Live From The HIBT Summit: Stewart Butterfield



Hey everyone so today. We've got another one of my conversations from the how I built this summit. That happened in San Francisco last October. And you don't in the world of startups. Most difficult moves to pull off is a pivot to maneuver out of your first idea into something that might have more potential and Stewart Butterfield. He pulled this off not once but twice about seventy years ago. Out of the ashes of failed video game. Stewart launched slack an office collaboration tool that now has twelve million daily users but before slack back in two thousand four Stewart was struggling to get traction Shen with another video game called game never ending. He wound up shedding that one down too but out of that failure he was able to launch a photo sharing site called liquor which he sold just a year later for around twenty million dollars so when I sat down with Stewart onstage. I asked him about both of those pivots. Starting starting with the first one from game. Never ending to flicker there was a point and you talked about this in the podcast where you had to decide whether to drop all this work on this computer game like more than a year. I think two years of work on this game and pivot to the photo sharing site and there was a debate in internal debate. I wonder how did you know that that was the right thing to do. Because our instinct would tell us to push forward Gordon to keep going right like. That's what we think we're supposed to do to just carry on and March forward. Yeah there's a lot of advice that's just persevere grit grit resilience gotta keep going in the face of adversity over and over but there is definitely a point where you either you know. It can't work or kind of like the reverse verse manifesting of I don't believe anymore this could work. which makes it very unlikely? If if the person leading the project doesn't believe it can work. It's it will be a weird fluke for it actually to work out but we were just out of money and it would have been much more difficult complex project. Complete Games would have taken us a minimum of another year but probably realistic closer to two more years. And we didn't have that kind of time. Whereas flicker we figured we can get version of this out in A couple of months and it actually was. I don't remember the exact dates anymore but some time in December two thousand and two that we decided to do it and early February two thousand three launched. So you guys ended up selling flicker to Yahoo and you described yourself as briefly Internet famous. You you actually were on the cover of Newsweek magazine with with some of the people at one point which. I'm assuming Gotcha some attention to allow you to kind of think about the next project kicked you decide to go back and start another company. That was going to be a computer game called glitch. What was driving you then I I mean did you think okay? Now I've failed failed the first time now. I know how to do it right. We can talk about the reasons that we used to convince ourselves that it would work this time. There was actually a lot of realistic realistic stuff. There the cost of hardware so servers in the background had fallen by at least ninety percent and bunch of things change by a factor of ten the number of people online line change by a factor of ten the availability of great open source software tools but stepping back when I got in line in Nineteen Ninety two and I grew up in Victoria British Columbia. which is a pretty small town actually provincial? It's on the edge of the continent and then it's on an island so it feels very remote and cut off from the rest of the world world to kind of an an observer and when I got to college I got an account on the school's unique machine and that meant I had access to the Internet and this is maybe six or nine months before the web really started to take off so the Internet at that time was a thing called newsgroup which is hierarchical directory of kind. Hi discussion boards for more or less everything in the world's hugely popular in the scientific community and academic communities but also recreational in fact kind of mind blowing looming but wreck dot music dot g dead. The grateful dead Newsgroup was the most popular thing on the entire Internet is like in terms of traffic it was the net flicks of its day. Just like the text postings going back and forth and I just really remember that as being one of the most revelatory mind-blowing experiences in my life that even though we were on the edge of the world at felt like and kind of really outside of everything that was really happening. I can connect anyone and that kind of the possibilities for computer technology to facilitate human interaction to me are endlessly fascinating and I think when we you look back. Tens of thousands of years to this time it will seem as significant as the development of written language because it just allows this accretive knowledge allows allows the accessibility allows US instant communication coordination between people. And we're still like one percent of the way into exploring the possibilities. So I mean with with glitch right. This is a beautiful game. Raise money around it. You had great developers. You convince people to move across the country work on this what happened. It just didn't so in this case we had the money in fact acme of money leftover when we decided to shut it down but it was apparent that it wouldn't work and I think this is a if there's one thing that's an actual like practical lesson for entrepreneurs in in all of this history besides the sometimes pivots work it's It's hard if it's really really hard to explain your at an enormous disadvantage wjr. And so what does the way games are marketed. Generally as there's kind of two by two Matrix and in one access it's the kind of veneer. Looks like the World War. Two or post apocalyptic sci fi or it looks like Bennigan's and dragons or it looks like Pika chew or something like that like cutesy cartoon. There's that the flavor of it and then there's the the the mechanics of the game first person shooter real time strategy and puzzle games and stuff like that and games are marketed is. It's like their position on this grid so it's a World War Two first person shooter. Game an instantly people can see like at least I understand what that is and maybe I'm interested in. Maybe I'm not. We tried to sell the world a massively multiplayer game with no combat cooperative. It was kind of Monty Python meets Dr Dr seuss surreal absurd literally. This is the game with you. Would milk butterflies collect milk. You would squeeze eggs. Squeezed chickens to get eggs anyway was very How did you raise? Money are around that I think the fact that we had been successful before but is also right at this interesting juncture where it was around round the year that android came out around the year that iphones actually started to take off and suddenly. There's this massive shift in people's discretionary Internet time from desktop and laptop stopping heaters to mobile's we had made a bat on Flash AS TECHNOLOGY FOR DELIVERING The game which wasn't going to work on mobile's and in the end that that really was the nail in the coffin. If it hadn't been for that I think it would have been worth trying a little bit more but I was committed in everyday came in with optimism and that was sure that this next thing that we were going to try it was going to work and then we did it and it didn't work but by the end I think the kind of technological dead end we had find or sounds going down the fact that it was desktop only a world that was going increasingly mobile the fact that it was already so hard to explain made it really tough. Despite the fact that there it was a super committed very enthusiastic audience I just lost faith and I realized then like once I had done that it was now.

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