Cloud-based workplace chat platform Slack was founded in 2013 by Stewart Butterfield, the co-founder of photo-sharing site Flickr, which he and his wife had sold to Yahoo for a reported $35 million in 2005.
But despite Butterfield’s previous tech success, Slack’s development was practically an accident.
Butterfield had founded a gaming company, called Tiny Speck, in 2009 and hired a team of developers and artists to create an online multiplayer adventure game called Glitch. Tiny Speck spent multiple years developing the game, which eventually launched online in September 2011, only to be shut down a year later due to a lack of interest from online gamers.
However, while working on Glitch, Butterfield and a group of developers actually created something different: a workplace collaboration tool that allowed them to communicate with each other even though Tiny Speck’s team of software developers and game designers were scattered across San Francisco and Vancouver. Tiny Speck’s employees had worked on the internal chat tool in their spare time while working on Glitch, constantly adding features over the course of a few years, including a mixture of public and private chat channels along with support for emojis.
Cal Henderson, a programmer on Butterfield’s team who is now a Slack co-founder and its chief technology officer, called the creation of Slack a “happy accident” in a 2016 interview with The Guardian.
“We were initially building a game called Glitch and our team was spread between San Francisco and Vancouver,” Henderson said. “We needed to communicate easily; not just programmers, but artists, animators and sound designers. We needed to collaborate and swap assets and we had to be notified when things progressed.”
After shutting down Glitch, Butterfield’s team pivoted to prepare the chat tool, which they called Slack, for a public launch. Butterfield shared the program with friends at other Silicon Valley companies, including music streaming service Rdio, which was one of the first companies to adopt Slack. Soon, Slack had taken off as a buzzy new program in the tech world and other industries. Two months after launching, the software was already in use at companies like Pandora, Rhapsody, Venmo, BuzzFeed, Medium, Business Insider, and many more, Butterfield told Pando at the time.
Slack kept growing from there, with the software boasting more than 8 million daily users as of May, including 3 million business users who pay for the company’s enterprise service. As of September 2017, 43 percent of the country’s 100 largest companies were using Slack. The company has raised over $840 million in outside funding, as of September, for a valuation of $5.1 billion.