"It sucks to be the CEO of a startup that's doing super well," said Stewart Butterfield, the founder and CEO of Slack, at Startup Grind. "The pressure gets turned up," and your project evolves far beyond you: Stewart now looks at Slack as an Operating System.
With over 350 employees sending 30,000 total messages a day, the team isn't far from it. But with the combined tools - 80 in total - the company uses and pays for besides the Slack chat it developed, the company has reached over 100,000 distinct messages per day - many from machines or software. That includes task management, bug reporting, continuous integration - and eventually, all opportunities for Slack's workplace domination plan.
Stewart's team, decorated with English Literature and Philosophy graduates, looks deeply into the future. The most ambitious projection Stewart Butterfield shared with interviewer Andrew Braccia of Accel is making sense of these countless pings: with the rise of artificial intelligence, big data, and affective computing, posits Stewart, we're moving towards making more sense - automagically - of the world's increasing noise, and Slack stands to be at the center.
See Stewart Butterfield of Slack and Andrew Braccia of ACCEL Partners at the 2016 Startup Grind Global Conference, and read our highlights below.
The three stages of world computing according to Stewart:
- Application specific computing, meant for a specific use cases. Think the Apollo moon landings, nuclear power plants, missile guidance, or aviation.
- Document centric computing, build around documents, files, and folders. These would open apps specifically designed to handle all these file types.
- But now, with Friendster and continuing to Facebook, we entered the era of relationship based computing, says Stewart Butterfield, adding "more CPU cycles are now spent on people interacting and relating to each other than any other application." Turing’s early work in general computing resulted in this meta-world brain on the back of communication.
These trends will make Slack win, says Butterfield:
- People are a lot more used to chat from the younger generation that started on smartphones to the older business generation that was used to chat on Blackberries.
- There’s been an explosion in software solutions that growing companies are paying for. Staying abreast of all the developments in a growing company requires a high degree of communication that human interactions (asking those around you) is just becoming too inefficient for. We live in a world of information overload and increasing amounts of context switching.
- At Slack, employees stay up to date on all parts of the company - with channels. If they want to know about task progress, they go to the task channel; send a receipt to the @ExpenseBot for expenses; and ping the project management bot, integrated with other apps, to find out what people are working on, what the blocks are, and what the latest update is.
There’s a lot of work to be done in AI and Machine Learning to allow these bots to better understand the context of an organization, to sift through the hundreds of service integration data feeds, and to succeed at allowing the employees of the modern company to always be informed while interacting and relating in the most natural way: chat.
It’s like the movie Her, Stewart analogized, when the protagonist asks his AI friend, how many people she’s talking to at the same time. The answer: 694. Could AI powered Slack bots fed by numerous integration data feeds be the Hers inside an organization? Stewart sees the inevitable, and the day of the Slack Operating System should be soon to follow.