Microsoft just announced a chat-based enterprise collaboration tool. It’s called Microsoft Teams, and the implications are deeper than one might imagine, at first blush. Whether those implications realize themselves or not depends (of course) on how enthusiastically the market embraces this SaaS.
One’s first assumption might be that Microsoft Teams is a “Slack killer”, and this might certainly be the case, if Microsoft were to have a fantastic track record of imaginative and impactful marketing. It does not. It’s unlikely that Microsoft Teams will have much initial impact on Slack user numbers, given the fierce loyalty of Slack users to the brand. The same applies (to lesser extents) to Basecamp, Smartsheet, Asana, Podio, Trello, Samepage, Quip, Projectplace, Yalla, and, and, and…
Each of these collaboration platforms provides an experience with which its users are – for the most part – quite comfortable. You don’t often see an Evernote user of longstanding jump over to OneNote, or vice versa.
So what’s the big deal with Microsoft Teams? There are two big deals, in fact.
First, if the solution is well-thought and intuitive, and if it integrates with Office 365 in as fluid and seamless a fashion as intended, it will secure those enterprise users of the Office Suite, and prevent their adoption of the other aforementioned “standalone” collaboration toolsets. Microsoft will be strengthening its enterprise software ecosystem, not by preventing escape, but by making the notion of staying more attractive. More of a golden cage, than a walled garden.
The second implication, however, is more dramatic: Microsoft was almost going to acquire Slack earlier this year – a move I did not quite understand, given both the $8 Billion price tag and Microsoft’s existing holdings of SharePoint, Yammer, and Skype, to mention just a few. Opting to withdraw from the purchase has made a silent statement that will, I believe, reverberate through the already flawed VC world. For the past years, convention and hubris have driven the notion that companies will purchase and absorb promising or threatening products and solutions, as a matter of course and self-preservation. On balance, this has not proven as cost-effective or innovative as many have pretended. Whether intentionally or not, Microsoft, by opting to pursue internal development and release of their own Swiss Army collaboration tool, has communicated that their IP, combined with internal dev talent, are sufficiently robust to offer solutions that do not require Slack.
Admittedly, this remains a risk. Slack users tend to comprise small businesses that “graduate” toward Google suites of product offerings, rather than the traditionally heftier Microsoft suites. However, the Microsoft brand (somewhat inadvertently, I feel) has been ceding its Goliath mantle to Apple and Google, of late, and many small businesses with which I work are less intimidated by the brand than they once were.
If Microsoft manages to position their Teams offering properly, this could be the moment when all the vaporware startups out there realize they are standing in the street naked, and need to actually develop something unique and truly valuable (read: unrealizable by others without great investment), or risk being eclipsed by developers who have finally wised up to the fact that a snappy presentation does not a mighty valuation make, even if it’s in PowerPoint.