Putting A Price On Chat: Slack Is Going Public At $16 Billion Value

Slack Technologies is going public Thursday. In the fiscal year that ended Jan. 31, the company nearly doubled its revenues, to about $400 million. But it had a net loss of nearly $139 million.

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Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images

In just five years, Slack has grown to more than 10 million users and become a verb in the process. “I’ll Slack you” is shorthand for sending a message via the workplace chat platform.

On Thursday, the company will take that popularity to the New York Stock Exchange where its shares will be publicly listed for the first time.

At a starting price of $26 per share set Wednesday, Slack Technologies would be worth about $16 billion.

Instead of a conventional initial public offering, Slack will enter into the market as a direct listing, which means the shares will simply be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Most firms that pass on an IPO are widely known companies that are in good financial shape.

As Fortune explains:

“Unlike an ordinary IPO, a direct listing means the company doesn’t issue any new shares and doesn’t raise additional capital. It’s primarily a way for company insiders to sell some of their holdings to investors, while bypassing the formidable fees and requirements of using an underwriter.”

Spotify, the music streaming company, went public as a direct listing last year.

In the fiscal year that ended Jan. 31, Slack nearly doubled its revenues, to about $400 million. But it had a net loss of nearly $139 million.

As it continues to grow, Slack’s biggest hurdle will be proving to its users that it’s more than just a chat application.

Forrester Analyst Michael Facemire says it’s hard for users to understand why the platform is more useful than other chat applications without trying it for themselves. With Microsoft Teams as a major competitor, Slack is facing pressure to distinguish itself in the market.

“If the world were only composed of technologists, and developers and Silicon Valley illuminati, then Slack would be far, far ahead,” Facemire said. “There is a large percentage of the population that isn’t that. This is where tools like Microsoft Teams do just as well.”

Slack’s decision to begin trading as a direct listing follows a wobbly start for Uber, one of the most anticipated initial public offerings in the tech sector. Last month, the ride-hailing company reported a $1 billion loss in its first public financial report, just weeks after its IPO.

Slack, which was publicly released in 2014, stemmed from an internal chat platform created by CEO Stewart Butterfield during a failed video game development. The software was created to avoid the confusion of email and, per its acronym, provide a “Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge” for the team, which had people working all over North America.

Butterfield co-founded Flickr, which he sold to Yahoo for around $25 million in 2005. But, despite interest from Amazon, Google and Microsoft in 2017, he held onto Slack, which continued to compete with emerging chat platforms.

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Alabama’s Africatown Hopes For Revival After Slave Ship Discovery

A housing project stands abandoned in the Africatown community in Mobile, Ala.

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Julie Bennett/AP

The recent discovery of the remains of the last slave ship to the United States is bringing hope of revival to Africatown. It’s a small community in Mobile, Ala., founded by African captives brought on the Clotilde, thought to have arrived sometime in 1859 or 1860.

Lorna Woods’ great-great-grandfather, Charlie Lewis, was brought to Mobile on the Clotilde. Now she tells his story as a volunteer with the local history museum.

“I tell people … they didn’t come here as free men; they came in chains,” she says, standing on the downtown corner that was once the city’s slave market.

Woods holds up the rusty shackles she found under an old box spring in her grandmother’s house.

“This wasn’t anything nice,” she says. “These are the slave chains that were on their legs and hands.”

Woods says for a long time, mostly out of fear, her ancestors kept the story of the Clotilde closely guarded. She learned about it sitting on her grandmother’s front porch in Africatown — a community just north of downtown settled by the West Africans smuggled here on the Clotilde.

“They built that little town from just about nothing — just from the bushes and trees they cut down,” says Woods. “They made a place where they could carry on their history from Africa. And their children would be able to see they wasn’t lazy … but they had a lot of pride.”

Interest in Africatown has been on the rise since Clotilde survivor Cudjoe Lewis’s story was the subject of last year’s bestseller Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston, published after her death.

A vandalized bust remains on display at what was the Africatown Welcome Center in Mobile, Ala.

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Debbie Elliott/NPR

Now the discovery last month of the shipwreck in the Mobile River is bringing new attention.

“The whole story was never told,” Woods says. “But by them finding the ship, this gave clarity to the whole story.”

Eric Finley has been telling the story as a docent for the Dora Franklin Finley African-American Heritage trail in Mobile.

“It was the result of a rich white plantation owner … he made a bet with another white plantation owner that he could bring in 100 illegal individuals,” Finley explains as he drives a van along the riverfront where the schooner Clotilde smuggled enslaved Africans more than 50 years after the U.S. had outlawed the slave trade.

Standing on the downtown corner that was once the city’s slave market, Lorna Woods holds up the rusty shackles she found under an old box spring in her grandmother’s house.

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Debbie Elliott/NPR

The story goes the plantation owner, a wealthy ship builder and businessman named Timothy Meaher hired a captain to make the trip to what is now the country of Benin, Africa.

“They head back to the United States,” Finley continues the story. “Federal authorities got word that someone was trying to sneak in 100 illegal kidnapped individuals. So they were on the lookout for the Clotilda.”

To avoid capture, Finley says, Meaher had the slaves brought inland to hide in the swamp. The Clotilde was scuttled upriver, and set afire to hide any evidence.

He says federal prosecutors opened an investigation but never brought the case to trial with the impending Civil War.

“It is a very difficult story,” says Joycelyn Davis, a 6th generation Clotilde descendant.

“My family was brought over illegally,” she says. “On a bet. Naked.”

Davis says she heard stories about the Clotilde growing up in Africatown, but didn’t really embrace it.

“Honestly I was a little ashamed about the story,” she admits, noting the role of Africans in the slave trade.

“There was a dispute between two tribes – our own people — and they sold us,” Davis says. “That’s the shame that I had.”

Now Davis says she’s is working to preserve the history here, and honor the legacy of her ancestor Charlie Lewis, one of the founders of Africatown.

“It’s important for me to pass it on,” she says. “Do you know what Charlie went through coming over here? Do you know that he survived all of that – persevered, worked hard, they built their own homes, a community, a church, and a school. Off of nothing. All they had was each other.”

Today she says there are obstacles to reckoning with the story of the Clotilde.

“We have the old south, where people just don’t want to talk about slavery,” Davis says.

Africatown is surrounded by a paper mill, chemical plants and oil storage tanks.

It’s bordered on three sides by water — including the Mobile River. Residents here have filed a lawsuit over industrial pollution.

Joycelyn Davis crosses the major highway that now cuts through the middle of Africatown to a sloping hillside where sprawling oak trees shade gray stone grave markers.

“One thing that Cudjoe and the other survivors of the Clotilde, they all wanted to go back home to Africa,” Davis says. “So the cemetery faces east towards Africa.”

Davis says after Emancipation, Timothy Meaher would not provide his former slaves passage back to Africa. They continued to work on plantations and at his paper mill to earn enough money to buy the land that became Africatown.

Meaher’s descendants still own the surrounding property, and there’s a Meaher state park named for the family on Mobile Bay.

“Everything around here belongs to them,” she says. “You know so they have been ever present all of my life.”

Descendants of Timothy Meaher declined to speak about the discovery of the Clotilde. Davis and other descendants of the enslaved Africans say they’d like to meet with the Meaher family to hear their side of history.

Darron Patterson’s great-great grandfather Pollee Allen was on the Clotilde. Patterson, in his 60s now, has seen Africatown struggle.

“It’s not what it used to be,” he says. “When I was when I was small and growing up there … it was a community that was self-contained. We had stores and barber shops and post offices, you know, and gas stations and drugstores.”

Over the years, he says, it has seen its share of down times.

Eric Finley leads tours for the Dora Franklin Finley African-American Heritage trail in Mobile. He drives a van along the riverfront where the schooner the Clotilde smuggled enslaved Africans more than 50 years after the U.S. had outlawed the slave trade.

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Debbie Elliott/NPR

The commerce is gone now, and you see boarded up homes and vacant lots in the neighborhood. The population has declined from about 12,000 in the 1960s to less than 2,000 today. In 2012, Africatown was listed on the National Register of Historic Places but little came of the designation.

Now, Paterson is hopeful the blight and neglect will end with the discovery of the ship.

“The pride now that is being regenerated by what’s happened with the Clotilde is amazing.”

There’s talk of redeveloping the town, and opening a museum to house a replica of the Clotilde. The state has allocated $3.5 million from its BP oil spill settlement to build an Africatown welcome center. The old one was washed away by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the property is overrun with weeds and litter. And the National Park Service is planning a waterfront park in the community.

But Patterson says revitalization isn’t enough.

“What justice now?” he asks. “If there was a lack of evidence against Timothy Meaher then and this boat actually turns out to be the evidence that there were slaves brought here illegally, what do we do now? There has got to be something that happens.”

Mobile attorney and city judge Karlos Finley says descendants may have a case for reparations.

“What the ship does is it takes the story out of the realm of lore,” Finley says. “You see prior to the ship being discovered there were people who could argue that ‘oh, that’s just old wives tales here, that didn’t really happen.'”

The shipwreck remains in the murky waters of the Mobile River, under guard now, an “irreplaceable cultural treasure” according to the Alabama Historical Commission.

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There’s More To Look Forward To After Peaking Professionally

The decline of our agile working minds starts years before they think they're going to decline, says social scientist Arthur Brooks.

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When it comes to our working lives, there’s a point when we’re no longer in our prime. But science shows that we hit our peak professionally far sooner than we think we do.

That’s the conclusion social scientist Arthur Brooks draws in a new essay in The Atlantic.

His research began after eavesdropping on a conversation on an airplane in 2015. At the time, Brooks felt at the top of his game as the president of American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, and writing best-selling books. “Things couldn’t have gone better,” he tells NPR.

On the plane, he sat in front of a man and a woman. The man — who Brooks writes was in his mid-80s — told the woman that he wished he was dead.

“I thought it was somebody who must have been really disappointed about his life,” he says. “But then at the end of the flight he stood up and I recognized him as somebody who’s really quite prominent and who’d done a lot with his life.”

He wondered what the man must’ve been doing wrong to feel this way.

“I decided to figure out how, after 50, life can get better and more fulfilling,” he says. He tells NPR he thinks he found some answers.

Interview Highlights

On data that shows that our professional abilities decline earlier than we had been hoping

In virtually every field, we find that people decline before they think they’re going to decline. There’s a reason that that the mandatory retirement age for air traffic controllers is 56 years old. They peak out in their ability to do that high-concentration mental work.

It tells us something about the way that the human brain works — something that’s very depressing at first but it turns out that it can be illuminating and even really encouraging once you dig a little bit deeper.

On the kinds of intelligence we use in our working lives

People start off their careers relying on their fluid intelligence — that analytic speed, our ability to figure stuff out fast.

The problem is that that fluid intelligence naturally starts to decline and precipitously so starting in one’s early 30s — and that’s the reason that lawyers will feel in their 40s and 50s they’ll notice they’ve missed a step.

People will rage against the decline in their fluid intelligence. But they’re missing something really big, which is, that curve may be going down but there’s another curve that’s going up that’s called crystallized intelligence – that’s your stock wisdom, that’s the vast library that you’re accumulating, all the books in your library that are your mind and your ability to use them with wisdom, that increases through your 40s and 50s and 60s and stays high.

Here’s the trick: You’ve got to stop being an innovator and start being an instructor. An instructor is somebody who uses crystallized intelligence, who synthesizes ideas and expresses them in new and interesting ways that people can understand — that enriches other people.

But stop trying to achieve the Nobel Prize-winning paper and start thinking about how others have done things and how the patterns all come together. That is truly one of the great strategies of the happiest people who have ever lived.

On how he’s applying the lessons he learned now that he’s 55

I started this project because I wanted to know what I should do by about the age of 55. I determined after about 10 years in my position as the chief executive of the American Enterprise Institute it’s important to move into something else — and hand the keys over to somebody else. So a new president will be taking over starting July 1. I’m going to go to Harvard and teach at the Kennedy School and work with students and write books.

Dave Blanchard and Courtney Dorning produced and edited this story for broadcast. Emma Bowman adapted it for the Web.

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