5 Important Lessons From Slack’s Stewart Butterfield

This week, New Relic sponsored PandoDaily’s PandoMonthly event, which featured a Q&A with Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of Flickr and now the main man behind the hot project management tool Slack.

Stewart was understated and humble, downplaying his success in selling Flickr for $25 million in 2005 and noting his stumble with Glitch, a World War II strategy game. But he was smart enough to know when to fold ’em and rebuild the team to focus on fixing internal communications with Slack, which has quickly become the fastest growing workplace software ever.


Much has been written about Stewart, including how he came up with the idea of Flickr during a bout of food poisoning puking across the country on a flight to New York City. And that he originally wanted to become a philosophy professor. And… well, you can read more about his life in this incredible Wired profile.

Interviewed on-stage by PandoDaily founder and editor-in-chief Sarah Lacy, Stewart shared some intriguing lessons learned over his extraordinary career:

Pando1Building great software is like playing great music with other musicians, or creating a great restaurant. Stewart explained that the difference between a good restaurant and a great restaurant lies in the details. A great restaurant is one where the servers look out for each other, great care is taken with little things like the plating and the ambiance. It’s a place where every person on the team puts their heart into everything… no one phones it in. Similarly, building great software is highly collaborative, and every detail matters.

Entrepreneurs need to keep it simple. If what you’re doing is too difficult to explain to someone and enable them to explain it to others—it’s not worth doing. Simplicity of concept and how easy it is for people to get it.

Sometimes it’s easier to describe yourself by saying what you’re not. Workers at Slack are forbidden from using the word “collaboration” due to a long legacy of unfulfilled promises in the category going all the way back to Lotus Notes. The team is also forbidden from using the word “chat.”

He has no “f—king” idea why Slack is taking off. But he also explained some of the external factors working in his favor: cheaper hardware, better open source software, a huge pool of experienced engineers building Internet-scale apps, ten times more people online, the rise of mobile devices, and so on. The new reality is that our relationship with technology has changed and we take for granted that we can immediately connect to any other person online.

Marketing is largely misunderstood by Silicon Valley. Marketing consists of every touchpoint a customer has with your company, he said. The product experience, the sales experience, customer service, how fast the page downloads, how easy your app is to use, all of that is marketing and it adds up to how customers perceive your company. That is your brand.

We here at New Relic completely agree.

If you haven’t tried Slack yet, you can take a look at https://slack.com/.


Andrew Schmitt is vice president of communications and PR for New Relic. View posts by .

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