In an announcement made with little fanfare last month, Slack — a workplace chat app used by 2 million people each day — announced an integration with the ride-hailing service Lyft. The integration lets Slack users order a cab by typing "/lyft" within a chat window, a command that summons a Lyft chat bot that can take users through every step until a ride is en route.
The process, completed entirely within a Slack window, is a nice example of how chat can be used to operate outside software from within a messaging app. And though the Lyft scenario may be pretty neat, Slack is aiming at something far more ambitious. The company is looking to develop similar integrations with the massive workplace, or enterprise, software industry -- anything from expense reporting tools to customer databases -- in an attempt to turn itself into the most important tool workers use at their job throughout the day. If successful in its attempt, Slack could become a power broker in the software world, a key access point for the multibillion-dollar enterprise software industry to the clients it serves.
This evening, Slack provided more detail on its plans to pursue this path. Most strikingly, it announced an $80 million investment fund, with the goal of betting on enterprise companies that promise to build experiences similar to Lyft's within Slack.
"The bid to change the future of work is the goal," Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield told BuzzFeed News in an interview this week. "If [workers] have Slack open all day, then there's actually an opportunity to bring together all of the different services they use."
Those services, Butterfield said, can be anything from accounting software to HR, customer service, project tracking, and application performance monitoring programs.
The fund, according to a Slack release, "is backed by Slack in partnership with Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Index Ventures, KPCB, Spark Growth and Social+Capital." Its focus, the release said, "includes both apps that are designed to be 'Slack-first', and enterprise tools that are making Slack integration a core part of their offering." (Andreessen Horowitz is also a BuzzFeed investor.)
Messaging applications such as Slack are emerging as a key entry point for companies looking to reach their customers outside of traditional channels. A messaging app commands your attention, because the bits of information you receive from it are typically from friends, family, and, in Slack’s case, co-workers. These things take priority over the rest of the noise-filled internet, making apps like Slack a great vector for grabbing someone's attention. “They have it open for hours and hours a day, and very active usage much of the day,” Butterfield said of his customers.
Slack is also introducing a new app directory -- think of it as an app store -- that will streamline the process of third-party app installs on the platform. Slack, importantly, is not trying to replace existing companies operating outside of Slack, according to its head of platform, April Underwood, but rather wants to bring in pieces of their software that can make people's work lives easier. "It's not about us having these applications exist only within Slack or in any way that Slack replaces these applications," Underwood told BuzzFeed News. "Instead, it creates those connections that smooth out those boundaries."
How Slack treats the companies it invests in will be particularly intriguing, especially if the companies have competitor not funded by Slack but on the platform. But Butterfield said conflicts of interest won't be a problem. "The principal motivation here isn't for us to get a return on that investment," he said. "Obviously that would be a great result as well. But we're not investing here because we think that's the best investment we can make purely from a financial return point of view. We're investing because we want to get the ecosystem going. There will be no special privilege for companies that Slack invests in -- in terms of distribution."