When the Salesforce-Slack deal was officially announced on Tuesday afternoon, and the number appeared, it was kind of hard to believe. Salesforce had shelled out more than $27 billion to buy Slack and bring it into the Salesforce family of products. The company sees a key missing piece in Slack, and that could explain why it was willing to spend such an astonishing amount of money to get it.
With Slack, Salesforce now has what CEO Marc Benioff called the interface to everything, something he says that the company has thought about for years. In 2010, they tried building it themselves with Chatter, a social tool that never really caught on in a big way. With Slack they finally have it.
“We’ve always had the vision of the social enterprise at Salesforce for more than a decade. Oh, we’ve had Dreamforces entirely dedicated to the vision of what a collaborative interface, a high production interface with applications and an ecosystem would look like wrapped on top of our Customer 360,” Benioff said.
He added that ironically in a building right next door to Salesforce Park you’ll find Slack headquarters. They won’t have to go far to collaborate (or you know, they can just use Slack).
From Chatter to Slack
Neeraj Agrawal, general partner at Battery Ventures, says that Benioff has had an interest in enterprise social going back years, and this is his way of finally delivering. “Remember Chatter? Benioff was dead on with this trend. He lost Yammer to Microsoft (when Microsoft acquired it for $1.2 billion) about 7-8 years ago, and then launched Chatter. It was a huge bet, but didn’t work. Slack is really Chatter 2.0,” he said.
Chuck Ganapathi, CEO and co-founder at Tact.ai, was product lead on the Chatter product at Salesforce in the 2009 time frame. He wrote in a soon-to-be-published blog post he shared with TechCrunch that it failed for a lot of reasons, but mostly because at its core, Salesforce was still a bunch of database guys and enterprise social was a very different animal.
“Some of the issues were technical — Salesforce is a database-centric company, founded by Oracle alums on a relational DB foundation. DB applications and unstructured communication applications like Chatter or Slack represent completely different branches of computer science with little overlap,” he wrote. Because of that, he felt that they lacked the expertise to build the application correctly, and it never really caught on, with so many similar products in the market at the time.
But Benioff never lost interest in the concept of incorporating social into the Salesforce platform. It just took another 10 years or so and a bushel of money to make it happen.
A good match or not?
Leyla Seka, a partner at Operator Capital, who formerly ran the AppExchange at Salesforce, sees good things ahead with a combined Slack and Salesforce. “Salesforce and Slack together will offer a powerful duo of applications that will help companies work more effectively together. I think that COVID-19 has shown us how critical it is to get employees the data they need to do their job, but also the community they need to thrive at their job. The marriage of Salesforce and Slack promises to do just that,” Seka told me.
Brent Leary, principal analyst at CRM Essentials, was knocked out by the price tag, but says it shows that Salesforce is not afraid to go after what it wants, even if it has to pay a hefty price to get it. “This goes to show Salesforce has absolutely no fear in them when it comes to this deal. They are willing to throw down the big bucks on this acquisition because they see a huge payoff by adding this piece into their platform,” he said.
As for Slack, he sees it as a way for them to take the fast track to the enterprise big leagues. “And for Slack they go from competing with AMOSS (Adobe, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Salesforce) to joining one of them, and the company that really made the most sense for them to team up with,” he said.
Laurie McCabe, an analyst and founder at SMB Group, agrees with Leary’s take, saying Salesforce doesn’t hesitate when it thinks the value is there. “In this case, Slack gives them a strong collaboration offering that will help them compete more effectively against Microsoft’s growing cloud portfolio, which of course includes CRM and Teams,” she said.
Show me the money
Battery’s Agrawal believes this deal is all about generating revenue, and it was willing to pay a premium to move the needle in billion-dollar chunks. The end game he believes is about catching Microsoft, or at the very least getting to $1 trillion (with a T, folks) in market cap.
It’s worth noting that investors are not showing signs, initially at least, of liking this deal, with the stock down over 8% today and 16.5% since the rumor of Salesforce’s interest in Slack surfaced last week before the Thanksgiving holiday. That translates into more than $18 billion in lost market cap — probably not the reaction they were hoping for. But Salesforce is big enough that it can afford to play a long game, and reach its financial goals with the help of Slack.
“To get to a market cap of $1 trillion, Salesforce now has to take MSFT head on. Until now, the company has mostly been able to stay in its own swim lane in terms of products. […] To get to a trillion dollars in market cap, Salesforce needs to try to grow in two massive markets,” Agrawal said. Those would be either knowledge worker/desktop (see the 2016 Quip acquisition) or cloud (see the Hyperforce announcement). Agrawal says chances are the company’s best bet is the former, and it was willing to pay top dollar to get it.
“The deal will help Salesforce maintain a 20%+ growth rate over the next few years,” he said. Ultimately, he sees it moving the revenue needle, which should eventually drive market cap higher and help achieve those goals.
It’s worth noting that Salesforce president and CEO Bret Taylor said while they intend to integrate Slack deeply into the Salesforce product family, they recognize the power and utility of Slack as a standalone product and they don’t intend to do anything that would mess with that.
“Fundamentally, we want to make sure that Slack remains as a kind of technology-agnostic platform. We know that Slack is used by millions and millions of people every day to connect every tool under the sun. The most remarkable thing is just how many customers have also just integrated their own custom internal tools as well into this is really kind of the central nervous system for the teams that use it, and we would never want to change that,” he said.
It’s hard to judge a deal this large until we have some hindsight and see how well the two companies have meshed, how well they can incorporate Slack into the Salesforce ecosystem, while allowing that independence Taylor alluded to. If they can find a way to walk that line and Slack becomes that wrapper, that operating system, that glue that holds the Salesforce ecosystem together, it will be a good deal, but if Slack stops innovating and withers under the weight of its corporate overlords, then it might not be money well spent.
Time will tell which is the case.