What if you could run your whole job from a messaging app? Imagine doing your expenses or requesting human resources forms through a simple chat interface, or using an instant message to respond to customer complaints or to start a conference call with your colleagues.
Thatâs the future envisioned by Slack, the fast-growing group-messaging start-up.
About two million people a day now use Slack, mainly to chat with others at work. On Tuesday, the company is unveiling a couple of initiatives that will add new capabilities to the system. The first is an app store that will let developers of business software more easily plug their programs into Slack. Together with its investors, the company is also creating an $ 80 million fund to invest in apps that can be integrated with Slack.
The goal, according to Stewart Butterfield, Slackâs co-founder and chief executive, is to transform Slack from a messaging app into something even more central to peopleâs jobs â a chat-based control panel for the modern workplace.
âIf Slack can put a little bit of the information that youâd use from other apps right into Slack, itâs a huge win,â Mr. Butterfield said in an interview.
He described an integration with Birdly, an expense-management app that runs in Slack. Instead of filling out a bunch of web-based forms to file an expense â as you might do with the terrible expense-reporting system at your job â Birdly lets you submit the expense by chatting with an automated program, or a bot, in Slack.
âYou send the bot a photo of a receipt, and it asks you some questions about the expense,â Mr. Butterfield said. âThen you are done.â
Slack has always offered integration with other apps, but until now, adding the extra functionality involved a lot of work for developers and users. The new system streamlines the process.
âItâs much more like being able to install an app on your phone,â said April Underwood, the executive in charge of the companyâs efforts to transform Slack into a âplatformâ that can run all kinds of software. âNow youâll go to the Slack app directory, search for apps in different categories and easily add them to your team.â
In its first incarnation, the directory will feature 150 apps that are compatible with Slack, including programs from Google, Twitter, Dropbox and Box.
Slack offers a free service, but it makes money by charging businesses a per-user fee for a version of the program that offers additional features. The company now has 570,000 paid users. (The New York Times is one of the companies that pays for its employees to use Slack.) Slack faces competition from a number of business-focused collaborative software companies, most notably Atlassian, the Australian company that floated its stock on the Nasdaq last week. Atlassian makes HipChat, one of Slackâs chief rivals, which also offers integration with other applications.
“I look at this as the next big app economy,” said Steve Goldsmith, Atlassian’s general manager for HipChat. “Every business is going to want to build an experience in team chat, because that’s where customers are.”
In April, Slack raised $ 160 million from investors in a financing round that valued the company at close to $ 3 billion. At the time, Mr. Butterfield said the company did not have any immediate need for the money, and in fact most of the funds are still in the bank. But he said then that the investment would be used for strategic opportunities that could alter Slackâs direction. The app store is one such opportunity.
âSlack is useful all by itself, but itâs much more useful if all these things are integrated with it,â Mr. Butterfield said. âTo the extent that we can accelerate the pace of third-party development on Slack, that comes back to us in the form of happier users â and theyâre more likely to stick with Slack, and thereâs more momentum behind us.â
About 10 percent of Slackâs staff of around 300 people is now devoted to working on integration with other apps, he said. Half of the new $ 80 million app development fund will come from Slackâs own bank account. The other $ 40 million will come from Slackâs existing investors, including the firms Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Index Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Spark Capital and Social Capital.