Predicting the next Slack: Finding sticky cloud apps with cult-like followings

Slack has become at a remarkably quick rate one of the most popular cloud apps used across businesses.

In just over two years, the app added more than two million daily users who collectively spend more than 320 million hours connected to the app, sending 1.5 billion total messages. Seemingly overnight, Slack emerged as a household name (OK, maybe that’s a stretch if your household isn’t in the 650 area code, but you get the picture).

This rocketship-like growth trajectory is even more impressive when you consider that each of those figures is more than triple where the company was at this time last year, which was in and of itself incredible progress. In fact, in my nearly three years monitoring usage trends across more than 20,000 cloud apps, I’ve never seen growth at this rate.

How did it happen?

While it seemingly came out of nowhere, Slack’s meteoric rise was no coincidence. Between its early focus on winning over developers who quickly became incredibly effective evangelists for Slack throughout their respective organizations, and its aggressive moves to integrate with other popular business apps for a more connected experience, Slack provided a distinct model for other business apps to follow.

So who is following such a model right now, and what does their growth look like? My team analyzed more than two billion instances (i.e. any activity a user undertakes on a given app — from sharing to downloading to syncing) across more than one million users and 20,000 different cloud apps to answer that question.

Before digging into our top five, it’s important to note that while none of these apps yet have the public profile of Slack, they’ve all achieved strong initial traction: Each of the following apps have user bases of at least one million (and in some cases, much higher). With this baseline in mind, it’s all the more impressive to see the four-digit growth each of these apps has experienced in the past year. Odds are, each of these apps will become more well-known over the next year.

TeamViewer (1,792 percent growth). When you consider that TeamViewer, a remote support and online meeting app, is already used on more than 200 million computers worldwide and by 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies, the fact that it experienced four-digit growth over the past year is even more impressive. Initially favored by IT and customer support teams for its reliable remote support functionality, it has more recently gained popularity in marketing and engineering departments, as well.

Impressive growth aside, though, it will be interesting to see whether this growth trajectory holds: TeamViewer was also the medium on which the Surprise ransomware spread earlier this year. To its credit, the company was quick to acknowledge the infections and advise its users how to safeguard against them.

Smartsheet (1,510 percent growth). Bolstered by a large and growing list of integrations — including Box, Dropbox, Egnyte and Evernote — this collaboration app has seen a surge in adoption over the past year. Smartsheet has a solid support base from engineering, and has also spread rapidly in IT, marketing and customer service departments. With more than five million people using it, and an ever more mobile workforce in need of collaboration tools capable of integrating with different apps, Smartsheet is a safe bet for even further growth in 2016 and beyond.

LastPass (1,433 percent growth). Reports of the password’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. While great strides have been made around other types of authentication in recent years, the password is still at the core of identity management. It’s thus no surprise that a dedicated password manager app like LastPass would see such strong growth as businesses continue to adopt cloud apps at unprecedented rates. Even more noteworthy here is the fact that LastPass continued to realize a strong adoption rate even after falling victim to a data breach last June.

To design a truly effective app that will achieve broad adoption, you should focus early and often on integration.

Wistia (1,082 percent growth). This video hosting and viewer analytics app is unique on this list because it’s the only app of the top four that has not explicitly targeted engineers/developers as part of its core audience. Instead, the app has largely been championed by marketing, and more recently, sales and customer support. Given its tight integrations with the likes of Salesforce, HubSpot and WordPress, though, the strategy is clearly paying off, and Wistia seems poised to continue its strong growth trajectory for the foreseeable future.

Mindjet (1,005 percent growth). While it’s by no means “new” (it has a total install base of 16 million), Mindjet, a collaborative app for capturing and organizing information, has experienced impressive, Slack-like adoption rates over the past year. Like Slack, Mindjet has made a specific effort to target engineering departments, in particular, and has been making inroads with IT, customer support, sales and marketing. Integrations with popular apps like Excel, Google Drive, Dropbox and Salesforce haven’t hurt, either.

Is there a secret sauce?

Businesses across the board are finally acknowledging that, like it or not, today’s mobile workforce is increasingly gravitating toward cloud apps for the added productivity they afford. Is there a “secret sauce” to designing and marketing the next killer cloud app for the enterprise? In a word, no.

But there’s absolutely a pattern that has emerged in the aforementioned business apps, as well as Slack — and even Box and Dropbox before it. To design a truly effective app that will achieve broad adoption, you should focus early and often on integration — especially for a collaboration app.

Finally, a word on methodology. To define the key growth factors, we developed a handy, five-point framework:

  • Usage (average app sessions per customer) growth exceeding 1,000 percent in one year: The most measurable attribute, this tells us whether the app’s usage (measured in sessions, or each time a person engages with the app, averaged across the number of enterprise customers in our cloud) has grown more than 1,000 percent in the past year (fourth quarter of 2015 compared with that of 2014).

  • Adoption across multiple business units within the enterprise: It’s one thing to have an app that makes everyone in a specific business unit breathe easy. What marketer could live without Marketo, for instance?

  • Integrations with key enterprise applications like Customer Relationship Management and/or Cloud Storage (Enterprise File Sync and Share): CRM and cloud storage are the “granddaddies” of cloud apps. Any up-and-coming rock star app will need to integrate with them in order to fully take advantage of the cloud.

  • The development of RESTful APIs that enable enterprise workflows: Does the app make it simple for other apps to integrate with and share data with it in a standardized way that’s not disruptive to the operations of the app? We are looking for evidence of other apps or enterprises using these RESTful API to enable valuable business workflows.

  • A cult-like following: Here we are looking for evidence of uptake in not just usage, but also ecosystem partners. This means we look for ecosystem “buzz” and evidence that important enterprise apps, like Box, Salesforce and Office 365, are seeking out these new apps for integration and partnerships.