Sometimes, you must first fail before you can succeed.
Few can speak to this as much as Stewart Butterfield, the co-founder of team collaboration tool Slack.
In many ways, his “failures” are also his “successes”.
It started with Game Neverending, his first project, and his first public failure. Developed by his then company, Ludicorp, Game Neverending was intended to be an online multiplayer game for the masses, but it never saw the light of day. When it became apparent that the game would not survive, Butterfield shifted his focus to the game’s photo-sharing tool, turning it into its own stand-alone product, Flickr.
Determined to make his game-developing dreams come true, he would try his hand again. With much of the same team from Ludicorp, Butterfield cofounded Tiny Speck, and began building a new online-game in Glitch.
It was during this development process where Butterfield would inspire a worldwide behavior change revolution – though he didn’t know it at the time.
Frustrated by existing communication tools, Tiny Speck developed its own tool to help better manage the creation of the game. During the three years leading up to the game’s launch, the Tiny Speck team, consisting of 45 people, had only sent 50 emails.
Then, at the end of 2012, the eureka moment came. Butterfield closed the book on Glitch, and Slack, the communications tool his team had developed, sprang forward.
But the Slack squad only knew how their team interacted on the platform, and if the product was to work across industries with varying company sizes and workflows, they needed a bigger sample size.
For the next seven months, Butterfield and his colleagues begged friends at other companies to trial Slack. This gave them the opportunity to see the tool from an outsider’s perspective, and each new company armed the team with unique observations and feedback that they would later use to optimize and tweak the product.
Finally, in August of 2013, Butterfield felt the product was polished enough to be shared more widely and announced a preview release. The launch amassed a large amount of media attention, and within 24 hours, 8,000 companies had signed up for the service. Two weeks later, that number doubled to 15,000. Slack was an instant hit.
That type of staggering growth, although unprecedented, was an accurate indicator of what was to come. Slack quickly became the fastest growing business-app ever, and was considered a unicorn shortly after its first year. Last September, just four years and a month after the company’s launch, it was valued at over $5B.
How did it all happen? What was different about Slack?
Team Communication For the 21st Century
First and foremost, it was created at the perfect time. Built for the era of mobile phones and short text messages, Slack’s growth coincided with the rising trend of companies operating remotely, and offered a less formal, more user-friendly way of keeping in touch with co-workers.
Around the same time, Microsoft Office, Windows, and seemingly every other tech company that could were churning out new tools left and right. Each trying to better each other. In most cases, the competition was healthy, and the tools themselves evolved greatly. But what was left was a scattered ecosystem of tools and services. The fragmentation led to friction and inefficiency. While the tools themselves had improved, the user-experience was left behind. There was no glue to hold it all together.
Enter Slack, integrating all the tools and housing them all in one place. Twitter. Salesforce. Dropbox. Google docs. You name it, it’s all on Slack.
And when you combine that seamless third-party integration with a thoughtfully-designed interface, full of vibrant and playful colors, and an endless amount of customizable applications like to-do lists, reminders, project management tools, scheduling assistants, and hundreds more, what you get is a communications tool that boosts your productivity tenfold.
Perhaps the biggest reason for Slack’s growth is its customizability. Created for any workplace, the product can be catered to your team or individual needs. Channels can be made for departments, projects, office locations, or whatever you deem fit. If a channel becomes too loud, you can “mute” it. If you need to conduct deep, uninterrupted research, you can activate “Do Not Disturb” mode. You can customize “highlight words” that are important to you so that you are notified every time that word is mentioned – be it your name or an urgent project you’re working on. If you’re going to be busy for the day at work conference, or are going to in a long offline brainstorm, you can set your status to reflect that. Files, images, PDFs, spreadsheets and other documents can be shared in real-time with a simple drag and drop.
In group chats, or “channels”, Slack allows you to overhear conversations, giving you an ambient awareness of work developments that you do not get from email. If you want to share something confidential, you can do so through a private channel or direct message.
Files, images, PDFs, spreadsheets and other documents can be shared in real-time with a simple drag and drop. And everything on Slack, from notifications to links to images, are all searchable so that you can find what you need and find it fast.
Consistently evolving and introducing new features to meet user demands, Slack is delivering on its mission to make people’s working lives simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.
A Behavior Change Revolution
While it may not be obvious on the surface, Slack is one of the leading behavior change companies of our time.
In a medium post, written on his page, Butterfield states the following:
“The best – maybe the only? – real, direct measure of “innovation” is change in human behavior. In fact, it is useful to take this way of thinking as definitional: innovation is the sum of change across the whole system, not a thing which causes a change in how people behave. No small innovation ever caused a large shift in how people spend their time and no large one has ever failed to do so.”
“By that measure,” he goes on to say, “Slack is a real and large innovation”.
And he’s right.
Butterfield knew he couldn’t sell a “group chat system”. People simply wouldn’t buy that. Instead, what Slack sells is “organizational transformation.”
“We’re selling a reduction in information overload, relief from stress, and a new ability to extract the enormous value of hitherto useless corporate archives. We’re selling better organizations, better teams. That’s a good thing for people to buy and it is a much better thing for us to sell in the long run. We will be successful to the extent that we create better teams.”
This is not a one-to-one behavior change. Slack must be sold to companies, both massive and tiny, and everything in between. Companies that adopt Slack are betting on a massive, positive behavior change. They want effortless communication. They want to work more efficiently. They want a business tool that works for them rather than against them, helping them make more inspiring decisions and form more empowering habits.
“We’re asking a lot from our customers. We are asking them to spend hours a day in a new and unfamiliar application, to give up on years or even decades of experience using email for work communication (and abandon all kinds of ad hoc workflows that have developed around their use of email). We are asking them to switch a model of communication which defaults to the public; it is an almost impossibly large ask. Almost.”
The change is both dramatic and far-reaching. We know this to be true because we at DiMassimo Goldstein are a proud member of the Slack revolution.
We weren’t looking to abandon email entirely, but to reduce it, and Slack has done that. We found ourselves having too many meetings, which Slack has helped cut down. The transparent communication makes it the perfect place to review projects as a team, on the go, and from anywhere.
Put simply, it has made our work lives easier and most importantly, it has pushed the work we create to help inspire others forward.
That’s why Slack is our Inspiring Action Brand of the Month!
People pay us to get people to do things.
And we’re really good at it.
It’s an awesome responsibility.
Changing people’s behavior.
Their decisions and habits.
That’s why we’re not a “performance marketing” agency. Or a “digital” agency. Or a “direct” agency.
That’s why we’re an Inspiring Action agency.
That’s why we only incite more inspiring actions.
And more empowering habits.
And why we use our powers to ignite growth only in organizations that promote those kinds of behaviors.
But responsibility isn’t the only reason.
People bet their careers on our results every day.
We have learned by long experience that inspiring action simply works better.
We learned by being in big, siloed agencies that undermined our results by separating us.
We learned by proving it through results.
That the two most important factors for igniting growth are Inspiration and Action.
Inspiration – is there an idea or experience at the core of the brand that inspires unreasonable passion.
Action – is there urgency and ease and flow and momentum in the funnel of actions that create even deeper engagement and customer value.
Inspiring Action ignites growth by changing behaviors. Each one of us made an inspiring decision to come together.
To use what we’ve learned to inspire action for worthy organizations.
Let me start by saying, we here at DiMassimo Goldstein love a good bar crawl. Be it for a 21st birthday, bachelorette party or a fantasy football draft. A small group of friends hitting up one bar at a time in embarrassing matching T-shirts one person in the group all demanded they wear can be a lot of fun.
And then, there’s SantaCon, when thousands and thousands of overserved Santas, inebriated elves and freaky Frostys takeover the streets and bars of cities around the globe. Every year here in New York, there are articles about bars and businesses bracing for the impact of SantaCon, while neighborhoods fight over who has to host the thing, like relatives arguing over who has to take home an unwanted fruitcake. It’s annoying. It’s inconvenient. And most of all…is that cool for kids to see Santa and his friends acting that way?
At DiGo…we don’t think so.
We noticed that these drunken Santas mostly seem to be of a certain age that is both a.) far from their belief in Santa Claus and b.) far from the stage in life where they would have a child of their own who believes in Santa. And because of this, they don’t realize that their “unique” portrayal of old St. Nick does not go unnoticed by young eyes.
That’s why we partnered with our friends and creative collaborators at Crew Cuts and made this ad to encourage people to #SitOutSantaCon.
We wanted to hear from the children themselves some of the horrors they have witnessed during SantaCon, in order to maybe encourage people who were planning on going to SantaCon to if not sit it out completely, at least please, think of the children.
In just under a week, the video amassed over 20,000 views (and counting). The social campaign received over 50,000 impressions and was picked up by ten different publications, including a write-up in Adweek and a televised feature on Pix11.
Our Facebook event received over one hundred RSVPs – that’s 144 small inspiring actions that together can make a big difference.
Thank you to all who supported the campaign and helped spread the word. We’re looking forward to continuing this mission next year, and with your help, we can end SantaCon in our lifetime.
We can help people change their decisions and habits in ways that empower and delight them.
We combine the findings of behavioral economics, mobile clinical interventions, persuasion design, direct marketing, CRM, and decades of A/B split testing and optimizations into an integrated practice of behavior change marketing.
This video of our Chief recapping his time at the Yale Behavioral Economics Intensive dives into the topic in greater detail:
Want to learn even more about Behavior Change Marketing? These articles are a great place to start:
If you and your team are trying to build an inspiring action brand, or know anyone else who may find this helpful, feel free to share this amongst them. If you want to join the conversation yourself, reach out to us on twitter, we’d love to hear from you.
Thanks to the brave and brilliant contributions of one renegade, economic theory as we know it has been changed forever.
Richard Thaler, the world-renowned behavioral economist who has long challenged the standard economic model, was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize earlier this month. His work, which Nobel Prize committee member Peter Gärdenfors simplified as “[making] economics more human,” has influenced our education system as well as government policy.
Thaler joins a small list of behavioral economists to win the award. Robert J. Shiller was among the winners in 2013, and Thaler’s longtime collaborator and friend, Daniel Kahneman, shared the award in 2002. Though they won before him, it is Thaler who is widely credited with bringing behavioral economic theories to the mainstream.
Thaler has dedicated his life to helping people understand how individuals make choices so that they can be led to make better ones. His best-selling book, Nudge, was the culmination of decades of behavioral science research, and was written to prevent people from making mistakes that can negatively affect their individual and collective well-being. That’s an inspiring mission, and one that resonates with all of us here at DiMassimo Goldstein.
We use behavioral change marketing to drive growth in brands and businesses that change lives for the better. We study the work of behavioral pioneers like Thaler to become experts at providing our clients with the strategies they need to drive profound behavioral change in the areas of healthy, wealthy and wise. Understanding human behavior is key to empowering brands to provide their consumers with a self-actualizing experience, — and that experience is what will ultimately inspire them to make better decisions and form more empowering habits.
This has been our mission for 21 years, and it’s never been more important than it is today.
We applaud people like Thaler for continuing to push the conversation forward, and for persuading more people to pay attention to human behavior. To read more about Thaler and his work, check out this article in The New York Times.
Congratulations on the honor, Richard, and keep up the good work!
And why wouldn’t they be? They’re run by humans, and we’re the most stubborn species of all.
We don’t just hate change, we loathe it. We run the other way and resist it at all costs.
And businesses, like humans, are also creatures of habit. They love their routines, and when successful, they love them even more. In these routines, they’re safe – so they repeat them until they become automatic.
But this behavior is dangerous, and for businesses, it’s downright deadly.
By nature, CEO’s and CMO’s fixate on control, and change is the antithesis of control. It brings upon the very thing they work so hard to avoid: uncertainty. It can mean abandoning the strategies and practices that got them where they are today – and worst of all, it almost always means more work.
But the world is changing, and to be successful, your brand and business must change with it.
It’s how IBM, a company that was selling cheese slicers 106 years ago is now leading the conversation on Artificial Intelligence.
It’s how Marvel, a comic book company that went bankrupt in 1996, now has two of the top ten highest grossing films of all time.
It’s how our inspiring client, Weight Watchers, transformed from a weight loss brand to a vibrant community of empowered members to achieve seven straight seasons of growth.
And it’s how The New York Times, a publication founded in 1851, is topping the podcast charts with its sponsored program, The Daily.
You may call these companies game changers, and that’s fine – but the truth is they didn’t change the game, they just reacted more quickly than their competitors when the game itself changed.
So how’d they do it?
They took actions. Brave and courageous actions in the face of discomfort. They opened doors their competitors wouldn’t – and most of those competitors are still locked out.
They hired planners – planners who became obsessed with the future. They examined trends and thought flexibly. They kept their eye on the bigger picture, when everyone else was focused on the smaller portraits of the present.
The unknown isn’t safe, but it’s where you need to play if you want to win.
So think ahead. Imagine possibilities that seem decades and decades away. The way you think consumers make decisions today will be different than the way they make decisions tomorrow.