The CEO of Slack says that Microsoft is 'unhealthily preoccupied' with 'killing' the company because it threatens email

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The CEO of Slack says that Microsoft is 'unhealthily preoccupied' with 'killing' the company because it threatens email
Slack CEO Stewart ButterfieldREUTERS:Beck Diefenbach
  • Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield told The Verge that Microsoft is "unhealthily preoccupied" with "killing" Slack via its Microsoft Teams tool.
  • He says that while Microsoft itself often compares itself to Slack, Teams is more of a direct competitor to the likes of Zoom, thanks to its focus on voice and video calling.
  • In his view, Microsoft focuses on Slack as a rival because it poses a threat to email, which would in turn diminish the appeal of the Microsoft Office 365 cloud productivity suite.
  • Microsoft Teams and Slack have both seen surges in popularity amid the pandemic, with Microsoft saying in late April that it has 75 million daily active users. Slack hasn't shared user numbers since October, when it said that it had 12 million daily active users.

Microsoft is "unhealthily preoccupied" with "killing" Slack via its Microsoft Teams tool, CEO Stewart Butterfield recently told The Verge. But he also says that his trillion-dollar rival, and many observers, are missing the point.

The two companies have long been at loggerheads: Slack was first on the scene with its very popular corporate workplace chat app, but Microsoft came onto the scene in 2016 with Teams, its own take on the concept, bundled into the Office 365 productivity suite.

By most measures, Teams is a huge hit: In late April, Microsoft said that the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing shift to remote work had propelled it to 75 million daily active users. Slack, for its part, hasn't shared a user number since it said in October that it had 12 million daily active users, though it said in late March that it added 9,000 new paid customers amid the pandemic.

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Butterfield has been a frequent critic of Microsoft and its focus on competition with Slack — in that interview with the Verge, he notes that when Microsoft issued an update on Teams user figures in July 2019, the company directly compared itself to Slack's user base.

However, Butterfield told The Verge that in his view, Teams is more about voice and video calling than it is about text chatting. While Slack has limited video-chatting features, Butterfield himself says that's not the reason why anybody chooses to use the app. In that light, Butterfield suggests, "Teams is much more of a direct competitor to Zoom."

Butterfield further suggests that the reason why Microsoft might be so interested in pursuing this particular rivalry is because Slack reduces the use of email in an office. He argues that if office workers use less email, it makes suites like Microsoft Office 365 — which includes Teams — less attractive to corporate buyers.

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"[It's] really about email, and if email becomes less important, then that whole $35, $40 billion-a-year collaboration productivity business unit is threatened," he said.

Butterfield's comments build on thoughts he expressed in an interview with Business Insider in March, saying that he believes that the industry often positions Slack as competing against Microsoft Teams, when in reality it competes against email as a concept in most cases.

It also echoes several of Butterfield's previous criticisms of Microsoft. Earlier this year, Microsoft also clarified how it counts daily active users, after criticism from Butterfield that it was counting users who the company forced into migrating from older products like Skype for Business.

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Finally, Butterfield says that Slack has no intention of building out its own voice and video chat tools to compete more directly with Teams. In his view, Slack is 'disproportionately valuable' to users because it can integrate with any number of outside tools, including videoconferencing services like Zoom, Cisco WebEx, and even Microsoft Teams itself.

Microsoft was not immediately available for comment.

Read Butterfield's full interview with The Verge here.

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