Salesforce to Acquire Slack for $27.7 Billion

The move caps an acquisitive streak by Salesforce and ends Slack’s run as an independent publicly traded company.

Stewart Butterfield, Slack’s chief executive, at the company’s headquarters in 2017. Slack has faced competitive pressure from Microsoft.
Stewart Butterfield, Slack’s chief executive, at the company’s headquarters in 2017. Slack has faced competitive pressure from Microsoft.Credit...Carlos Chavarría for The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — Salesforce said on Tuesday that it would buy the workplace software company Slack for $27.7 billion in cash and stock, the latest in a wave of deals as the coronavirus pandemic boosts demand for tools that enable people to work remotely.

If completed, the acquisition will end Slack’s brief run as an independent publicly traded company — it went public in mid-2019 — and cap an acquisitive streak by Salesforce with its largest deal since it was founded 21 years ago.

The deal is the biggest bet among a recent spate of acquisitions made by tech companies to capitalize on the shift to remote work. Adobe said last month that it planned to acquire the work force management software company Workfront for $1.5 billion. In July, Atlassian, which sells tools for developers and project management, said it would buy the enterprise services business Mindville for an undisclosed amount.

Other firms focused on workplace collaboration products, including Airtable, Asana, Box, DocuSign, Dropbox and Smartsheet, may also be potential targets as highly valued software companies look to roll up the fragmented market for collaboration tools.

The Salesforce deal for Slack shows how competitive the software market has become, said Logan Purk, a senior analyst with financial advisory firm Edward Jones. Without a “game-changing product” and a lot of capital, he said, “you’re going to get swallowed up or you’re going to fail.”

ImageMarc Benioff, Salesforce’s chief executive, told analysts in August that the company was not seeking acquisitions. The company has its headquarters at Salesforce Tower in San Francisco.
Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s chief executive, told analysts in August that the company was not seeking acquisitions. The company has its headquarters at Salesforce Tower in San Francisco.Credit...Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Shareholders will get $26.79 in cash and 0.0776 shares of Salesforce stock in exchange for each share of Slack, according to Tuesday’s deal announcement. Salesforce said it planned to incorporate Slack’s communication software into every aspect of its cloud software offerings.

Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce, was effusive about the combination, calling it “a match made in heaven.” In a conference call, he said that Stewart Butterfield, Slack’s chief executive, and Bret Taylor, Salesforce’s president, had presented him with the deal.

Slack’s trajectory reminded him of Salesforce’s, Mr. Benioff said, and he marveled at the possibilities of combining the two companies’ data and tools. “My eyes lit up,” he said. “This is our ultimate vision.”

Mr. Taylor said the pandemic had fundamentally shifted consumer behavior and the way people work. Buying Slack would help Salesforce’s customers make the digital transformation, he said. Roughly 90 percent of Slack’s enterprise customers also use Salesforce.

Mr. Butterfield will continue leading Slack, which will become an operating unit of Salesforce.

Slack, which was founded in 2010 by Mr. Butterfield, grew quickly and previously attracted — and rejected — takeover offers from the likes of Google, Microsoft and Amazon. Its valuation was about $19.5 billion when it went public last year, but its shares later sank.

Demand for Slack’s products, which allow people to communicate and collaborate with one another, has increased as people work from home during the pandemic. While the company said in September that revenue rose 49 percent to $216 million in the three months ending in July and that the pandemic had created a “significant increase in demand and usage of Slack,” it also said it did not expect that rise to continue. Layoffs at some of its customers have hurt its business, the company said.

On Tuesday, Slack reported that revenue grew 39 percent in the three months ending with October.

At the same time, Slack has faced increasing competitive pressure from Microsoft. Teams, Microsoft’s collaboration product, reported 115 million daily users in October, up 50 percent from April. Slack has not provided an update on the 12 million daily users it reported a year ago.

In July, Slack filed a complaint against Microsoft with the European Commission, claiming Microsoft had unfairly bundled Teams with its suite of Microsoft Office work products. Microsoft has offered the software alongside Office since Teams was released in 2017.

“When you’re a scrappy start-up going against an 800-pound gorilla that’s one of the most well-capitalized companies in existence, it’s tough to compete,” Mr. Purk said of Slack. “This is more or less saying: ‘We can’t compete with Microsoft Teams anymore. We need more firepower.’”

This year, Slack’s shares were up roughly 25 percent, though they remained below the level of the company’s public market debut, before news of a deal with Salesforce broke last week. Since the news, Slack’s value has risen to more than $25 billion.

Slack became a publicly traded company last year.Credit...Brittainy Newman/The New York Times

Salesforce, which provides marketing and sales software, among other products, has been highly acquisitive as it looks to grow. Under Mr. Benioff, Salesforce has bought at least 60 companies, including 27 in the last five years, according to S&P Capital IQ.

Salesforce stock has climbed nearly 40 percent this year, valuing the company at $220 billion. On Tuesday, it said its revenue rose 20 percent to $5.24 billion in the three months ending with October.

In February, Salesforce paid $1.3 billion for Vlocity, a mobile software provider. Last year, it bought Tableau, a data analytics provider, for $15.3 billion; in 2018, it bought MuleSoft, a data integration company, for $6.5 billion; and in 2016, it bought Demandware, an e-commerce software maker, for $2.8 billion. It also invested $250 million in the data warehousing company Snowflake just before it went public in September.

Salesforce has had its own work collaboration product, called Chatter, since 2010. Chatter has had “limited traction,” according to a Goldman Sachs report last week that touted the “strategic merit” of Salesforce buying Slack.

In August, Mr. Benioff told analysts that Salesforce was not seeking acquisitions, implying that valuations were too high. “We’re not in a good M&A environment,” he said, referring to mergers and acquisitions. “I just don’t see it.”

He added: “Maybe things could change."

In September, Mark Hawkins, Salesforce’s chief financial officer, told analysts that the company would continue to be “opportunistic” with respect to deals.

On Tuesday, Mr. Butterfield tweeted that Slack would remain “an independent and open platform” and said its mission had not changed.

Bank of America served as financial adviser to Salesforce, while Qatalyst Partners and Goldman Sachs advised Slack.

Erin Griffith reported from San Francisco, and Lauren Hirsch from New York.