Slack vs Hipchat — Who’s Really Winning?



Slack and Hipchat are two of the newest, most popular messaging and communications tools that more and more businesses, small and large, are implementing each day. But, is one better than the other, and if so, which?

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You know what’s the worst? When you’ve begun to corner a market with a huge audience and backed by serious funding, and then suddenly a new competitor emerges, seemingly from nowhere, and not only pulls the rug out from under you, but whacks you over the head with it.

Currently, it seems that Slack is beating Hipchat over the head in such a manner. This is a surprising development, and might not even be fully true. This leads to two questions:

  • Is Slack really beating Hipchat?
  • If not, then how did this perception even arise?

Let’s go back a few years to examine each company’s ascent in order to properly explore the nature and current results of this battle.

Hipchat’s Recent Growth

Hipchat was founded in January 2010 by Chris Rivers, Garret Heaton and Pete Curley, three guys who worked for Plaxo Pulse (an online address book founded by Sean Parker in 2002 and acquired by Comcast in 2008). HipChat was soon acquired by Atlassian in March 2012.

In terms of growth, there is currently no publicly confirmed data that has been released in regard to number of users. However, we do know that 3 billion of Hipchat’s 7 billion total messages have been sent out in just 2015, which is the key marker that we have to indicate that Hipchat’s growth is indeed still soaring.

Based on that one statistic, I feel compelled to repeat the above question, but this time in bold, for effect: if HipChat is truly crushing it, then why has their gravestone already been plotted and dug at the hands Slack? Why has the mainstream tech media already begun to crown Slack as the champion? I’m starting to feel like a Republican complaining about the media bias they always speak of.

Money Talks

The answer, as always, is complicated. Slack is certainly benefiting from its own fair share of hype, which I believe stems from the serious amount of money and venture capital behind it.

When Slack came onto the scene, it definitely had serious backing, with a large number of investors and VCs backing it. A recent round of $160 million (at a $2.8 billion valuation) included Digital Sky Technologies, Horizons Ventures, Index Ventures, Institutional Venture Partners, and Spark Capital Growth (this is in addition to previous investors which Accel Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Social + Capital Partnership). That’s quite a roster!

Hype vs Numbers

As with most shiny new tech toys there always seems to be a fine line between hype and actual data. It is no different than with Slack. In 2014, when Slack was still making its ascent, there was already talk of never before seen growth.

And then came the now-legendary quote from Andreessen Horowitz, in which he Tweeted an image of Slack’s daily users, and said “I have never seen viral enterprise app takeoff like this before – all word of mouth”. I’ll go ahead and give the full disclosure which Horowitz neglected to include in his Tweet: Horowitz is financially involved in Slack (blame the 140 characters for his leaving that out?)… Regardless, his Tweet had reverberations throughout the tech world.

So, How About Them Numbers?

Two weeks ago, Slack released these numbers: They now have 1.7 million users, which represents an increase of +600,000 in the past four months.

That’s pretty good. The problem for me, however, as the writer of this blog post, is that there are no public numbers from Hipchat to properly compare with.

But it seems to me that in the last few months, there has certainly been a shift in the “cool factor,” and there is no doubt that Slack is dominating in that department. Anyone who reads any tech publication will easily tell you that Slack is considered more “in” than Hipchat.

I’m going to end my speculation from earlier and concede defeat: there is no way to conclude who is winning. Perhaps Slack has experienced meteoric growth, but I’ll be damned if someone were to claim that Slack is beating Hipchat. There is simply no proof, as Atlassian has not released the numbers.

This leads me to change course and ask a more interesting and answerable question: How did Slack become so much cooler than Hipchat?

It’s Easy Being Cool

The essence of Slack comes with its fluid design and subsequent pleasant user experience. Chats and inter-office communication simply felt seamless with Slack’s interface. I’ve felt for a while now that HipChat was more popular among traditional white collar office businesses, while Slack was bigger among the upstarts, the millennials, the hipsters, the startups, and slowly but surely, the general hi tech world.

While it’s easy to debate the pros and cons of each web app, the overall feeling was that Slack was just easier. Whether it was proper UX or design, something about the eye test gave it a victory. Here is a great analysis disagreeing with the design factor. And here is another nice breakdown. Okay just one more.

Ultimately though, it doesn’t seem like one will win out over the other. Slack might be cooler and maintain impressive numbers, but HipChat just had a huge year, with a stable parent in Atlassian to help guide it. Though some may compare the Hipchat vs Slack battle to MySpace vs Facebook, I think it is much closer to AIM vs ICQ – two successful chat programs who each maintained their respective audiences.

Time will tell.

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