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Valley Voice meets Stewart Butterfield

Why the Slack-Founder loves to fly

VonBritta Weddeling

As a matter of fact, most people in Silicon Valley are always online. Stewart Butterfield, CEO of the rising tech star Slack and founder of Flickr, however sometimes prefer to be out of reach.

Britta Weddeling, Korrespondentin des Handelsblatts im Silicon Valley, berichtet über neue Trends und den digitalen Zeitgeist im Tal der Nerds.

Die Stimme aus dem Valley

Britta Weddeling, Korrespondentin des Handelsblatts im Silicon Valley, berichtet über neue Trends und den digitalen Zeitgeist im Tal der Nerds.

Yesterday I sat down with an entrepreneur who was different from the nervous chatty twenty/thirty-somethings I usually speak with. As a matter of fact most people in Silicon Valley can’t stand a minute without looking at their phones. Everybody always has the small device by hand – as if the screen could warm up fingers.

I met rising star Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, in his office. He built a collaboration platform to make worklife easier by killing e-mails. It’s a great idea. When I get up at 5.30 in the morning (don’t ask, but it’s because of the time-shift to Germany), I often wish I had this ability. Butterfield’s company recently raised 120 million dollars in venture capital. Now it has a one billion-dollar valuation and a spacious office in Soma.

Butterfield came from Canada. That must be the reason we understood each other so well. Eastwest-Westphalia – yes that is a real place – where I grew up, is the Canada of Germany. That is to say, it’s always rainy or cold or both. People don’t talk much. Every Eastwest-Westphalian is an island.

Kurz und schmerzhaft: alle Kolumnen


Before Slack, Butterfield started the photo-plattform Flickr, amongst other things. He later sold Flickr to Yahoo, where it was perceived by many to stagnate. I asked him how much he hates Yahoo. “I don’t hate it. Sometimes people made the wrong decisions." I then wanted to know where Slack’s growth came from. The company adds 3 to 5 percent new active users a week. He said: “I have no fucking idea.”

He has said this before. Of course he knows. But I liked the way he expressed it anyway. It was like the fist bump he gave me instead of a handshake when we were introduced. We talked about Bill Gates, who some say Butterfield is a younger version of. He avoided the comparison and just said: “Satya Nadella has made good decisions for the company.”

Butterfield also said that he would never sell Slack, unlike Flickr. But you
can’t never really trust CEOs when they say this. When I interviewed Jan Kuom from WhatsApp 2014 he swore he would never sell. Two weeks later their acquisition by Facebook became public.

Towards the end of my interview at Slack something interesting happened. We discussed the way the platform is changing communication. I said, we all are on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp or WhatEver. We do e-mail, chat and messages. Since Slack tries to unite different channels it could not only save us time but change the way we deal with sensory and information overload.

“We are all online permanently”, Butterfield agreed. “I think it will take a while until we have learned how to deal with all this new ways to communicate.” He leaned back in his chair. Butterfield likes thinking about the consequences of the technology he invents. Before he started in business, he studied philosophy and he loves Jazz.

“I’m happy when I’m offline, on a boat far from shore or on a plane where there is no Wifi.” It was at that moment I realized that Butterfield, the Silicon Valley rising star, is a fan of airplane mode.

Es gibt auch eine deutsche Version dieser Kolumne.

Immer Dienstags schreibt Britta Weddeling, Korrespondentin für die Themen Internet und Netzwirtschaft des Handelsblatts im Silicon Valley, über die neusten Trends und kleinen Kuriositäten im Tal der Nerds.

Die wichtigsten Neuigkeiten jeden Morgen in Ihrem Posteingang.

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