How Slack was the equivalent of Biological Waste
This title might have confused you.
But it’s true.
So let me demystify what I mean by “Slack was the equivalent of biological waste” and explain why you should care.
I want you to keep this diagram in mind - yes, I’m aware that you probably don’t want a lesson in Biology in your free time - but I promise, it’ll all make sense in about 2 minutes.
That’s a diagram of a portion of photosynthesis - the process by which plants (and other organisms) essentially use carbon-dioxide and water to synthesize food. Potentially the most important part of photosynthesis - plants also release oxygen as a by-product.
As humans, we obviously love oxygen - it’s critical to survival.
But what’s curious about this entire scenario is that oxygen is created as a biological waste, not as a primary product.
A.k.a - oxygen is not the intended product to be created, but is so incredibly powerful and necessary.
Maybe you can see where I’m heading with this now - so I’ll repeat myself, Slack was the equivalent of biological waste.
Stewart Butterfield, founder and CEO of Slack, has made one of the most successful biological waste products of the 21st century. With almost 10 million weekly users, and over 2 million paid users, Slack has a valuation of over $5 Billion.
Let’s add some further reactions to the Slack story.
So, Steward and his team of 45 - some were engineers, some marketers, some were business heads, some were local, many worked remotely - were all building a game called Glitch.
The goal of a Glitch… didn’t really exist - users could mine resources, build stuff with those resources, and interact with each other.
The game failed.
As the world moved away from the slower and often scam-ridden Adobe flash, Glitch was dependent on it. The over $17M in funding for the game seemed to be a lost cause for investors.
The team sat back and sifted through the rubble of what remained - a fun game with no profitable future, an intelligent team, and an internal communication system that they had built over the 3 years to talk to the entire 45 person team.
Aka - they had unintentionally managed to create some oxygen while prioritizing the creation of sugars/food.
And so where Glitch ended, Slack began.
The realization was that Glitch would not have been possible to create without their internal communication system, and some of the beautiful parts of Glitch were making messaging, reminding, and chatting seamless and smooth.
So the transportation of features from Glitch to Slack began - the “familiar” in the game (a non-playing guide that offers advice on what to do next, teaches you the controls, and acts as a kind helper) translated into Slackbot (a non-playing guide that offers advice on what to do next, teaches you the controls, and acts as a kind helper).
Butterfield was really annoyed that he didn’t have a place to store notes, reminders, and personal messages meant for his own keeping - so he added a feature to their old messaging system. This, as you might’ve seen, also made its way to Slack.
Today, Slack has transformed the way we talk to each other (yes I know this sounds very technology and very 2018 and very millennial, but it’s true).
The forced formality of emails has partially been alleviated by Slack, and ~10M happy users keep waiting for the next Glitch feature to be translated over.
So yes, the initial idea was a failure, but the creativity and hard-work of the team behind it never died down. Instead the energy was just fueled into a different avenue.
Don’t get me wrong, luck was involved. Luck is always involved in building something this big. But that’s not the takeaway.
The takeaway is this - Failure is inevitable, but learning and pivoting is optional. What are you going to do when failure hits?