An alternative to e-mail to improve business productivity

Do we wast too much time on e-mail? Slack can be a solution

Nowadays, a variety of “communication media” on the market pretend to make us more productive. Instead, communication media like Facebook, Twitter, and last but not least e-mail, lead to a productivity-killing communication overload with all its consequences (1).

Research undertaken by McKinsey showed that high-skilled knowledge workers spend on average 28% of their time on managing e-mail. Another 14% of their workweek is spent on ‘communicating and collaborating internally’ (2). Furthermore, research by Gloria Mark, professor of informatics at the university of California, showed that office workers are interrupted approximately every three minutes, where it can take more than 20 minutes before one returns to the original task (3). It goes without saying that increasing the productivity of social technologies, can result in considerable time savings and thus value.

In mid-2013, Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield launched a new workplace and collaboration tool called Slack (4). Not coincidentally, Butterfield and his colleagues intended to eliminate the necessity of e-mail as primary communication tool within organization. Slack offers a SaaS-based communication platform that enables employees to communicate through private groups, as well as chat rooms organized by topics and direct messaging (5). The content in the tool is archived (including e.g. Google Drive and Dropbox integrations) and can easily be accessed through several devices and operating systems. Slack for instance provides applications for Mac, iOS, Android and Windows.

All this sounds promising, but does Slack work? If we solely look at the market, one would be inclined to say yes. Shortly after the launch of the start-up, Slack entered the unicorn club – a select group of start-ups that soared to a $1 billion-plus valuation (5). Moreover, last week Slack confirmed that another round of funding raised $160 million, leading to a total valuation of $2.8 billion.

With its 750.000 daily users and customers including renowned companies like The New York Times, Adobe, HBO, PayPal, and the US State Department, Slack seems to work indeed. In contrary to communication media like e-mail, Slack’s technology appears to better fit employees’ tasks resulting in a better task–technology fit – “the degree to which a technology assists an individual in his or her portfolio of tasks” (Goodhue & Thompson, 1995, p. 216) (6).

Perhaps you might get a little too rosy picture of Slack. Of course the $2.8 billion valued startup looks very promising. Market insiders however expect that such a high valuation is not sustainable in the long run, simply because the fact that there are several other high-quality startups providing business collaboration software as well (e.g. HipChat, Yammer) (5).

Even though Slack might not become a big monopolist in the business communication/collaboration-tool market, an overall trend in which companies try to tackle unproductive communication overload, can be seen. One thing is for sure, by reconsidering communication and embracing collaboration tools like Slack, companies can save themselves a lot of time and money.

  6. Goodhue, D. L., & Thompson, R. L. (1995). Task–technology fit and individual performance. MIS Quarterly, 19, 213–236.
  7. Header image:! How to do it yourself!?

Have you also wondered for years how to make a wooden paddleball set, or how to make a rock salt bracelet, but you never found the proper motivation to figure this out? Due to the online trend in customer co-creation it is now possible to find instructions for the most bizarre items online on

One of the leading sites in these ‘how-to’ videos & instructions is is a website which was originally an inside project from some PhD students from the MIT media labs.  When they weren’t solving complex technological problems like solar panels for highways, they were teaching each other things as 3d modelling, cooking and other stuff through videos and instructions that they posted on this platform. In 2006 they decided to open up the platform to the rest of the world.  The website now is a platform for over hundred thousand how-to instructions, videos and ideas.

That these ideas are very varied is already noticeable in the first moment you enter the website. There is a bike challenge available in which people can post their idea about bikes. These ideas vary from homemade bicycle stand to homemade tandems. The great part of this platform is that it is not only a platform for simple guides like sharing a salad recipe or showing how to sheer a sheep, but it is only a place where creative people meet each other, share ideas and create.

Behind the website is a small team and a huge community of enthusiast people who are constantly sharing their most creative ideas. They can add videos, images and even files with 3d models or photoshop images. An extended review system is available on to rate other users and their ideas.. Besides this it is possible to join groups for people with similar interests. also has a membership available for teachers so they can use these videos in the classroom.

The business model of consists of 2 different revenue-models. The first is based on advertisement. They rent out video space on the video pages to companies for advertising purposes.  The other source of revenue they have is organizing contests for their community. Some of these contests are sponsored by companies. At this moment Microsoft is organizing the “Coded creation contest” on Big prizes like laptops, tablets and photo cameras are waiting for the winners!

Besides there are literally dozens of these websites that are specialized as video platform for how-to and do-it-yourself videos. Although is not the largest website in this category, they have an advantage with having a large community. So if you feel creative these coming months and have a video camera and some spare time, make sure to visit!


Raising capital – But which crowd to tap?

Imagine you are an entrepreneur and you want to raise money in order to set up a project or small business by means of crowdfunding: the practice of raising small amounts of money – funding – from a large number of people – the crowd – to finance a project, which happens most commonly via the internet (Schwienbacher & Larralde, 2010). There are many different forms of crowdfunding, and it is a maze for you to choose the right structure and funding focus. How to make the right decision of the path you are going to follow that is suitable for your business? Paul Belleflamme, Thomas Lambert, and Armin Schwienbacher (2014), have written an article that gives a valuable advice in making those kind of decisions, whereby they compare two types of crowdfunding.


Crowdfunding can take place in four different forms (or a hybrid of those): donation-based, reward-based, lending-based, and equity-based (Mollick, 2014). In this article, the authors focus on equity-based crowdfunding, and a pre-ordering structure (which is a form of reward-based crowdfunding), since those are the two dominant structures in the crowdfunding scene. With equity-based crowdfunding, funders financially support the entrepreneur in exchange for a share of future profits. With the pre-ordering method, the entrepreneur invites funders to pre-order the product, usually for a premium price, whereby the entrepreneur is able to collect the necessary capital for launching the production. In this case, the entrepreneur is able to price discriminate between two groups: first stage crowd funders, and second stage consumers. In order to make a decision between those two structures, the authors considered the economic factors that determine an entrepreneur’s choice of a particular form of crowdfunding and came up with a unified theoretical model that suggests the following:


An entrepreneur should choose for a pre-ordering structure in cases when the initial capital required is relatively small compared with the market size, whereas entrepreneurs should choose for a profit sharing structure otherwise.

Adding to this main implication, when  exercising a pre-ordering structure, the amount to optimally implement price discrimination between first stage and second stage supporters, may be constrained by the amount of funding that the entrepreneur needs to raise in order to cover the fixed costs. When this amount surpasses a threshold, the profitability of the project is reduced. For higher funding goals, equity crowdfunding becomes more meaningful for entrepreneurs when community/social benefits are associated with financing the project, since larger amounts of individuals will support the project, whereas the fraction of profits the entrepreneur needs to give up remains equal.


To apply those findings on real-world examples, I would like to highlight two cases.

Yoni – Last week I interviewed the founders of Yoni, a start-up company that produces organic cotton tampons and pads. The founders raised their starting capital on under a pre-ordering structure. By means of perks, crowd funders could pre-0rder products for a premium price and in addition to the product itself they received a special thank-message or a t-shirt. Currently, the products are available for a lower price. Here, we see the typical path of first having initial, first stage supporters (the crowd funders) and later in the process second stage supporters (regular customers). When I asked about their choice for this pre-ordering structure, they said that this was the quickest and most convenient way to start producing their products, which is an operating decision. Besides that, their products are able to reach a large base of customers, which is in accordance with the article.



Donner – Another example, exercised in Rotterdam, is the crowdfunding campaign of the bookstore Donner. When the traditional bookstore was on the edge of its bankruptcy, former employees of the bookstore started an equity based crowdfunding campaign on to raise financing, that led Donner to a go-around. Since a lot of capital was needed for this turn-around strategy, equity crowdfunding was most suitable. The community benefit of this campaign was high, since a lot of customers wanted to prevent the bookstore from closing its doors.



Considering those cases and the article, I think that both firms made the correct decision in tapping the right audience. Going back to the article, Belleflame et al (2014) address that when the project is driven by financing decisions, entrepreneurs should choose a profit-sharing approach, whereas when the project is driven by operating decisions, the entrepreneurs should choose for a pre-ordering approach. Reassuring this, both cases have chosen to the right structure, as it both led to success.



Belleflamme, P., Lambert, T., & Schwienbacher, A. (2014). Crowdfunding: Tapping the right crowd. Journal of Business Venturing29(5), 585-609.

Mollick, E. (2014). The Dynamics of Crowdfunding – An Exploratory Study. Journal of Business Venturing 29, 1-16.

Schwienbacher, A., & Larralde, B. (2010). Crowdfunding of Small Entrepreneurial Ventures. SSRN Electronic Journal.

Get more done with freelancers

Imagine yourself as an entrepreneur in a startup who worked on a product for quite a while. Eventually, you come in contact with investors and customers who are really interested in your product. Due to the size of your company and the lack of a professional company website these customers are less likely to buy something from you.

Imagine yourself now as a mobile developer. Previous years you trained yourself to design and build mobile applications and had some great projects you worked on. However, the company that had you on their payroll fired you. Although with your skills it wouldn’t be difficult to find a job, but you want more flexibility than your previous job.

Both scenarios are possible within the platform Odesk is a freelancer platform that creates its value by the number of businesses that are posting jobs on the site, but also the freelancers that are offering their services on the platform. Thus, the supply and demand create the value of the platform while the platform is a mediator for the users.

Freelancers are users that offer their skills and experiences on the platform, for a price they consider to be right. When there are a lot of competitors, it’s best to compete with price. This also stimulates people with a rare skill to offer their services since no competition would influence the price. Also, freelancers are able to apply for a listing job.

Businesses on the other hand can post jobs on the platform. When posting jobs, its common to fill in details for the job. Freelancers could apply to the job and businesses can pick someone out of the crowd. Businesses can select on experience and skills, but also writing style to pick the person that fits best to the job. This way, connecting to people jobs is a two-way relation.

Besides oDesk being a mediator in freelancers finding jobs, oDesk offers protection to the businesses with their tool that captures work-in-progress snapshots of freelancers working on the job. Also, businesses only have to pay when they approve the work that has been done. In return for the services oDesk offers, Odesk receives a 10% fee of each payment. If the freelancer works per hour, Odesk receives 10% of the hourly rate.

oDesk is operating since 2003, and has more than 1 million businesses that used their services. A while ago, oDesk and their competitor elance joined forces and are now connected with each other. Together, they have 9.7 million freelancers signed up; 2 million businesses that use their services and approximately $940 million worth of work done annually.

oDesk is ensuring the world becomes more connected and is supporting competition among its users. However, since the world nowadays gets more connected through more platforms, I wonder what their next big step will be in staying competitive with other businesses that might enter their market.