Pondering Slack’s future, via Slack
Excerpts from an interview in Slack with SLACK CEO STEWART BUTTERFIELD
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
TT Congrats on Australia
4:31 PM and funding and generally being a very successful person!
SB Well, that is very kind.
TT Are there particularly
4:49 PM exciting uses you see people finding for Slack?
And: Do you care about having 4:49 a legacy through that?
SB I think the examples I like
4:50 PM 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.
And the vain part of me would 4:50 like to have a legacy of some kind. … I think most people want to make some kind of dent in the universe.
Do you think group chat as a 4:53 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.
SBOh, yeah—that was 4:53 PM preposterous.
It’s content marketing! 4:53
He is a very smart guy, but 4:54 either he’s missing something there or he’s just talking up his book [ Remote: Office Not Required].
E- mail is also an all- day 4:54 meeting with random participants and no agenda.
Except you happen to open 4:55 them all individually, and there’s a lot more overhead.
Most physical workspaces 4:55 are all-day meetings with random participants and no agenda.
TT E- mail is batched at least,
4:55 PM offices … maybe offices just have norms people are more accustomed to?
SB But his ideal world there is
4:56 PM 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.
In the real world, people 4:56 have to talk to each other to get work done.
TT What might Slack be or
5:00 PM mean to people in 5 or 10 years? Is it group chat or something more?
SB Well, we have never said
5:01 PM “chat,” and we never would.
That trivializes what people 5:02 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.
In our Slack instance 5:02 (430 employees and a couple hundred active guest accounts) we do about 35k messages a day from humans.
But there are another 5:03 150k-200k messages each day from machines.
SB So in 5 to 10 years, we’ll
5:04 PM see more and more of that. It becomes “an operating system for your team” … except now it’s much more literal.
TT There’s this eerie 4:37 PM 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 Well, neither of them were
4:38 PM actually parts of the game.
In the case of Flickr, that’s a 4:38 story that was published at the time and which we tried to get corrected, but … ¯\ _( )_/ ¯
TT I stand corrected!!
SB Flickr was in fact something
4:39 PM 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.
And Slack was just a built4:39 from- scratch version of the jury- rigged and hacked-together system for internal communication we built while working on Glitch.
So the common thing in both 4:40 cases was a desperate attempt to find something to salvage from a bunch of wasted work.
Reminds me of a point that 4:42 Dan Savage is fond of making, with respect to romantic relationships:
“We think that the only ‘suc4:43 cessful’ relationship is one that ends in the death of one of the partners. Anything that ends before one party dies is a failure.”
TT Right, but there can never
4:43 PM be a true game never ending.
SB But there can be successful
4:44 PM relationships that conclude before either party dies. And it is much more healthy to think that.
TT One of my questions is,
4:51 PM “Are you happy?”
SB I asked around in the room
4:52 PM here, and the consensus is, “I guess you’re happy … fundamentally.”
But they see me being 4:52 angry sometimes.
I do think I am happier than 4:52 most people.
Or, more contented? 4:52 More at peace?