Sorry, we can't join your Slack

by Michael Bernstein on September 03, 2019

One of the best pieces of advice my partner and I were given when we started Reify came out of a conversation that started with a very interesting premise:

Assume your company is going to be around for 25 years, and treat the first few years accordingly. In other words, give yourselves room to change and grow, and take the lessons you learn during the next few years to heart. If something isn’t working for you, be honest with yourselves and your clients. If something is working well, keep doubling down on it until it doesn’t. Plan, adjust, plan, adjust, repeat.

We liked this because it revealed that building something for the long haul is very different than building something designed for a quick exit, and building a company around providing a service is very different than building a company around providing a product.

Whether or not this advice makes sense to you, it resonated deeply with us. We referred to the “25 years” idea often during the first year of the company, and now that we’re about to enter our fourth operating year, it’s a concept that’s deeply integrated into how we make decisions. Whenever we’re doubting ourselves, and even whenever we feel confident about a decision, it’s helpful to consider the context: how will this decision impact us in the long run?

So what does any of this nonsense have to do with Slack? Good question – the title says it all.

One of the earliest invocations of the 25 Year Rule came around 18 months ago, the first time we really had to put our foot down when a client made what they felt was an innocuous enough request:

Hey, can you join our Slack?

We said we’re sorry, we couldn’t. They asked why, we explained, and though it was a difficult conversation, it was a positive one. The client was able to move forward with us despite what they initially felt was a blocker and we did some really great work together.

We knew we couldn’t abide their request because of the 25 Year Rule.

During the first 18 months of the company, we experimented with joining client Slack channels a number of different times, and it always worked out the same way for us: negatively. In nearly all of the cases we found ourselves experiencing the same phenomena when we compared our experiences to when we were not in a client Slack:

  • We felt busier, but were getting less real work done
  • We knew the clients better personally, but we knew the product less
  • We had more superficial conversations, but fewer substantive ones
  • We were able to react more quickly, but our responses were less measured and effective

Saying yes to joining client Slack channels would mean that down the line we’d feel more exhausted but less accomplished. We’d have more superficial “friends,” but wouldn’t know how to deal with products much better than we did now. We’d be on the hook all the time, and have less of an opportunity to consider our responses.

In lieu of a chat application, we employ a combination of email, scheduled video conferences (or phone calls, or in person meetings), Google Docs, and planning applications like Trello. This gives us all of the opportunities we need to communicate everything from our project status to our opinion about a blog post draft, without sitting in a chat room. This works very well for us and our clients.

Looking back on it after almost 3 years, this makes a lot of sense, because it aligns very well with what our clients value about us when we ask them for feedback. Our most successful relationships are with clients who value the quality of our work, not the quantity. They value our deep knowledge of the market over our presence in the office every day. They value carefully considered words over immediate response.

All in all, it’s more important for us to be happy, fulfilled, and more expert in our work as we enter the 5th, 10th, and 15th years of our business than it is for us to just say yes all the time. So yes – we’d love to work together. But sorry, we can’t join your Slack.