By Aaron Tilley
Salesforce.com Inc. agreed to buy workplace-collaboration software pioneer Slack Technologies Inc. for $27.7 billion in a deal that would turn the combined company into one of the biggest players in the competitive business-software market.
Salesforce said Tuesday it would acquire Slack in a cash and stock transaction. The Wall Street Journal previously reported the companies were in advanced deal talks.
The purchase, which still has to clear Slack shareholder and regulatory approval, would be Salesforce's largest ever acquisition. It also would underpin Chief Executive Marc Benioff's effort to move the company he co-founded 21 years ago beyond its core customer-relationship-management software to providing the software tools that businesses need for a swath of their day-to-day operations.
The deal also opens a new front in Salesforce's battle with much larger rival Microsoft Corp., which has been pushing to be the go-to software vendor for businesses, offering a range of applications from data storage to video communications. The Redmond, Wash.-based company introduced its Teams software suite in 2016 with Slack-like chat collaboration features.
Salesforce and Slack, both based in San Francisco have long competed with Microsoft. In 2016, Salesforce, after it lost out to its larger rival in buying LinkedIn Corp., urged regulators to examine the proposed deal on antitrust grounds. The transaction ultimately passed regulatory scrutiny. And this summer, Slack filed a complaint with the European Union over alleged antitrust behavior by Microsoft in using its market dominance to push Teams. "They want to kill us," Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield has told the Journal.
Mr. Butterfield is expected to join Salesforce and continue to run Slack as a unit of Salesforce after the deal's close, the companies said.
Salesforce has been trying for years to expand into providing the kind of workplace collaboration tools Slack offers. In 2010, it launched a private social network, Chatter, to help companies to collaborate. In 2016, it bought cloud-document collaboration app company Quip Inc. for more than $500 million. Neither product has been meaningfully successful for Salesforce, according to analysts.
Slack began in 2009 as a gaming company called Tiny Speck, but shifted focus to building out a messaging app it had developed for internal communication. The company pitched its product as an alternative to office email, and it quickly took off among developers in technology companies when it became publicly available in 2014.
Slack went public last year through an unconventional method called a direct listing, in which the company simply floats its existing shares onto an exchange and lets the market determine the price without investment banks serving as gatekeepers.
Slack in recent months failed to spark the kind of investor excitement enjoyed by other business-software companies more closely associated with the boom in videoconferencing, such as Microsoft and Zoom Video Communications Inc.
Use of Microsoft's Teams during the pandemic grew to more than 115 million last month from 32 million daily active users at the beginning of the pandemic in March. Microsoft packages Teams free with its Office 365 suite and has leaned heavily on adding videoconferencing capabilities to. Zoom usage has risen to more than 300 million daily active participants -- a broader measure than daily active users -- from around 10 million before the pandemic, and its stock has quadrupled since the end of February
Slack stopped updating its daily active user number late last year when it reached 12 million, and its shares had been up about 10% since late February before advancing around 50% since the Journal's report of the potential Salesforce deal.
The Slack deal isn't the first time Mr. Benioff has spent heavily to expand Salesforce. Last year, the company made its biggest purchase before Slack, spending around $15 billion in stock for data-analytics platform Tableau Software Inc. And a year earlier, the company shelled out more than $5 billion in what was then its largest deal ever for MuleSoft to help customers connect data from across different systems.
Also Tuesday, Salesforce posted earnings for the quarter ended Oct. 31. The company reported sales of $5.42 billion in the period, up from $4.51 billion the year prior, generating net income of $1.08 billion. Wall Street expected sales of $5.25 billion and net income of $700 million, according to FactSet.
Write to Aaron Tilley at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires