Marketplaces are eating internet. When it comes to product / service discovery and consumption the marketplace model is king as it ensures trust and convenience for the consumer (curation, payment…).
Marketplaces exist in many flavors (horizontal or vertical) and for many purposes:
- ecommerce: Amazon, Alibaba
- video games: Steam
- movies / series: Netflix, Hulu
- mobile: Android / iOS
When it comes to B2B software the two marketplaces which come immediately to mind are SalesForce with sales.com and Google with Google apps for businesses.
The B2B software space has SalesForce and Google but there’s still space for a big platform
Software marketplaces main benefits are:
- Discovery / curation: businesses can find relevant 3rd party services and software
- Identity management: businesses can easily manage employee’ accounts to onboard / offboard them (single sign on) on these 3rd party software
- Integration / interconnexion: businesses can integrate seamlessly these 3rd party services with their existing apps and data
All of these features built on top of a “core service” which is runned by the operator marketplace. For example SalesForce core service is a CRM and Google App’s core service is email (Gmail).
That said, the situation in this space is far from being ‘locked’ as SalesForce attracts more “enterprises” than small businesses and as Google succeeds on the identity management level (gmail pro accounts for employees + to log in 3rd party services) but clearly fails on the discovery / integration levels (Google business appstore is broken and 3rd party integrations don’t go much further than login). So there is definitely space for a SMB friendly software marketplace.
Can Slack fill this gap?
From the existing prospects out there, I think that Slack is probably the best candidate right now to turn into such a platform:
1- Their core service is messaging / chat.
As pointed out in this excellent article communication applications (like whatsapp) are the killer apps of the mobile era and are becoming platforms themselves. For example Line recently added a payment feature after having integrated games to their chat application.
When you think about it, messaging applications also make a lot of sense in the enterprise world and offer a lot of advantages in the perspective of becoming software marketplaces / platforms:
- Stickiness / retention / habit creation: you check messages several times per day / per hour. It’s a place where you’ll come regularly (so it’s easier to offer extra services there).
- Identity management: chances are high that all your colleagues are on your enterprise chat, whether they are from the marketing, the development or sales departments. Which might not be the case for a “vertical” core services like a CRM (SalesForce) or a dev app (like GitHub).
- Multi device / BYOD friendly: short messages follow us wherever we are, on mobile, on desktop etc… IT consumerization and BYOD are the trends which are changing the way we make / consume B2B software and messaging apps perfectly fit in this landscape.
Some might say that Google Apps already has these 3 characteristics since its core service is “email”. I’ll argue that chat / short message is a completely different medium compared to email (flexibility, speed, context, mobile friendly etc…) so the experience and potential are quite different.
2- Huge traction with a freemium model appealing to both SMBs and Big co
Two positive signs on the way of becoming a platform:
- a freemium model which makes sense and works = the free plan offers enough value to be fully usable and the paid plans are worth once you scale
- it appeals to both SMBs and big cos. Slack core service is chat / messaging and as a consequence is needed from businesses from all sizes. That’s not the case with a CRM system for example (and the reason why SalesForce is more popular amongst Big Co than amongst SMBs)
3- Great product with 3rd party services integration at its heart
Enterprise chat systems existed well before Slack came to the party (like Hipchat). The difference here is that Slack offers an amazing product with great 3rd party integration features.
Slack was not designed to be a standalone app but rather to be the central hub of your business by embracing 3rd party services and customization through their API.
It will be interesting to see if Slack will evolve toward a software “platform / marketplace” model and become the SalesForce for SMBs.
The product itself still need a lot of features before becoming one, however when you look at their “In development and coming soon features” you’ll find many of them coming (single sign on, consolidated billing, external channel integration etc…).
From a 3rd party service pov, it will be also interesting to follow Slack rise as it could become a great distribution channel / B2B word of mouth channel, something which is definitely broken in the B2B software world.
As these services appeal to a wide range of businesses, for pain points which might not be perceived as “business critical” (your business can still run without an office management solution or a virtual assistant)