Finding Value in Slack Resources

Most people have a love / hate relationship with email. While convenient it can also quickly become overwhelming. It’s been a hallmark of the digital age. And it’s also ripe for innovation. Now there’s Slack. Slack is a communication tool that’s aiming to address the annoyances of email while maintaining its benefits. And it has over 2.5 million people on board as active users.

Stewart Butterfield, the CEO of Slack, saw the time was right for upending traditional email. An MBA, he researched the industry, talked with potential users, got their feedback, and built a business plan to revolutionize the way email is used. After convincing a wealthy investor to fund his new platform, he rolled it out to great fanfare with a huge marketing budget and nationwide launch.

Or did he? Here’s the real creation story for Slack….

Stewart Butterfield, a college graduate with a degree in Philosophy, was very interested in the study of the mind and how people think. He gathered some friends of his and set out to build a new online-video game called “Game Neverending”, a massive multiplayer roleplaying game. Along the way, they built a photo sharing platform which they used among themselves. After a few years, it was clear that the video game was going nowhere, but Stewart was able to extract the photo sharing platform and build it into Flickr.

His interest in online gaming persisted and he gathered a group together a few years later to collaborate on the production of a new game idea called “Glitch”. To facilitate communications between the team members and organize the project, they built a custom communication tool. Glitch also failed. But that communication tool that the team was using was again extracted. It was the origins for Slack.

In “The Slack Generation”, an article that appeared in the May 14th edition of The Economist (, they claim that Mr. Butterfield is “wonderfully unlucky”. I claim that he is Effectual.

Mr. Butterfield experienced two big failures in his quest to create new online games. But each time, he was able to turn the failure into something positive. This is part of the effectual mindset that converts failures into opportunities (the Lemonade Principle of Effectuation). He took remnants of his failed projects and turned them into valuable assets. In fact, he made $35 million on his first failure when Yahoo purchased Flickr in 2005.

The future of Slack remains to be seen. There’s a lot of speculation as to whether it will be acquired or go public. But my guess is that Mr. Butterfield isn’t one of those who are speculating. Instead, he’s effectuating his path to innovation success.  

--Written by Sara Whiffen, Founder & Managing Partner, Insights Ignited LLC