Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield on stage at INBOUND 2017
Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield admitted email's usefulness from the stage at HubSpot's INBOUND 2017, but his praise had its limits PHOTO: Dom Nicastro

BOSTON — Gotcha.

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield admitted email is "very useful." 

Butterfield spoke yesterday to some of the 21,000 attendees attending the HubSpot Inbound annual marketing conference at the Boston Exhibition and Convention Center.

Email Love from Slack?

What makes such an innocuous statement so interesting? Butterfield is the chief executive of an enterprise collaboration platform which only two weeks ago released a tool so people can "say goodbye to email for work" now giving some love to the electronic mail ecosystem. 

That happens as often as visitors of this New England waterfront gem tout the easy-to-navigate streets and courtesy of native drivers.

But it happened. 

"Email will probably be with the human species for another 30 to 40,000 years or something like that," Butterfield said. "It's hard to imagine how it goes away because it's now fulfilling many roles for us. It's a centralized system for resetting all of our passwords. It's where all of your receipts or transactions go. It's a way for anyone in the world to send anyone else a message. It's very useful."

Before email zealots have a party in the inbox, Butterfield did leave space for some criticism:

"It's incredibly overloaded," Slack's CEO said, "and difficult to use it in a concentrated way."

And like that, we're back to normal.

Challenges of Slack Growth

Email's one of the many things Slack's chief executive dished on yesterday from the stage.

Butterfield also discussed the company's massive growth since its launch in 2013. At one point, he said, 75 percent of the company's now 900 employee-strong workforce was composed of employees who had been there less than one year.

"Holy smokes is that hard," Butterfield said. "Every time we figured out how to do something it would be obsoleted almost instantaneously."

A group of eight people that found a rhythm, synced project management workflows and established priorities suddenly grew to 40 people. And had to change. Fast.

Teams would "split apart and hire new managers," which, Butterfield said, "proved to be incredibly challenging."

Acquisition in Slack's Future?

Headshot of Rachel Sorkin
Rachel Sorkin

What's in store next for Slack? Butterfield did not rule out an acquisition. But, he quickly countered, it's not the company's vision. 

He added, "we should be the giant company that acquires other companies."

"I can’t definitely say we'll never be acquired," Butterfield said, "but it's definitely not the plan."

For now, the focus is on providing customer value, something that resonated with at least one attendee of Butterfield's talk.

"Putting the customer first and being customer centric," Dorchester, Mass.-based Rachel Sorkin said when asked her takeaway from Butterfield. Sorkin is a senior designer for SapientNitro.

"And I think that shows in their product," she added. "Being able to make channels for every project is a nice way to organize and filter through all the clutter and messages. It helps organize that workflow."