Ex­cerpts from an in­ter­view in Slack with SLACK CEO STE­WART BUT­TER­FIELD

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - DIALOGUE -

Af­ter he sold the photo-shar­ing web­site Flickr to Ya­hoo! in 2005 and gave up on Glitch, a com­puter game, in 2012, Ste­wart But­ter­field and his com­pany launched the col­lab­o­ra­tive mes­sag­ing tool Slack. To­day, 2.7 mil­lion peo­ple use Slack daily; 800,000 of them pay for it. The com­pany has raised $540 mil­lion, most re­cently at a val­u­a­tion of $3.8 bil­lion. We joined But­ter­field for an in-Slack in­ter­view. He’d just been in Mel­bourne, where Slack opened its first of­fice Down Un­der.

Toph Tucker 4:29 PM Hi, Ste­wart!

It’s a plea­sure

Ste­wart But­ter­field 4:31 PM

G’day, mate!

TT 4:31 PM Congrats on Aus­tralia and fund­ing and gen­er­ally be­ing a very suc­cess­ful per­son!

SB 4:31 PM Well, that is very kind.

TT 4:49 PM Are there par­tic­u­larly ex­cit­ing uses you see peo­ple find­ing for Slack?

4:49 And: Do you care about hav­ing a legacy through that?

SB 4:50 PM I think the ex­am­ples I like best are the ways in which peo­ple have al­tered the ways in which they work, even slightly. For ex­am­ple, elim­i­nat­ing the daily “stand-up” meet­ing in fa­vor of a round of mes­sages in Slack.

4:50 And the vain part of me would like to have a legacy of some kind. … I think most peo­ple want to make some kind of dent in the uni­verse.

TT 4:50 PM

4:53 Do you think group chat as a mode of work­ing can ever go too far? Like, I bet you saw that Ja­son Fried post: Group chat is like be­ing in an all-day meet­ing with ran­dom par­tic­i­pants and no agenda.

SB 4:53 PM Oh, yeah—that was pre­pos­ter­ous. 4:53 It’s con­tent mar­ket­ing! 4:54 He is a very smart guy, but ei­ther he’s miss­ing some­thing there or he’s

just talk­ing up his book [ Re­mote: Of­fice

Not Re­quired].

4:54 E-mail is also an all-day meet­ing with ran­dom par­tic­i­pants and no agenda.

4:55 Ex­cept you hap­pen to open them all in­di­vid­u­ally, and there’s a lot more over­head.

4:55 Most phys­i­cal workspaces are all-day meet­ings with ran­dom par­tic­i­pants and no agenda.

TT 4:55 PM E-mail is batched at least, of­fices … maybe of­fices just have norms peo­ple are more ac­cus­tomed to?

SB 4:56 PM But his ideal world there is some pla­tonic ideal—Ni­et­zschean über­men­schen who just sit around think­ing ge­nius thoughts all day and don’t have any busi­ness talk­ing to other peo­ple. De­sign­ers? I don’t know.

4:56 In the real world, peo­ple have to talk to each other to get work done.

TT 5:00 PM What might Slack be or mean to peo­ple in 5 or 10 years? Is it group chat or some­thing more?

SB 5:01 PM Well, we have never said “chat,” and we never would.

5:02 That triv­i­al­izes what peo­ple ac­tu­ally do. Work­place com­mu­ni­ca­tion is im­por­tant to its par­tic­i­pants. But it al­ready isn’t just peo­ple talk­ing to one another. It’s also gi­ant flows of data and in­for­ma­tion and a win­dow into the work­flows and busi­ness pro­cesses around the com­pany.

5:02 In our Slack in­stance (430 em­ploy­ees and a cou­ple hun­dred ac­tive guest ac­counts) we do about 35k mes­sages a day from hu­mans.

5:03 But there are another 150k-200k mes­sages each day from ma­chines.

TT 5:03 PM Wow.

SB 5:04 PM So in 5 to 10 years, we’ll see more and more of that. It be­comes “an op­er­at­ing sys­tem for your team” … ex­cept now it’s much more lit­eral.

TT 4:37 PM There’s this eerie re­cur­rence in your ca­reer of build­ing a mi­cro­cosm, build­ing a tool within that game world, and then spin­ning the tool out.

4:37 Is that, like, how you think?

SB 4:38 PM Well, nei­ther of them were ac­tu­ally parts of the game.

4:38 In the case of Flickr, that’s a story that was pub­lished at the time and which we tried to get cor­rected, but … ¯\_( )_/¯

TT 4:38 PM I stand cor­rected!!

SB 4:39 PM Flickr was in fact some­thing we came up with that we could build tak­ing ad­van­tage of tech­ni­cal in­fra­struc­ture we’d al­ready cre­ated, but which we could fin­ish (and bring to mar­ket) sooner.

4:39 And Slack was just a built­from-scratch ver­sion of the jury-rigged and hacked-to­gether sys­tem for in­ter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tion we built while work­ing on Glitch.

4:40 So the com­mon thing in both cases was a des­per­ate at­tempt to find some­thing to sal­vage from a bunch of wasted work.

4:42 Re­minds me of a point that Dan Sav­age is fond of mak­ing, with re­spect to ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships:

4:43 “We think that the only ‘suc­cess­ful’ re­la­tion­ship is one that ends in the death of one of the part­ners. Any­thing that ends be­fore one party dies is a fail­ure.”

TT 4:43 PM Right, but there can never be a true game never end­ing.

SB 4:44 PM But there can be suc­cess­ful re­la­tion­ships that con­clude be­fore ei­ther party dies. And it is much more healthy to think that.

TT 4:51 PM One of my ques­tions is, “Are you happy?”

SB 4:52 PM I asked around in the room here, and the con­sen­sus is, “I guess you’re happy … fun­da­men­tally.”

4:52 But they see me be­ing an­gry some­times.

4:52 I do think I am hap­pier than most peo­ple.

4:52 Or, more con­tented? More at peace?

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