Fun Fact: Flickr and Slack Started as “A Game that Never Ends”

by Kaden Ng

Stewart Butterfield is the founder of two widely successful startups – Flickr, sold to Yahoo for reportedly $35 million, and Slack, one of the most popular communication tools among the startup community. However, Stewart did not start with these lucrative ideas. In fact, these successes came into being from the failure of his initial gaming concept.

First Failure: After studying philosophy in Cambridge, Stewart Butterfield’s dream was to create a gaming world where people played not for winning, but for the sake of interacting with people. He and his team started building an MMO game – Game Neverending, and released a prototype on 2002. It was a very complicated online game. As Butterfield admits, the concept was too weird and unfamiliar to people. The Game Neverending project was unable to raise money and was forced to shut down.

Pivot into Flickr: Things took a serendipitous turn when Butterfield noticed that the photo-sharing feature of the game was surprisingly well-received. In 2004, he decided to take a pivot and launched Flickr – an online photo management and sharing application. It was acquired by Yahoo one year later.

Second Attempt: Despite his initial failure, Butterfield’s dream to build the Game Neverending lingered. With his success with Flickr, Butterfield raised over $17 million to build Glitch – Game Neverending 2.0 with major improvements in user experience and technology. But again, some of its features were simply too strange. The company ran out of cash, and the game was shut down again.

Pivot into Slack: Then (again!) Butterfield and his team turned a byproduct of the game into something successful. During development, the Glitch team built an internal chat system, finding existing options unsatisfactory. Despite the already-crowded space in enterprise communication, Butterfield believed that his team has something unique to offer to the market. This marked their pivot into Slack. Slack’s latest valuation is at 3.8 billion.

Butterfield has huge ambitions for his game, but his concept simply does not fit the product market and is not something people want. In Butterfield’s comebacks, he noticed gaps in the market. Pivoting when a need is discovered became
crucial to his success; his adaptability is a skill we should learn. Do not cling to an idea that will bring you nowhere.

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