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VMblog's Expert Interviews: Mattermost Talks Funding, Messaging and Competing with Slack

Today there's no doubt that Slack has the messaging market in its grips, bearing down on an $8 billion valuation on its march to self-listing. Competing with Slack is a revived Microsoft and its Teams offering. Now enters a third surprise player. Palo Alto-based startup Mattermost today revealed a $20 million Series A funding from top VC Redpoint Ventures. Their new formula for messaging is capturing huge users like the department of Defense and Uber with a vision for serving the enterprise developer market that it says is underserved by proprietary, SaaS apps. Oh, and data security and privacy. Big enterprises remain suspicious of tech and want to control their data by self hosting with the transparency of open source. Mattermost CEO Ian Tien spoke with VMblog to tell us more.

VMblog:  Explain why the demand for Mattermost?  Messaging has been around for a long time and Slack seems to be in use everywhere.  What's the problem that Mattermost solves that isn't solved already?

Ian Tien:  There's a requirement for control and flexibility at large enterprises that are in so-called "high trust" domains--that is, use cases that deal with customer information, with highly private information, or in highly regulated contexts. It turns out that applies to the majority of Global 2000 enterprises, many universities, and large government agencies.

Living and working in the Bay Area; we sometimes assume everyone works with the same modern tools that we do, but most people don't. Slack did us all a favor by showing how activity-stream messang, plus integrations, plus workflow can make work more productive and more enjoyable. Mattermost is taking this new way to work to largest enterprises and security-conscious organizations that, for compliance reasons, aren't allowed to use third party hosted services, like Slack and Microsoft Teams.

VMblog:  Mattermost is often described by users as "open source Slack."  Is that accurate, and what does that open source buy enterprise users?

Ian Tien:  I think it's a fair comparison. We actually integrate deeply with Slack, but the key differences between Mattermost and Slack really are deployment options and source code access. For developer teams that are typically heavily invested in open source to begin with, who have a ton of different integration points with their DevOps toolchain, who want to build n- number of one-off workflows based on events and triggers--there's just no substitute for source code access. On paper, we're in the class of collaboration and messaging tools.

Source code access typically is game over for the developers that are attracted to Mattermost. That's the #1 vector that we are winning deals over Slack.

But there's more to it than source code access. I would say the second greatest reason we are winning customers is that the fact that we're self-hosted--meaning, you manage your own Mattermost on your own server, be it on-premise or in the cloud--we allow you to govern that critical team messaging data. Every enterprise has invested so much in its own security, that much of the market thinks it's imprudent to have sensitive data living on third party servers, subject to the same attacks as everyone else's data, and not really owning their own data. Dev teams at security conscious enterprise want modern messaging tools like Slack, but they want it on their own terms, like the rest of their data assets--and that's what Mattermost allows.

VMblog: Tell us more about the customizations that are possible with Mattermost?  What are the types of things that you're seeing your customers do?

Ian Tien:  For starters, you can white label Mattermost and give it your own skin. Customize the front-end as much as you want, integrate with common platforms like Zoom and JIRA with a plugin architecture. Build your own features on top of Mattermost. It's like the difference between any open source versus proprietary product comparison. Unlike a one-size-fits-all messaging product, Mattermost gives you the actual platform level access that lets you turn your team messaging data into a stream that can integrate with any workflows your engineering team cares about today or plans to adopt tomorrow.

VMblog:  Tell us more about the basics of Mattermost, and what you're built with.

Ian Tien:  We run on Kubernetes and Helm Charts. It's a one-line installation on Docker. In terms of our stack, there's lots of Golang, React and React Native.

VMblog:  What led you to start the company?

Ian Tien: Our founding team was building a gaming company. We were using HipChat--and I think most of the gaming industry at that time was running HipChat. We relied on HipChat to be our developer team's hub / brain. Whether we were doing rapid response during release cycles, or reacting to some type of data or user behavior, or managing one-offs like art production, asynchronous and synchronous conversations--we were very heavy users, and we literally ran on it. But HipChat was increasingly neglected by Atlassian and key features were missing. It was really frustrating for us. We wanted to leave but they wouldn't let us export, and we had 26 gigabytes of data! When we stopped paying, it would paywall us off from earlier information. We felt terrible that this SaaS business had locked in our data, and we saw an opportunity to create a new messaging platform that provided all the benefits of a Slack or HipChat type of application, but let enterprises have total ownership of their data, and far greater customization opportunities based on complete source code access and open source. I guess you could say we pivoted from gaming to messaging.

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Published Tuesday, February 05, 2019 9:01 AM by David Marshall
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