Collaborative Tools

Serial entrepreneur Bhavin Turakhia "stumped" by Slack's success

Messaging app, Slack, has quite a reputation. The users love it, adoption levels keep on rising, and many see it as the de facto alternative enterprise communications tool (with only Microsoft Teams as a potential challenger). Yet serial entrepreneur Bhavin Turakhia, who launched far less well known alternative Flock in 2014, tells me he is “stumped” by Slack’s success when we meet for coffee in London’s Mayfair.

“I have a lot of respect for a company that has been able to monopolise the press,” he says, adding that maybe the fact that Slack is a Silicon Valley company has stood in its favour.

Turakhia has tireless energy, a lot of enthusiasm and is at pains to show me how superior Flock is to its famous competitor. The free plan is better he explains, the paid plan is 50% cheaper and “Slack is not built from the ground up for efficiency”.

Flicking between the two systems on both a laptop and a mobile device, Turakhia highlights the ease of finding contacts in a list and heightened level of integration Flock offers with third party apps. Unlike Slack, Flock is also already available in four languages and rather than the “frills” of additional data analysis [Slack is currently working on this], it is looking to solve the tedious frustrations of daily tasks, explains Turakhia. Yet with 50,000 active users and around half a million downloads it is still some way behind Slack which has five million daily active users.

“Does the description enterprise WhatsApp fit?” I ask. “Yes, but with many differences,” says Turakhia who underlines once again that it is built “from the ground up” with a solid platform [FlockOS]. “The success of Android is the apps than can be built on top of it,” he explains.

Bhavin Turakhia has a strong pedigree as a serial entrepreneur. Still in his 30s, he started his first company with his brother aged 18 and has had notable successes to date. These have included building the $1.4 billion Directi from the ground up over more than a decade and selling for $900M in 2016 as “the largest bootstrapped exit”.

Turakhia has vaulting ambitions for Flock. “The aim is to build something 10 times bigger than before,” he tells me.  He has already invested $20M of his own money so far and committed to another $25M. Above all, his aim is to make communication more efficient within organisations, he explains.

“I’m a stickler for productivity,” he says, adding that if he can make internal communication more efficient and instant messaging faster it can have “dramatic impact on teams worldwide”. A significant part of this, he feels, is to reduce the need for people to meet in person.

“Time is the thing you never get back,” he says, adding he is always trying to improve his own efficiency, sometimes in “bizarre ways”. When I press on this he explains he works across three locations: Mumbai, Dubai and London. To always deliver his personal best he has exact specs for desk in each location and has his fully customised chair shipped with him wherever he goes. In Mumbai, where he has a 20 minute commute to get to the office, he uses a custom modified Toyota which has had the insides ripped out and fully working mini-office installed so he doesn’t waste any time on the move.

“I have the personality traits that make me want to disrupt the team collaboration space,” he explains.

So, where is the space heading as a whole? After all, it was only recently that Jive – the grandfather of messaging apps - was purchased in what some have seen a death blow to industry as a whole. “Jive has been the Siebel of the space,” says Turakhia. “We don’t really see them as a competitor.”

“Our only real competitors are Slack and HipChat,” he explains. But “our biggest competitors” are WhatsApp and Skype. He doesn’t see any real competition from the “clunky” new Microsoft Teams.

Overall Turakhia believes it will be 10 years before the market plays itself out. “At the end of the decade there will be four or five players, we want to be number one,” he says.

“Look how long email took to be a de facto part of the office - in India [even] in the mid noughties companies treated email as a luxury.” The first wave was free with companies using platforms like Hotmail, it took a while for companies to put in bespoke solutions, he says.

“Messaging is exactly the same with many companies using WhatsApp… now they need to find a tool that works for the company.”


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