Seven Interesting Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Canadian Entrepreneur Stewart Butterfield

Here’s something you likely know about one Stewart Butterfield: the Vancouver entrepreneur’s latest venture, Slack, is worth more than a billion dollars—and it’s less than a year old.

But there’s a lot more to Butterfield’s story than just that. Below are seven pieces of trivia you may not know about the fascinating Butterfield, who’s currently in the running for Entrepreneur of the Year in the Canadian Startup Awards.

1. His birthname was Dharma. Raised by hippie parents, Butterfield changed his name after moving from a remote northern BC community to the coastal city he today calls home.

2. Flickr was born out of a game. Butterfield’s first company, Ludicorp, was created in 2002 to build a game. Called Game Neverending, the game had failed to gain meaningful traction by 2004. But the game’s embedded photo-uploading tool was extremely popular among players. As the game itself crumbled around Butterfield, Flickr rose from the ashes; just one year later, the platform was sold to Yahoo for well over $20 million.

4. His resignation letter to Yahoo was inspired by The Onion. Once Butterfield realized he could not help Yahoo any further after it had acquired Flickr, he left the company in 2008. But not without penning a quirky, memorable resignation letter that described tin as “the most useful of metals” and Yahoo as a firm involved in “grain processing, lighting, and salty snacks.” Many searched for a deeper meaning, but Butterfield’s explanation is much simpler: he’s an avid reader of satirical news site The Onion.

3. Slack was also born out of a game. The Canadian serial entrepreneur really wants to make a successful game but, as good as he is at many things, this does not appear to be one of them. Starting in 2009, Butterfield’s new venture, Tiny Speck, began work on a new game, Glitch. By 2013, it was obvious the game was doomed to the same fate as Neverending. But an internal communications tool developed to connect Speck’s Canadian and US offices had proved invaluable, which sparked the birth of Slack.

5. He gave his daughter a unique name. Having been christened “Dharma” and later changing his own name to something significantly more conventional, Butterfield could fairly be expected to dislike odd or unique baby names. Yet when Caterina Fake (from whom he later separated) gave birth to his daughter in 2007, the couple named her Sonnet Beatrice. Now age eight, it remains to be seen whether she will follow in her father’s footsteps and change her name.

6. He was recently dubbed a “billionaire-to-be” by Canadian Business following Slack’s colossal $120-million venture capital round. Currently Butterfield’s net worth is pegged at $650 million—a big leap from the man who sold Flickr to Yahoo for $22 million less than a decade ago.

7. He isn’t even remotely satisfied with his company’s own product. Famously perfecting, Butterfield has described Slack as a “giant piece of shit.” He agrees, obviously, that his tool is vastly superior to, say, email, but acknowledges his team has “a long way to go” before he can be truly proud of what he has created.

Photo: Kris Krug