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Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield on Zoom, growth, and the changing nature of work

October 27, 2020, 12:25 AM UTC

Although Slack has grown during the coronavirus pandemic, investors are concerned that the workplace software company isn’t growing fast enough.

It’s a dilemma for Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, but he believes that it’s only a matter of time before investors understand the company’s business better. 

Slack has reported earnings only five times since going public in June 2019. But it takes about seven to nine quarters before a “pattern is established” and investors become more familiar with a company, Butterfield said Monday at the Fortune Global Forum.

Part of the problem may be that videoconferencing company Zoom has stolen some of Slack’s thunder in the workplace, experiencing massive growth as people shift to videoconferencing during the pandemic. In some ways, Zoom is sort of like Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky, Butterfield said. 

“It’s totally unheard-of in the history of software,” Butterfield said, referring to Zoom’s rise.

Zoom’s videoconferencing is easier to grasp than Slack’s workplace chatting service. When Slack put up a billboard to promote the company, he said some people may have thought, “What is this, a spreadsheet?”

Indeed, Slack is researching new unconventional ways people could use its service. For instance, it’s looking into features that may seem like “Instagram Stories,” which “might sound absurd,” Butterfield said. For those unaware, Instagram Stories are the short, disappearing videos or photos people send to their friends on Facebook’s photo-and-video sharing service. Butterfield hypothesized that an Instagram Stories–like feature for companies may be more inviting to people who may be burned out on having to constantly attend video meetings. 

The goal is for Slack to create workplace tools that feel more “organic” and lend themselves more to “serendipity,” he said, so that people don’t feel overburdened with online communications.