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The Saga of Slack vs. Slack

The Saga of Slack vs. Slack

Slack and Company | June 29, 2017

How a website devoted to cat pictures became a domain battle between Slack and Slack.

I remember the time, circa 1988, when a young staffer returned to our 15th floor offices raving about a new coffee shop in the concourse below that served really strong and bitter coffee and was called Starbucks.

This was Starbucks' first store in Chicago, which was its first major market entry after Seattle, and little did we know we were in the very early days of what soon would become a worldwide juggernaut.

Well, I've had a similar deja vu about Slack, the cloud-based collaboration platform that, in just three years, has become a bit of a juggernaut of its own.

You see, back in 2013, a few months before Slack launched, I received a call from a senior exec with Tiny Speck, Slack’s predecessor firm, asking me to sign a document saying I would not sue them for using the name Slack Inc.

In this call, I also learned, much to my chagrin, they’d landed the slack.com domain.

How'd you do that, I asked, as I'd been trying to buy it for years—from, believe it or not, a guy who used it, God knows why, for a rather extensive collection of cat pictures.

He and I had been in a tug of war for years, him considering and then rejecting an offer of $10,000 several times. I even offered to donate the resources of our agency to find him a new domain name and build him a new site—plus paying him $10,000.

Who else was he going to sell it to, I often thought? A pants manufacturer? They'd probably want slacks.com, though.

So Slack and its now billionaire-on-paper CEO Stewart Butterfield finally got it, the exec told me, for $50,000. (Guys, you probably could have had it for $25,000!)

Back to the legal document. I told the Tiny Speck exec I'd sign it, which I later did, on one condition: that if their business failed (what did I know at the time about their future?), the slack.com domain would revert to me and my firm.

Being the self-promoter that people in our business need to be, I also suggested but didn’t insist on another condition: that they consider hiring Slack and Company to help them with their B2B marketing. Yep, what nerve!

In making this request, the stars seemed so aligned. We'd helped eBay launch eBay Business, helped PayPal launch PayPal for Business, worked on projects for LinkedIn and Intuit—all well-regarded Silicon Valley companies. Why not Slack, I remember thinking. It made sense (to me), and it could be sort of cool for both of us.

No dice. Never heard from him again.

A few months later, I was telling the story to Gary Briggs, who'd hired us when he was VP of Marketing at eBay and who is now CMO at Facebook. He thought it was a great idea and that he'd suggest it to people he knew at Slack, even Butterfield.

Alas, nothing came of that, either, although I must confess my own firm didn't follow our instincts, as we should have, and put a full-court press on Slack.

But there's still a bit more to the Slack-Slack saga.

Since they launched, I have received several very obsequious letters and emails from job seekers and investors confusing me with Slack founder Butterfield.

If I ever needed to remind myself or others how CEO egos get so easily stroked and stoked, not that Butterfield's is, these letters would be Exhibit A!

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