Slack CEO details challenges in managing in-demand app during pandemic

Gelo Gonzales
Slack CEO details challenges in managing in-demand app during pandemic
Slack has seen rising subscriber numbers amid the pandemic. Stewart Butterfield reflects on the past 2 weeks, from both a business and human standpoint

MANILA, Philippines – For the most part, apps like Slack, Zoom, and Skype have been operating mostly in the background, while the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram bathe in the daily attention. 

But that’s all changing right now as the said apps are now front and center with global lockdowns forcing billions to stay home. These apps have become the go-to for those who are able to work from home, and also for friends and families looking to stay-in-touch. 

What was it like to suddenly be in the spotlight? Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield looks back on the past few weeks on a Twitter thread that looks at the pandemic from both the business side and a more human side. 

LIke many of us, the lockdowns appeared to have caught him by surprise. At first there was a trickle, of new teams signing up, mostly from Japan, South Korea, and Italy, and then a surge. From 10 million, they hit 10.5 million in a span of 6 days – and then 12.5 million another week after. 

Before the lockdown, a few warning signs: US cases rise to the hundreds, leading the CEO to order an optional work-from-home arrangement to a stricter enforcement later on. The CDC contacts one of their employees, telling them that they may have been exposed, triggering the CEO to shut down their San Francisco office, and order a “deep” clean of the premises. 

Externally, the company sets up consultations with new teams signing up, likely new to remote working plans. A board meeting here, and an almost mad rush to decide to “strongly encourage” everyone to work from home, just as the US case toll reaches 400. 

Markets are on a roller-coaster ride – mostly, and for most companies, actually just the freefall part. 

The world is introduced to phrase “circuit breaker” for stocks – a sudden stoppage of trading to let traders regroup during a wild market swing. In the aftermath of one of these, Butterfield did business things (“We regroup, revise the script and adjust guidance as the CEO/CFO/IR/Comms crew heads to NYC”) but beyond trade tickers and red bloody markers, the CEO encounters a more human story, that’s as scary as the big economy narrative (“Driver from the airport tells me business is down by half, he’s behind on rent and his brother just got laid off from his hotel job, along with 50% of the staff. Darkening clouds.”)

In his own company, a mixture of adrenaline and anxiety: 

And there is, because the lockdowns happened just as fiscal quarters are coming to a close, an impending earnings report. But the CEO puts it into perspective, pointing out, essentially, that it feels a little bit silly to be reporting on “a normal CEO thing” in the face of the possibility of millions dying. 

Here are some interesting insights, amid news of positive growth for the company:

To end the thread, the CEO had parting messages for the employees, Slack users, and the frontliners:

The CEO’s forthcoming tweets have netted positive replies, with many praising his leadership during these times. – 

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Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.