt like to win. We had the confidence to try bigger things.

Even with all this experience ~30% of our monetization experiments show positive results.  If you are on an experiment-driven team, get used to, at best, 70% of your work being thrown away. Build your processes accordingly.

We don’t “growth hack”. One of our mantras is “focus on value creation, not value extraction” and everything we build is centered on this principle. 

Help customers connect with the value your product provides.

Our other mantra is “experimentation is a tool of humility not decision making”.  We don’t use our customers as test subjects and try out a million things. We build experiences we believe in and use data to check if we were right and learn from mistakes.

These two characteristics were essential to our success. A new team has to operate within the structures and culture of the company. You have to find a way to be JUST ENOUGH different to try new things and form a unique identity, but close enough the org doesn’t reject you.

An awesome thing about working so close to business results is that you don’t have to spend extra energy empire building or proving your ROI to the company. The results speak for themselves. People will start throwing new problems at you.

The thing I’m most proud of is proving the conventional wisdom of B2B software wrong. It might be hard, but it is possible to serve enterprise and small businesses at the same time. I strive every day to build a team where everyone can do the best work of their lives and make significant, measurable, positive impact on both the business and our customers.