Will Google Acquire Slack?

by Dave Michels

I just spent a few days with team Slack at its Spec conference. I’ve had pleasant conversations with both of its founders. They seem sincere to me, that is not a lot of spin.

Everyone has heard the story that Microsoft once considered acquiring Slack, but opted instead to copy it with Teams. I don’t know if that’s true, but it seems reasonable. It’s clear that Slack found a business communications solution that few realized was so necessary. Now that the category is here (Workstream Collaboration or Team Chat), other companies need to conduct their own buy vs. build analysis. Many conclude build. 

To be clear, Slack was not the first to hit upon messaging-centric communications and collaboration. It’s really hard to say who was first – there’s a reasonable argument for (consumer) Skype or even IRC. Even before that Europeans fell in love with mobile SMS. I think the first of the modern solutions within the comms sector (at least in concept) came from Siemens Enterprise Networks. SEN previewed Project Ansible  in 2013 – it’s what is now known as Unify Circuit.  

However, Slack was the first to really cross the chasm, and did so without any real time services. Now the category of Team Chat or Workstream Collaboration is getting crowded — particularly among UCaaS providers. Forrester’s recent UCaaS Wave gave Team Messaging the heaviest weighted (by far) category (20%). 

What’s occurring is three separate sectors are becoming one: meetings, telephony, and messaging. That leaves Slack two plays short of a triple play. Yes, you can integrate several UCaaS and meetings services with Slack, but those options are increasingly developing their own messaging alternatives. Zoom and Slack have a strong partnership, but have you seen Zoom Chat recently? It integrates with many of the same apps as Slack. Maybe Zoom and others are not fully viewed as Slack alternatives, but competitive gaps shrink as solutions mature. 

That brings me to Google. They promised us Hangouts Chat would be delivered this year. It’s Google’s take on Workstream Collaboration. A few weeks ago, Google announced it won’t be coming this year. Google already has real time services such as meetings and telephony, so a single play shy from a triple play. That’s why I wonder if Google can/will/should acquire Slack.

Here’s some jerky to chew on: 

  • Google has meetings and UCaaS, but is short on messaging. It was supposed to release Hangouts Chat this year but delayed it. Even when it does get released sometime in 2020, it will be a minimum of five years to recreate the ecosystem and momentum that Slack currently has. 
  • Google also has Gmail. I never bought into the ‘messaging apps will kill email’ mindset. The services are actually very complementary. In fact, you can’t even create a Slack account without an email account. 
  • G Suite competes head to head (ok head to knee) with Office 365. Microsoft has made Teams the glue that connects all O365 apps. If Google wants to effectively compete with O365 (big if), it will need a robust messaging play. Of course, that will require an MS mindset at Google. . . 
  • . . .Google just hired Microsoft’s former Cortana and Outlook VP, Javier Soltero, to head up its productivity and collaboration bundle, G Suite. 
  • Google did not offer any details on why Hangouts Chat was delayed. Perhaps the hiring of Soltero and talks with Slack caused the delay. 
  • Google acquiring Slack has a reasonable fit. Google would have an API-rich messaging app, meetings/video (Hangouts Meet), UCaaS (Google Voice),  G Suite apps, GCP (to store Slack apps), and Android and Chrome for an end-to-end experience.
  • Meanwhile Microsoft is on track to beat Google at its own game. It is standardizing on Chromium and just announced an Android phone. 

Google acquiring Slack seems reasonable and plausible, but then who knows? Google often defies logic, and this is not a small acquisition. Google’s commitment to building out G Suite varies with the weather. Remember, Google Apps (web/browser productivity apps) launched years before O365, yet missed its first-mover advantage.

It would certainly be a bold move for Google. Would Slack users come out ahead? Maybe. Google could iterate Slack faster and reach more customers — if it chose to do so. There’s of course a risk that Google could not retain key talent like Stewart, Cal, and other visionaries. Though it doesn’t appear those folks are motivated to cash out. They are still there some five months after the IPO (Slack’s direct listing skipped the IPO lockup). 

The rest of the industry would probably benefit too. Microsoft fully intends to make every O365 subscriber a Teams user, and that could squash the competitive landscape (remember Lotus 123, Harvard Graphics, Netscape, and Novell). Competitive options spark creativity and innovation. 

Slack doesn’t appear to be in need of acquisition. The new App Dev Toolkit was well received and the new Salesforce integration looks strong. Customer satisfaction is high. 

If they do remain independent, I think Slack will have to address real-time capabilities. Maybe acquire 2600Hz and/or Highfive as app/platforms that can be extended. Whatever happens, I hope they keep their startup vibe.