Speaking onstage at the Code conference, Stewart Butterfield, CEO of work collaboration startup Slack which launched two years ago, fielded a question about his company being a prime acquisition target at a time when valuations are high. Slack’s most recent funding valued it at $2.8 billion.
“I’ve already been through an acquisition; that was great,” Butterfield said, referring to the Flickr acquisition by Yahoo. “I learned a lot.”
“That’s like when you put your hand on the stove and get burned, and then you say ‘I learned a lot,'” moderator Kara Swisher rejoined. “Yeah,” Butterfield said.
But then he got serious: “We’re doing well. We have $300 million in the bank and we’ve been growing 5 percent a week for 70 straight weeks. Ninety-eight percent of people who have ever paid for Slack are still paying for it. We’ll never have an opportunity like this again.”
When asked how many people had tried to pick up Slack (#pun), he said, “No one ever says I’d like to acquire you period. They say, ‘Hey let’s catch up,’ not ‘Here’s $50 billion.'”
Swisher, whose company just recently got acquired, then joked that Stewart should take the $50 billion offer, to which Butterfield implied that he wanted to stay independent. “I’m going to make more money than I need in any outcome at this point.” He did concede that a meatier valuation would mean a lot to employees who had joined the company a couple of days ago with smaller equity stakes.
Stewart then said he had entertained 8 or 10 offers from other companies. He did not name which ones, but I can take a completely uninformed guess: Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle, Google, Facebook.
Stripe co-founder Patrick Collison, who sat on the panel with Houzz founder Adi Tatarko and Butterfield, brought up Salesforce’s rejection of a $55 billion offer from Microsoft. “I don’t think he should take a $50 billion offer,” Collison said. Silicon Valley is littered with anecdotes that support this point of view: Microsoft once offered Facebook $15 billion for an acquisition and, as Swisher brought up, Ted Leonsis once offered the founders of Google $1 million each for the company.
Butterfield, too, is very clearly playing the long game with Slack: “Five or ten years from now, I want people to talk about our employees like, ‘Ooh they worked at Slack.'”