When you think of Silicon Valley heavyweights like Stewart Butterfield, who founded two of the most popular tech companies, Slack and Flickr, you probably imagine a nerdy hacker kid with glasses, hunched over a computer typing away codes – but that’s not the upbringing Butterfield received while growing up.
The millionaire tech boss actually spent most of his childhood living in a log cabin in remote Canada without electricity. So how exactly did the inspirational entrepreneur go from being homeless to climbing to the top of the tech industry? Read his story below.
Growing Up with ‘Hippie’ Parents
Stewart Butterfield is one of the most successful tech bosses in Silicon Valley who founded the famous Slack and Flickr apps. But other than having a net worth of $5 billion, what really sets Butterfield apart from the rest are his extremely humble beginnings.
During an interview with BBC, he revealed that his parents moved into a log cabin after he was born. For the first three years of living on a commune in a remote area in Canada, the family didn’t have access to electricity or running water, and Butterfield’s father eventually fled from the U.S. without his family because he didn’t want to be forced to serve in the Vietnam War.
Butterfield said that his parents were somewhat of ‘hippies’ who didn’t want to live in a house. But after moving into a log cabin, they quickly realized that the gypsy lifestyle wasn’t all that easy. After living without electricity and running water for years, the family decided that they were better off moving back to the city.
They moved to British Colombia’s capital city, Victoria, when Butterfield was only five years old. Two years later his parents bought him his first computer, which eventually paved way for a career in tech entrepreneurship.
Butterfield was interested in machines and codes from a very early age and he learned programming before he turned 10 years old. Today, 36 years later, he is a successful entrepreneur who doesn’t own one, but two businesses: his popular photo-sharing website called Flickr as well as a unique messaging platform for businesses called Slack.
His estimated fortune is almost $650 million, but despite his vast riches, the millionaire says that he still likes to live frugally, thanks to his upbringing which taught him the value of money from a very early age.
Butterfield says that if it hadn’t been for the first personal computer his parents bought for him, he would have never developed an interest in programming. He used his first machine, an Apple II to teach himself coding. At the age of 12, little Stewart was already ahead of the kids in his class. While everyone else from his school was learning math and science, Butterfield was building his first ever computer game.
But as he grew up, his interest in computers slowly died down and he ended up taking philosophy as a major is University of Victoria. He pursued the same discipline in Cambridge University for his masters, but his aspirations to become a philosophy professor came to a halt after the internet took off in the late 90’s. Anyone who had the know-how for building a website was flooding San Francisco, and programming was becoming a lucrative business.
Suddenly, Butterfield’s love for computers was rekindled and he pursued a career in web designing instead of teaching. In 2002, he created his first online game called Neverending with Caterina Fake, who would go on to become Butterfield’s future wife and co-founder of Flickr. The game failed on the market and the two founders went bust.
The idea for Flickr came during the popularity of camera phones and widespread availability of internet in people’s homes. The website, launched in 2004, became the first successful photo-sharing platform ever. The website was later sold to Yahoo for $25 million and Butterfield moved on to creating an even bigger business.
He founded Slack in 2009, a professional messaging service which has over 800 million users today, including big clients like Marks & Spencer, 21st Century Fox and Samsung. Butterfield says that luck played an important part in the success of his two businesses, and he isn’t sure if he can make the same magic happen ever again in his career.