The $59.86 billion corporate collaboration market is rife with Slack competitors, from startups like Chanty, Mattermost, and Fleep to incumbent offerings like Workplace by Facebook, Microsoft Teams, and Hangouts Chat. Enterprise messaging is a tough nut to crack — Slack, with over 10 million daily active users, has an indomitable lead. But former Facebook product manager Rousseau Kazi thinks there’s room for at least one more serious challenger.
He’s the cofounder of Threads, a San Francisco startup that aims to bridge the gap between workplace communication and better decision-making with an innovative cross-platform messaging suite. Today the startup emerged from stealth — and launched in closed beta — with $10.5 million in series A financing from Sequoia Capital, and contributions from other investors, including top executives at Glossier, Stripe, and TaskRabbit.
“We founded Threads because we realized that companies were only tapping into a fraction of their potential,” said Kazi, who asserts that conversations tend to get lost and fragmented in the web of messaging apps, email, and documents knowledge workers deal with each day. “[Companies] hire great people, only hear from some, and even fewer are remembered.”
Threads’ platform — which was designed largely by fellow ex-Facebook employees — bubbles up ideas that might have otherwise been buried by meetings, GIFs, notes, and commentary, bringing them to the top of internal chatrooms. How? Using virtual rooms it calls Spaces, where teams can discuss projects and topics, and meeting-like subrooms dubbed Threads. Threads exist separate from Spaces — while everyone can view them, only those who’ve participated are notified of new comments — and users can respond to comments within Threads by creating nested subdiscussions.
Threaded conversations aren’t exactly new in the world of digital messaging, but Threads spices up the formula with a few nifty additions. A slide-out dashboard — the Context Bar — displays a list of participants, their status, and settings (e.g., a notification toggle, a shortcut for adding someone to a thread, and a share menu.) The Context Bar also indicates which members are fully caught up on all comments and replies in a Thread (and which aren’t), and provides one-tap access to a “follow up” feature that adds replies to an individualized lists for later perusal. Another handy option — “Mark as decision” — flags for the entire Space discussions within Threads that yielded consensus.
Threads prioritizes notifications over chatrooms. To that end, a carousel of mentions, new replies, and comments populate the app’s home screen, along with a list of newly created Threads from all Spaces. Spaces always remain a tap away from a bottom-row shortcuts bar, but they’re never front and center.
Ultimately, the goal is to prevent discussions from becoming siloed into smaller, exclusive groups, Kazi says, and to level the playing field between naturally reserved, underrepresented, and junior-level employees and their extroverted colleagues, or upper management. “The reality is that our tools today make us choose between inclusion and output,” he added. “This doesn’t happen because people are malicious — it happens because our current tools fall apart after a handful of people.”
As admirable as that sounds, Threads has a lot of convincing to do if it hopes to attract customers away from well-established messaging ecosystems. It’s already made progress, to be fair — Glossier, Chirps, Perfect Keto, and Bitwise have been piloting Threads for the better part of weeks. (Perfect Keto says Threads helped reduce meetings by 80 percent.) But that’s a far cry from Slack’s 85,000 paid customers.
Kazi’s not concerned, though. He’s in it for the long haul.
“We [hope] to help growing teams stay informed, have inclusive discussions, and ultimately, make better decisions,” he said.