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商業 - 科技

微軟的末日終于來了?這款應用增長實在太快

Michal Lev-Ram 2019年08月30日

Slack要想獲得成功,至少是獲得華爾街眼中的成功,那么它就需要成為一個像微軟一樣的巨頭。

插圖:Chris Gas

今年6月,職場即時通信軟件Slack的CEO斯圖爾特·巴特菲爾德飛到了紐約,參加公司的IPO典禮。為了慶祝這一盛事,他不僅帶去了公司的管理團隊和一些主要客戶,還帶去了他的母親諾瑪·巴特菲爾德。

在最近《財富》雜志于阿斯彭舉辦的頭腦風暴科技大會上,巴特菲爾德對觀眾說:“對我來說最重要的是,我讓我母親也去了,而且她還在紐交所敲了鐘,宣告了我們的股票正式開始交易。”

Slack是一個很受歡迎的職場通訊軟件,它可以讓員工們互相發消息,共享和合作處理文件,管理項目,以及執行其他重要工作任務。Slack在紐交所掛牌,其意義遠遠不只在于融資。它也是一次成年禮,標志著Slack這個工具開始由青澀走向成熟。

Slack有很充足的增長理由。它最初只在硅谷的創業公司里流行,最近又吸引了不少大型企業客戶,很多客戶又有一些同樣體量的上市公司合作伙伴。巴特菲爾德在《財富》頭腦風暴科技大會上談到Slack的上市時表示:“這給我們帶來了一些信譽。”

巴特菲爾德表示,Slack的一些大客戶一直想要了解這家公司的財務信息。而在公司上市以后,他們每季度都能夠了解到Slack的收入、利潤,甚至是風險了。

不光客戶希望Slack上市,它的早期私人投資者也希望Slack上市,而他們現在已經大賺了一筆了。6月20日也就是IPO當天,Slack以38.5美元開盤,比紐交所前一天確定的26美元的參考價格足足高出48%。這使得Slack的估值達到了200億美元左右,幾乎是它作為一家私營公司的估值的三倍。此后,該公司股價一直處于波動之中,其市值也于8月初下跌至150億美元左右。

盡管Slack的“直接上市”模式(一種非傳統的上市方式,它既不發行新股,也不與承銷商合作)取得了一定成功,但它現在卻面臨著更高的增長預期,以及一個永遠繞不過去的強大對手——微軟。微軟最近稱,它的職場聊天服務微軟Teams已經有了1300萬日均活躍用戶,超過了Slack的1000萬。這個消息也使Slack的股價在一日內暴跌近4%。

對與微軟的競爭,巴特菲爾德回應稱,相比那些擁有幾十種產品的大公司,一些規模較小、重點更突出的企業也是可以有優勢的。因為企業做得越大,一般就越難以強調質量和用戶體驗。

將二者的服務進行直觀比較是有些困難的,原因如下:首先,Slack認為它的服務不僅僅是一個商業用聊天工具,而是應該屬于一個獨立的類別,因為它將傳統的一對一溝通(如電子郵件)拓展為集體的“渠道”,使得信息共享和團隊協作變得更容易了。Slack公司表示,Slack的用戶平均每天要在電腦或手機上打開這款軟件9小時,直接使用的時間為大約90分鐘。

其次,微軟的Teams是與它最重要的職場應用軟件Office 365捆綁在一起的。換句話說,一個企業用戶很有可能手頭上已經有了Teams這項服務,但自己完全沒有意識到,更談不上使用它了。而Slack則是作為一個獨立的服務銷售的,沒有與其他產品打包在一起。因此,有批評人士表示,微軟Teams的用戶數是被夸大了的。

不過微軟 Office 365部門的副總裁杰瑞德·斯派塔羅表示,正因為外界有關于捆綁銷售的置疑,微軟才決定主動公布其每日活躍用戶的數量,而不僅僅是公布總體用戶的數量。“有1300萬人正在使用Teams——從我們的角度看,他們使用的是免費版還是捆綁銷售版的并不重要,重要的是他們使用了這個產品。”

至于微軟的用戶每天在Teams上花幾個小時的時間,則并不清楚。與Slack不同的是,微軟不愿意回答這個問題。

When Stewart Butterfield, chief executive of workplace messaging service Slack, flew to New York City for his company’s public stock market debut in June, he didn’t just bring his leadership team and some key customers to help celebrate. He also brought his mother, Norma Butterfield.

“The big thing for me is, I got my mom to come,” the CEO told the audience at Fortune’s recent Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen. “She got to ring the bell to open our shares for trading.”

The ceremonious milestone inside the New York Stock Exchange was more than a financial event for Slack. It was a bar mitzvah of sorts: a step from adolescence to adulthood for the buzzy tool that lets workers message one another, share and collaborate on documents, and manage projects, among other tasks that are key to getting work done.

Slack had ample reason to grow up. Initially popular with Silicon Valley startups, the company has more recently attracted larger corporate customers, many of which are accustomed to working with vendors that are equally big—and public. “It gives us some credibility,” Butterfield said about Slack becoming a publicly traded company, during his onstage interview.

According to the CEO, some of Slack’s bigger customers had been asking for the company’s financial records. Now they’ll have access to details like revenue and profit—and risks to the business—on a quarterly basis.

To be sure, customers weren’t the only ones clamoring for Slack to go public. So were its early private investors, who have so far made a killing on the company. On June 20, Slack’s impressive first day as a publicly listed company, shares opened at $38.50, 48% above the reference price of $26 that had been set by the NYSE the day before. That gave Slack a valuation of about $20 billion, nearly tripling its value as a private company. The stock has since fluctuated, with Slack’s market cap dipping to around $15 billion in early August.

Despite the success of its “direct listing”—an unconventional method of going public without issuing new shares or working with an underwriter—Slack now faces even higher expectations of growth and the same powerful nemesis: Microsoft. The tech giant, based in Redmond, Wash., recently bragged that its rival workplace chat service, Microsoft Teams, now has 13 million daily active users, compared with Slack’s 10 million. The news sent Slack’s shares tumbling almost 4% in one day.

Butterfield’s response to the competition is that a smaller, more focused company can have an advantage over a larger incumbent that has dozens of products. The bigger you get, says Butterfield, the harder it is to emphasize quality and user experience.

Comparing Microsoft’s numbers with Slack’s is difficult for several reasons. For starters, Slack contends that its service isn’t just another chat tool for businesses. Rather, it’s in a category by itself, the company says, because it shifts communication from one-to-one, like email, which creates silos of information, to group “channels” that make sharing information and working together easy. The average user, according to Slack, keeps the app open for nine hours daily on her computer or mobile phone, and engages with it for about 90 minutes.

There is another reason that makes apples-to-apples comparisons tricky. Teams is bundled with Office 365, a subscription-based version of Microsoft’s key workplace applications. An employer can have Teams, in other words, without even knowing it, much less using it. Slack, on the other hand, is sold as a stand-alone service and is not folded in with other products. Critics say that Microsoft’s user numbers for Teams are therefore inflated.

But Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s 365 division, says these questions about bundling are exactly why the company decided to publish its number of daily active users—not just overall customers. “The 13 million people who are using Teams— from our perspective, it doesn’t matter if they got it bundled or free,” says Spataro. “They’re using the product.”

The number of hours that Microsoft’s customers spend on Teams daily is unclear, however. Unlike Slack, Microsoft wouldn’t say.

不過不管怎樣,分析師們都一致認為,Teams是Slack的最大威脅。William Blair公司的分析師布哈萬·蘇里在最近一份報告中指出了一個再明顯不過的事實:“微軟資本雄厚,而且在很多大企業都有顯著的影響。”

微軟是一臺高效的利潤機器,可以輕易地拿出大筆現金改進和推廣Teams,而Slack到目前為止還是一筆賠錢的買賣。上一財年,Slack的營收入為4億美元,虧損額達到1.39億美元。不過好消息是,Slack的付費用戶數較上年同期增長了近50%,這個速度足夠讓其他大大小小的科技公司羨慕的了。假設Slack能夠以類似的速度繼續發展下去,那么實現盈利是遲早的事。

Slack的發展也并非一直順風順水。今年46歲的巴特菲爾德于2009年在舊金山創辦了一家名叫Tiny Speck的網游開發公司。Slack一開始只是這家公司為了方便內部溝通而開發的一個軟件。到了2014年,巴特菲爾德的游戲創意搞不下去了,便把主要精力放在了Slack上。巴特菲爾德生于加拿大,現在他主要在舊金山和紐約市之間奔波,有時也去其他一些客戶集中的城市拜訪客戶。目前,Slack的客戶已經遍布全球150多個國家,

這并不是巴特菲爾德的第一次成功創業。以前他還創辦過一個叫做Flickr的照片分享網站——它可能是后“互聯網泡沫”時代最紅火的創業公司之一了。2005年,雅虎以3500萬美元收購了Flickr(這個價格對于那個時代的創業者來說,算是一次很成功的“退出”了)。巴特菲爾德繼續在雅虎擔任Flickr的總經理,不過由于不滿雅虎官僚主義成風、缺乏創新等“大企業病”,他還是在三年后離開了雅虎。

也正是有了雅虎的前車之鑒,雖然Slack增長得很快,而且成功地由一家私營企業轉型成了一家上市公司,但是巴特菲爾德還是堅信,更大并不一定代表更好。他的客戶往往也同意他的觀點。

金融服務公司TD Ameritrade的首席信息官維賈伊·桑卡蘭表示:“Slack是一家非常靈活的公司,我們跟他們的CEO有直接的聯系,也可以跟他們的產品工程團隊直接合作,這是他們真正的優勢。”

電商公司Shopify的“文化策略師”凱特琳·諾里斯表示,她曾經要求Slack為她的公司的4000名員工提供特定的新功能,Slack也做到了。她目前正在等待Slack的員工幫助她創建一個功能,讓她的員工能夠手動調整頻道,為特定項目或主題創建選項卡,否則它們就會按照字母表的順序排列。

In any case, analysts agree that Teams is the greatest threat to Slack. William Blair analyst Bhavan Suri states the obvious in a recent report: “Microsoft is well-capitalized and has a significant presence in many large enterprises.”

While Microsoft is a highly profitable machine that can easily plow cash into improving and promoting Teams, Slack is losing money. It hemorrhaged $139 million in its latest fiscal year on $400 million in revenue. But here’s the good news for Slack: Its roster of paying customers was up nearly 50% during that period compared with the year before, a growth rate that many other enterprise tech players, large and small, would envy. That kind of momentum is Slack’s ticket to achieving profitability, assuming it can continue at a similar pace.

Slack’s trajectory hasn’t always been so clear. Butterfield, 46, started Tiny Speck, a maker of online games, in San Francisco in 2009. He pivoted to Slack, the chat tool his team had created to communicate internally, in 2014, when it became clear that the original game idea wouldn’t catch on. The Canadian-born chief executive officer now splits his time between the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City, along with Slack’s other major hubs and visits to its customers, who are located across 150 countries.

It’s not Butterfield’s first time in the spotlight. Previously, he cofounded photo-sharing site Flickr, a hot startup during the post–?Internet bubble era. Yahoo eventually bought the service in 2005 for a reported $35 million (a respectable “exit” at the time). Butterfield stayed on at Yahoo as general manager of Flickr, but he left three years later, disenchanted with the web portal’s bureaucracy, lack of innovation, and huge size.

It’s no surprise, then, that despite Slack’s rapid growth and its transition from private to public, Butterfield remains convinced that being bigger isn’t always better. His customers tend to agree.

“Slack is a very nimble company,” says Vijay Sankaran, chief information officer at financial services firm TD Ameritrade, where 11,000 employees have access to the chat app. “We’ve got a direct relationship with the CEO. We work with the product engineering team. That’s a real strength of theirs.”

Kaitlin Norris, “culture strategist” at e-?commerce company Shopify, another customer, says she has asked for—and received—specific new features from Slack for her company’s 4,000 workers. She is currently waiting for Butterfield’s crew to create a feature that would let employees manually organize channels, tabs created for specific projects or topics, which otherwise appear in alphabetical order on the service.

今年6月,Slack公司的CEO斯圖爾特·巴特菲爾德與他的母親諾瑪·巴特菲爾德在紐交所門外,慶祝Slack的股票直接上市。圖片來源:Courtesy of Steward Butterfield

Slack之所以吸引了很多客戶,主要在于它能夠與很多其他公司的在線服務相融合。該平臺上現有包括視頻電話軟件Zoom、允許用戶對文檔進行編輯的谷歌在線存儲應用Drive等1500多個應用程序。此外,Slack還為用戶提供了工具,讓他們可以輕松地開發屬于自己的功能,而這些功能也可以與Slack捆綁在一起。比如,Shopify開發了一款名叫“Tally”的人工智能機器人,它能夠跟蹤員工的費用情況,并使他們可以在Slack上提交費用報告。

William Blair公司的分析師蘇里表示:“Slack就像一個專門面向現代企業的操作系統”,允許企業在一個地方訪問所有的應用程序。

如果說,做“企業軟件一站式商店”的目標令Slack看起來很像微軟,那么實際上,可以說是,也可以說不是。諷刺的是,Slack要想獲得成功,至少是獲得華爾街眼中的成功,那么它就需要成為一個像微軟一樣的巨頭。但巴特菲爾德相信,他可以推動公司繼續增長,同時也不忘了公司的根本——簡單。正是這個特點,才讓Slack從一開始就流行了起來。(財富中文網)

本文另一版本登載于《財富》雜志2019年9月刊,標題為《Slack加速增長》。

譯者:樸成奎

Much of Slack’s appeal to customers is that it integrates with online services from other companies. There are more than 1,500 such apps on the platform, from videoconferencing service Zoom to Google Drive, the online storage service that enables users to collaborate on documents. And Slack offers its customers tools that let them easily develop their own features that can be tied into Slack. Shopify, for example, has created an artificial intelligence–based bot called Tally that tracks what employees spend and allows them to file their expense reports, all within Slack.

“Slack acts like a pseudo operating system for the modern enterprise” that lets businesses access all their apps in one place, writes Suri, the William Blair analyst.

If becoming the one-stop shop for corporate software sounds a lot like Microsoft’s pitch, it is and it isn’t. Ironically, for Slack to succeed, at least in the eyes of Wall Street, it will need to become an enterprise giant much like its rival. But Butterfield is convinced he can continue to push the company into adulthood without forgetting its roots—the simplicity that helped Slack catch on in the first place.

A version of this article appears in the September 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “Slack Spreads Its Wings.”

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