Startupland – Zendesk’s journey from a kitchen table in Denmark to the NYSE – Interview with Mikkel Svane


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Today’s interview is with Mikkel Svane, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Zendesk, a fast growing and recently listed (NYSE) cloud based customer service platform. Mikkel joins me today to talk about: Startupland: How Three Guys Risked Everything to Turn an Idea into a Global Business – his new book that tells the story of how they grew their cloud based customer service platform from a kitchen table in Denmark to Silicon Valley, a listing on the NYSE and customers in over 150 countries.

This interview follows on from my recent interview: Do you know if you are irritating your customers? – Interview with Melvin Brand Flu of Livework– and is number 130 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, helping businesses innovate, become more social and deliver better service.

Highlights of my interview with Mikkel:

  • I interviewed Mikkel back in June 2012: The customer service revolution is here and now.
  • Zendesks mission is to remove friction, barriers, and mystery when it comes to making customer service easier and more approachable.
  • In his new book, Startupland, Mikkel with the help of his co-author, Carlye Adler, aims to tell the story of Zendesk’s growth and to remove some of the myths about startups and startup founders.
  • Currently, Zendesk has just short of 50,000 customers in 150 countries, around 800 employees and recently listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: ZEN).
  • The inspiration for the book came from talking to lots of entrepreneurs about what is like to establish and grow a start up in the US and not be a US citizen.
  • As the company grows, the book is also seen as a useful tool and reminder to all that the company and the team have gone through, where they came from and what the company stands for. It will prove useful as a company history and induction tool.
  • Zendesk have taken something that was considered boring and hard to use and have made it beautiful and easy to use. Their approach offers lessons to other aspiring entrepreneurs as to where they may also find opportunities.
  • At the heart of Zendesk’s approach is the idea of ‘democratising’ access to software, particularly in the customer service space.
  • The key for start ups today is to over invest in the relationships they have with their customers in the very early stages so they can increase their chances of creating long-term customers and promoters of their products/services.
  • Most products are sold via word of mouth these days and the best platform for word of mouth is great customer experience.
  • Going public has matured the company and was the logical next step in their journey. However, their challenge is to make all of the extra work that is required of a public company both beautiful and simple such that it does not create a lot of additional and unnecessary work.
  • Mikkel wouldn’t go back and do anything differently given the chance as he believes that the mistakes that they made have made them the company that they are. What’s most important is to learn from mistakes and that you always think about your customers first and foremost.
  • Mikkel is not very good at giving top tips but hopes that their journey offers some inspiration to entrepreneurs.
  • However, he says we should never forget that we should always focus on the people (employees and customers) that are behind and use the software or the platform as they are the ones that matter.
  • Check out the book: Startupland: How Three Guys Risked Everything to Turn an Idea into a Global Business and also check out Zendesk’s Start Up Program, where qualifying startups can get Zendesk for one year for free so they can start building closer relationships with their customers.

About Mikkel (adapted from Zendesk bio and previous interview bio)

Mikkel SvaneAfter an inspirational trip to San Francisco in 1995 Mikkel launched what was one of Denmark’s first horizontal community portals. Less than a year later the portal was acquired by a Danish newspaper and Mikkel founded Caput, a software company specializing in standard software components for community building and social networks. Serving as its CEO until 2002 he became General Manager for the German service management consulting group Materna. His tenure there reunited him with former friends and colleagues Morten and Alex with whom he founded Zendesk and he has served as Chief Executive Officer since August 2007. He was appointed Chair of the board of directors in January 2014.

Mikkel holds a A.P. in marketing management from Arhus Kobmandsskole in Denmark, is a frequent @mikkelsvane user and loves spending time with his wife and kids when not working with his awesome team and Zendesk customers.

Photo Credit: sunshinecity via Compfight cc

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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