Etsy has always been a heavy user of IRC for internal company communication. Everyone has an IRC chat account, and certainly when I was there, it was a pervasive and effective communication channel for them.
After Etsy's S-1 filing last week, a few alums created a slack channel to discuss the pending IPO and also to reminisce over the good ol' days at Etsy.
And the inevitable Slack joke ensued: if only one of us had productized the way Etsy used IRC, we could have built Slack ourselves!
Slack is certainly an internet darling these days, a recently minted member of the unicorn club with their billion dollar valuation with a brand and reputation that's well loved across tech circles.
But how much of Slack's success stems from their product?
I'll commit a bit of heresy here and say that I'm actually not a huge fan of the product. First, it's slow—some days I feel as if their "Connecting..." logo won't stop spinning. Their mobile notifications are generally delayed by several minutes or more. Second, the product is too greedy for my liking. They keep trying to import all my files. I don't want Slack importing my Dropbox files or my Google Docs. Finally, their interaction model is too complicated. I can never figure out when the side bar will slide out or what any of these links do. I can just hear their PMs say "but our users interact with our product every day for hours—they'll figure it out!". I can't.
But putting my personal opinions about the product aside, what factors are at force here in driving startup success?
The idea. Corporate communication is a big deal. Email is bulky and piles up too easily. While some of their customers are switching from IRC or other competitors, most are switching from using nothing at all. They're playing in a good space.
Execution. I've never met Stewart, but he's an awesome entrepreneur having previously built Flickr. Their growth hacking strategies seem to be smart yet also very aggressive. They launched with huge press blitz and made it super simple to sign up for the product. First Round has a great overview of their growth hacking tactics. Building a good product also falls under this category.
Luck. Luck is a funny animal. First you need to put yourself in a position to find luck. And then (most importantly) recognize luck when it walks in front of you. Then wait, wish, and watch carefully.
Many others have come before Slack. For example, I've used HipChat previously and it's simple and fast.
But for a business that's had so many alternatives come before it, I'd guess that 95% of their success comes from things outside of product: their marketing strategy, their growth hacking tactics, and Stewart's past experience.