In early November Microsoft announced a new product called Microsoft Teams. It’s a way for groups of people, typically colleagues inside a company, to communicate with each other over multiple, simultaneous conversations. It will be part of the software giant’s online Office 365 product, the “productivity” subscription program used by 85 million “knowledge workers” around the world. More than a billion additional customers use the offline version of Office.
A relatively small group of people—4 million, to be precise—will recognize something familiar about the new Microsoft offering. That’s because it’s more or less what a San Francisco startup called Slack does. Microsoft is adding a few bells and whistles, including easier-to-follow threaded conversations and video conferencing. Slack, which took the charmingly old-fashioned step of buying a newspaper ad to “welcome” Microsoft to its game, has said it will match those features. (Fortune, like many journalism organizations, uses Slack; after a year of steadily increasing usage, I’ve grown to like it.)
This isn’t the first time Microsoft has unveiled a “Slack killer.” In fact, it is becoming something of an annual event. What’s more, Slack is growing fast. It has 4 million users, up from 1.25 million a year ago. About 30% of those customers pay either $6.67 or $12.50 per month for the product, depending on which features they use. My back-of-the-envelope calculation of Slack’s annual revenue, assuming all customers pay the average of the two price points, is around $140 million. “You’re pretty close,” Slack founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield told me just before Thanksgiving.
This David-versus-Goliath story could play out one of two ways. In the past, Microsoft users would ignore the new feature because it turns out what they really like about Office is email, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Slack would benefit from its focus. Then again, Microsoft has its act together in a way it hasn’t for years. And group conversations are the perfect complement to the other Office features. Slack could wither if users adopt Microsoft’s no-extra-cost feature.
It’s the kind of story only tech lovers and venture capitalists truly care about. Technology customers will benefit either way.
BITS AND BYTES
Is Samsung mulling a split? The South Korean tech giant is under pressure to improve shareholder value, and it plans to disclose its next steps early this week. A local newspaper is reporting that a corporate breakup could be on the table, a move that has been advocated by activist investor Elliott Management. (Reuters)
Shipping giant Matson moves into Amazon's cloud. The $2.2 billion freight carrier, which sends ships between the west coast and places including China, closed four data centers by moving to Amazon Web Services. Watch for more news from the cloud giant's confab in Las Vegas. (Fortune)
Payments upstart Stripe is now valued at $9 billion. The company founded by brothers Patrick and John Collison received another $150 million venture infusion, led by Alphabet’s venture capital firm CapitalG and existing investor General Catalyst. Stripe is winning some pretty big customers, including American Express, Macy's, Bloomingdale's, GE, and Adidas. (Fortune)
It was a blockbuster weekend for e-commerce. The sales by Thanksgiving evening topped $1 billion, up 14%. It looks like Amazon will break its records for Black Friday, traditionally the heaviest shopping day of the year—and the first $1 billion day for purchases from mobile devices. About 10 million more shoppers completed their purchases from their sofas rather than making the trip downtown or to the mall. (Reuters, Fortune, Fortune, Recode)
Expect more local hiring from the big Indian outsourcing firms. Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, and Wipro rely heavily on H1-B skilled worker visas to send their engineers to the U.S. With the future of that program uncertain under President-elect Donald Trump, all three are stepping up plans to recruit closer to their U.S. clients. It's also likely to spark a string of acquisitions among IT services firms. (Reuters)
This messaging startup is helping the likes of Cox and Citizens Bank reinvent customer service. The idea of using messaging as a conduit for marketing and customer support has been gathering steam since Facebook declared its intention last year to let businesses connect through its standalone Messenger app.
One startup benefiting from that burgeoning interest is Philadelphia-based Relay Network, which counts Cox Communications, Comcast, and Citizens Bank among the big companies using its private messaging service with appreciable results. Here's how.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Google Artificial Whiz Describes Our Sci-Fi Future, by Jonathan Vanian
This Tool Can Help You Disappear From the Internet, by David Z. Morris
Tableau Cozies Up to the Amazon Cloud, by Barb Darrow
Apple's Next iPhone Is Shaping Up to Be a Big Update, by Don Reisinger
This Software Helps Employees Navigate the Benefits Labyrinth, by Heather Clancy
ONE MORE THING
Japan wants to build the world's fastest supercomputer. The country's once formidable electronics and technology industry has been losing out to rivals in China and Korea. Japan is fighting back by investing more than $173 million in high-performance computing. (Reuters)