April Underwood, MBA 07

Platforms for Creativity

Tech expert expresses herself on both sides of the business equation

April Underwood, MBA 07

Head of Platform, Slack
San Francisco

April Underwood likes to solve big problems. And that’s a good thing, because her latest gig as head of platform at Slack offers plenty of opportunity to puzzle out new ways for work teams to communicate.

Slack’s product is a workplace collaboration platform that allows people to navigate their myriad online applications—like Dropbox, GitHub, MailChimp, Twitter, and Zendesk, to name a few—from one centralized location, on any device. Launched in 2013 by Flickr founder Stewart Butterfield, the company now has more than a million daily active users.

“I express my creativity in how I tackle problems,” Underwood says. “And connecting people in the workplace across a range of applications is a serious challenge. It’s exciting to work on something that’s a real solution.” No one wants to waste precious time trolling through a dozen tools just to find a particular conversation or piece of information, Underwood says. Slack helps organize all those elements and make them searchable—for example, by tracking all the tweets that reference a certain product.

She may work at Slack, but Underwood is no slacker when it comes to tech experience. For five years, she served as director of product at Twitter, during which time she built advertising and developer products and partnership programs from scratch. Before that, she was senior partner technology manager at Google in charge of content acquisition for the company’s maps, news, finance, and blogger features, among others. Prior to Google, she was a product manager and software engineer at Travelocity.

Of course, her Berkeley MBA has also contributed to her success. One of Underwood’s favorite Haas courses, taught by Adjunct Professor Andrew Isaacs, dealt with recognizing opportunities for entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley. “In that class I learned how to identify needs in the market and develop a strategy to meet them,” she says. “Now, looking for that kind of opportunity is second nature for me.”

Case in point: In March, Underwood and five of her former Twitter colleagues launched #Angels, an all-female team of investors that identifies worthy startups. #Angels is not a fund, Underwood says—the group’s members will make individual investments, and all six women may not necessarily support the same firms. In April the group announced its first “winner”: Color Genomics of Burlingame, Calif., which makes affordable genetic testing kits for breast and ovarian cancer.

“Each of us had been interested in angel investing on our own,” she says. “But we wanted to make use of each other’s expertise, because we felt that we had more to offer as a team than individually.”

Her work at Slack and her participation in #Angels gives Underwood a way to help solve big problems on both sides of the business equation.

“At Slack, I get to build a product that reaches more than a million users, and at #Angels, I can support the development of new products and ideas in other arenas,” she says. “As a combination, it’s a great way to practice creativity.” —Kate Madden Yee

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As head of platform at Slack, April Underwood, MBA 07, puzzles out new ways for work teams to communicate. In March, she and former Twitter colleagues launched #Angels, an all-female team of investors who support worthy startups.