This Entrepreneur From Denmark Brought His Company Stateside To ‘The Most Fantastic Place In The World To Build Technology’

mikkel svane

[credit provider=”Zendesk”]

Meet Mikkel Svane, one of three co-founders of customer service ticket processing app Zendesk.Not really sexy, right? Well, not so fast — Zendesk is growing by leaps and bounds and its service processes more than 100 million help tickets. It’s built on iPads, iPhones and just about every other mobile device.

And these apps are definitely sexy. Zendesk is one of a big batch of “Enterprise 2.0” startups that are taking the lessons learned from Facebook and other social networking service and applying them to the enterprise.

Here’s how it works: Zendesk licenses out its software to companies that then build customer support applications. Whenever someone tweets, or posts a Facebook message or directly contacts the company, it opens a ticket that you access through the Zendesk application. It’s the customer service app of the future.

We spoke with Svane about his red-hot enterprise startup, and here’s what we learned:

  • Starting the company was a series of coincidences. Svane and his co-founders decided it was a space that was under-covered and went after it.
  • He’s happy to be in Silicon Valley. “I know California pretty well now, it’s just the most fantastic place in the world to build a technology business. We wouldn’t have been able to scale at the level we’ve been able to scale anywhere else in the world. It’s also been very rewarding, being in a place where you are the centre of the universe.”
  • Zendesk handles more than 100 million personal service requests each year. It’s the back-end for a lot of those customer service forms and Tweets you see on a daily basis.
  • They’re developing an app for every platform because it’s easy. The Windows Phone app is the newest entry — which is doing something much more different than Android, a copycat of the iPhone, says Svane.

  • For the nth time, enterprise applications are actually easy to use and just as exciting. Seriously. They are like Facebook and Twitter now. Get used to it. 

BUSINESS INSIDER: So, how’d it all start? Let’s just go from there.

MIKKEL SVANE: We launched in October 2007, there were three founders. Two of us have been working in this industry for a number of years and were dramatically unsatisfied with the systems available in the industry. We didn’t feel they were internet generation ready. We just sat down and said let’s do this all over again, let’s build a completely new system for our current generation that can be a beautiful system but also a system that helps companies focus a lot more on the actual customer engagement rather than metrics and measurements and deflection and all these old school ways of thinking about customer service.

We founded that in Copenhagen, and moved in California in 2009. Until then it was a pretty bootstrapped operation and we’ve been through three financing rounds with Charles River, Benchmark, Matrix, raised $26 million. We have 160 people, headquartered in San Francisco. We have offices in London, Melbourne, and a new engineering office in Copenhagen and are growing at a crazy rate.



BI: How crazy?MS: We are in the run rate of handling 100 million personal service interactions a year. We have 1 billion self service interactions every year. Every time somebody calls out to a service centre or a help desk or gets somebody on the phone or email and somebody helps someone with a problem or an issue, that’s a personal service interaction. We provide a self-service interface and we have about a billion self-service interactions.

BI: So what are you guys trying to accomplish at Zendesk? 

MS: It enables you to open your channels. We bring you a help desk back-end that makes it easy for an organisation to delegate and to be transparent about what’s going on. When requests come in, all requests are being answered and routed to the right people at the right point in time. You make sure you have this streamlined communication. Then we put the tools in your hands so you can use them wherever you want.

We have an awesome iPhone app, a great iPad app, a Windows Phone app, Blackberry and Android, or your web browser. Wherever you are, we give you the ability to engage and deal with your customers. What your customers experience is that suddenly they can call that number, email that email address, write on your Facebook wall, and you as a company are able to deal with all these requests that are coming in.

Traditionally, dealing with a support centre or a help desk, it’s not an experience you’re going to tell your girlfriend about. It’s one of these things we normally hate doing. But we help our customers turn that upside down and become really great. It becomes a good experience for everyone. That’s very much how we, as consumers, that’s what we want from companies. You want authentic, truthful and open communication. 

BI: Well, what kind of traction do you guys have so far? Would people call it “sexy?”

MS: We announced last year that we have more than 10,000 customers, business customers. I can’t even remember the number, I think we are way above 100,000 app downloads. That’s customer service reps with our customers using the apps.  

In this industry, it’s not where you pick up the most girls. Traditionally working in a help desk or in a call centre was for the bottom feeders. The notion of a help desk or call centre has always been like a car centre. If you have customers, well damn, you need to set up some kind of service operations. Now today companies are thinking differently about their service operations and engaging customers and building long-term relationships.

The notion of giving service and support has been transformed from a car centre to a revenue centre. We were starting to see the signs of that and at the same time we also felt like there were a thousand startups interested in the support business because it wasn’t where you picked up girls. You could do something with music or video or with mobile, that would be a lot more sexy. That also gave us a head start, because that was a lot of competition.

BI: I saw you guys are working on Windows Phone. Are you one of the first to work on that?

MS: It was pretty easy and because we want to be everywhere. It wasn’t that big of an operation for us. The Windows Phone is kind of industry, it’s easy to make fun of. I’m the biggest apple fanboy myself. But they’ve done something that’s really interesting with that phone.

If you look at Android, it always seems like an iPhone that just works a little less smooth whereas the Windows Phone is a very new paradigm and it’s been very interesting to building that application. We’re looking forward to what kind of traction it gets. We thought it was important to have that basic functionality there and make sure customers who wanted to go with the windows phone and use centres could do that. We’ve always tried to embrace these new devices before they got really mainstream.

zendesk pq

[credit provider=”Zendesk”]

BI: So why did you guys decide to move to the United States?MS: I know California pretty well now, it’s just the most fantastic place in the world to build a technology business. We wouldn’t have been able to scale at the level we’ve been able to scale anywhere else in the world. It’s also been very rewarding, being in a place where you are the centre of the universe. I hope everybody will get that experience one day in your life, where you feel really him sand the whole economy is based around people like yourself. It’s a privilege being able to work here and hire the talent we’re able to hire here and live in this great city that’s so rewarding in so many ways. You have easy access to capital, it’s beyond my wildest dreams.

BI: What are your plans for 2012?

MS: We will expand dramatically in our international centres over the next few years. Zendesk will be localised for each country. We hope to be able to cater much more for a global audience, wherever they are in the world.

We have a big engineering division now, 60-70 people – we’re working on a lot of very interesting stuff. Some of the stuff we’ve done with call centre and voice, we’ll do more around this, this year. We’ll keep up mobile strategy and we have a lot of new interesting capabilities and products coming out this year. We look forward to growing it at the same rate and continue to accelerate our growth over the last couple years.