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Slack: Startups should not get distracted by the success of tech unicorns

James Sherrett Slack

Much has been said about the power of communication in the workplace and Slack, a San Francisco-based cloud collaboration tool, is hoping to harness it to overhaul the way in which team members across the world speak to and work with each other.

With more than half a billion dollars in funding raised in nine rounds and with support from some of the world’s most prominent investors, the messaging app, co-founded in 2013, is continuing its global expansion, and now has two employees working in London.

Although Slack’s presence in the UK capital will remain relatively small for now, it’s set to grow, said James Sherrett, senior management of accounts in Slack’s European HQ in Dublin; where other tech giants such as Google or Facebook have historically set up their European base.

“There’re two people in London today, but I would say that we will have a dozen by the end of this year, in a bigger space and a more diverse team than just sales people. London will be an important global office for us,” Sherrett told Tech City News.

An atypical example

Having joined Slack in June 2013, Sherrett is now responsible for overseeing the company’s interactions with customers across Europe and Africa.

“There’s terrific tech talent in both the UK and the US. I think that San Francisco’s tech talent scene is just a little more mature and it has a little more critical balance because it is the big industry there.

“In London, I would say that tech is not the top industry. There’s banking and finance, and services and consulting which are slightly more established businesses. Technology isn’t necessarily the number one choice for people coming out of school,” he noted.

But London’s startup scene, Sherrett said, is growing and he thinks it will continue to do so.

With over 3 million active users, more than 500 employees across the globe and clients including Ticketmaster and Spotify, Slack may be the epitome of success for many young tech startups across the UK. However, Sherrett believes other early-stage technology businesses should not be distracted by others’ routes to the top.

“I don’t think Slack is a good example for other startups to follow just because our journey has been somewhat atypical,” he said. “We were lucky, a lot of things happened to us at the right time. Each businesses has its own problems and you just have to work as closely with customers as you can to get their feedback.

“One of our core values is empathy. Being able to put your empathy hat on and see any situation from a customer’s point of view is key if you’re trying to find a solution to a problem,” he added, noting that targeting specific customers at the onset of any business would potentially result in success.

The startup culture

In a world of big corporates, where suits and 9-to-5 jobs are the norm, startups stick out like sore thumbs.

Although renown for their flexible approach to working hours, generous holiday allowances – and, if you’re lucky, bean bags – startup culture is much more than that.

“I think there are a lot of benefits to things that are in the startup culture, such as speed of decision-making, speed of execution and launching minimum viable products quickly so that you’re able to get into market and actually start getting customer feedback,” said Sherrett.

A global business

Similarly to its messaging predecessors, such as Skype, Slack has played a part in fostering connections between employees spread out across the globe.

Given that technology is, and will always be, a global business, it’s hardly surprising the UK’s tech sector has recently spoken out against Brexit, with many commentators arguing that a future outside of the European Union would hinder the growth of many companies in the space.

Although Sherrett is not able to speak on behalf of Slack, he firmly believes Britain has little to gain outside of the EU.

“On a personal level, I think there’s very little to gain from exiting the EU and there’s a lot to lose. To my mind, from a global perspective, people don’t seem to understand why Britain wants to leave. The reasons don’t resonate internationally because Britain seems to have the best of both worlds already,” he concluded.

Now valued at over $3.8bn, Slack is a member of the tech unicorn club alongside the likes of TransferWise, Lyft and Farfetch and with its user-base growing, it’s easy to see why startups would look to harness its success story whilst trying to make a stamp of their own.

But if unicorns are set to be a thing of the past, and with investors seemingly looking for ‘cockroach’ startups –  those showing traction and steady growth – there may still be hope for smaller players in the messaging app space.