Based on what's written in a pair of reports stating Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) is exploring a purchase of collaboration app upstart Slack, it's hardly a given at this point that a deal will happen. Details are limited, the buyout overtures appear to coincide with new attempts by Slack to raise funding and Amazon is simply said to be one of multiple tech companies to have recently inquired about a purchase.
But whether or not a sale goes down, the reports do suggest that Amazon is serious about making Amazon Web Services (AWS) a major enterprise cloud app (SaaS) provider, on top of everything else it already is. It might also suggest that a sky-high stock price has made Jeff Bezos & Co., hesitant to date to make large acquisitions, more open to inking large deals.
Bloomberg reported overnight that Slack has drawn interest from multiple tech companies, and could be "valued at at least $9 billion in a sale." Re/code followed up with a report stating Slack is looking to raise $500 million at a $5 billion valuation, up from the $3.8 billion valuation it received in a 2016 funding round. However, it added Slack has simultaneously attracted buyout interest from Amazon, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) , Alphabet Inc./Google (GOOGL) and Salesforce.com Inc. (CRM) .
One caveat: It's possible that both Bloomberg and Re/code's sources are close to Slack, and want to see a bidding war break out. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that a source claiming there's intense buyout interest in a company had such a motivation.
The reported interest from Microsoft and Google is a little curious, since both have launched Slack rivals. Bloomberg's report notes that that Microsoft once explored buying Slack before ultimately choosing to create its competing Teams app. That fits with a 2016 TechCrunch report stating Microsoft considered offering as much as $8 billion for Slack, but that Bill Gates and CEO Satya Nadella weren't sold on the idea.
Why is Slack such a big deal? To a large degree, its chat threads and team "channels" have become an e-mail substitute for workers looking to quickly exchange messages and share files, at those enterprises that have adopted them. Slack's platform also features quality mobile apps, supports voice and video calls and is now backed by a large ecosystem of third-party developers that have created business apps and messaging chatbots that work within Slack.
Slack has also invested in using AI to do things like highlight important messages and showcase the most important chat threads and channels within search results. And in January, the company launched Enterprise Grid, a version of its core product meant for large businesses -- among other things, it has more advanced analytics, management and security tools.
Slack claimed 1.5 million paid seats and over 5 million daily active users as of January. Re/code reports hearing from sources that the company "currently has $1 billion in revenue." But that sounds steep, given Slack only surpassed $100 million in annual recurring revenue last summer, after reaching $64 million in February 2016.
Though Slack has grown rapidly over the last three years, competition is intensifying. Microsoft's Teams app, launched last November, effectively undercuts Slack's pricing by being bundled with corporate Office 365 subscriptions. It also tightly integrates with Office productivity apps and the Skype for Business communications platform, and supports over 150 third-party apps.
Separately, Google took aim at Slack in March by unveiling Hangouts Chat, a collaboration tool that has a Slack-like interface and integrates with Google's G Suite productivity apps. Just as Teams is built into Office 365, Hangouts Chat, only available for now through an "Early Adopter Program," will be provided with corporate G Suite subscriptions when it fully launches. Other Slack rivals include Atlassian's (TEAM) HipChat app and Cisco Systems' (CSCO) Spark app.
Slack's management, realizing that competition is getting tougher, may have decided this is a good time to explore a sale. Amazon, meanwhile, may have decided that the 200%-plus gain delivered by its stock since early 2015 makes this a good time to use that stock to finance a large acquisition or two. Of course, if Amazon wanted to pay for Slack with cash, it could probably do that as well: The company had $22.4 billion in cash and short-term investments -- most of it in the U.S. -- as of March, partly offset by $16 billion in debt.
Regardless of how a deal is financed, though, a Slack acquisition featuring a high ten-figure price would represent a big expansion of Amazon's efforts to grow its SaaS business. AWS remains dominant in the public cloud infrastructure (IaaS) services space, and -- via database, analytics, IoT and other offerings that run on top of AWS' infrastructure services -- has become a leading provider cloud app platform (PaaS) services. But from all signs, its SaaS business remains a lot smaller than that of either enterprise software giants such as Microsoft and Oracle Corp. (ORCL) , or major SaaS pure-plays such as Salesforce and Workday Inc. (WDAY) .
However, Amazon has been gradually expanding its stable of SaaS productivity, collaboration and communications apps. Over the last few years, its SaaS launches have included an enterprise cloud storage and file-sharing service called WorkDocs, a business intelligence software tool called QuickSight, a managed e-mail/calendar service called WorkMail and a videoconferencing/online meeting solution called Chime. The cloud giant also reportedly working on a productivity suite that would compete with Office 365 and the G Suite.
Slack, which already runs on AWS, would act as a tentpole franchise for AWS' SaaS business if acquired, significantly raising its profile, adding a large and growing base of blue-chip customers and creating new bundling opportunities. A deal would carry a decent amount of risk at a $9 billion price, particularly given how Slack's competition has grown, but no one has ever accused Bezos and his team of being risk-averse.
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