Cloud Computing

Zendesk CEO Targets Ways to Accommodate Savvy Buyers

So what keeps you awake at night, I ask, grasping for that ancient prop question of journalists, when speaking to Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane over a terrible transatlantic phone line.

“I have a 10-month old child to keep me awake at night,” Svane deadpans. He’s Danish and appears to have kept the country’s native characteristic of plain speaking but several years ago he transplanted to San Francisco where his company is now one of the hottest pre-IPO companies in the tech-obsessed area.

Zendesk is a cloud service-desk company, providing customer care and related analytics. At a time when the “empowered consumer” and “savvy buyer” who can find out all about a product —from web reviews, augmented reality, QR codes, price comparison sites and so on — is such a meme, it’s an ultra-sweet spot to be in.

“The voice of customer has never been louder and it’s rapidly changing,” says Svane. “Companies want to reengineer how they interact with their customers. They want a fresh approach and they want to engage using new and easy technologies.”

Part of this freshness lies in the user experience and Zendesk has the requisite, fashionably stripped-down, consumer-style, rather Apple-like interface.

“The real revolution is how usable and easy you can make software,” Svane argues. “These [users and buyers] are children of a different generation who want to connect to software just as consumers install apps for the iPhone. It leaves an instant impression and it’s easy to replace with another technology.”

Svane has spoken in the past about his respect for Intuit, the accounting software company that became predominant among small and medium-sized businesses, noting how most B2B software outfits focus on the enterprise. However, he says Zendesk hasn’t made any particular play for a business size or segment.

“We’ve never focused on a specific market but our early customer base was dominated by agile, forward-thinking companies or departments at companies like Disney, Adobe, AOL, Mercedes-Benz, L’Oréal…”

Quite often, Zendesk might be tried to replace an incumbent like Siebel, Kana or RightNow but often it’s just Excel or something cooked up internally. From there, Svane says, there has been the classic cloud deployment continuum of “land and expand, where you spread like a virus” based on colleagues recommending the service to each other and to others outside the organisation.

Today, Zendesk has about 480 staff and operates in about 140 markets but its rise has not been without blips. A price rise in 2010 caused a ruckus, for example and Svane got into an unseemly spat over Twitter with a rival, Freshdesk, calling the company “a freaking rip-off”.

“We’re a company having to grow up and learn things and we’ve made some terrible mistakes in our communications and how we thought about things,” he acknowledges. “It’s core to our mission in today’s economy that you have to earn the trust of customers every single day and it’s too easy for them to switch.”

What next?

Zendesk is constantly being linked with an IPO, of which Svane says, ”We definitely want to go public and we’re very much looking forward to building a true, viable, new-generation company.”

But he says the wider picture is one of a revolution in the way software is built, sold and deployed, enabling faster business growth curves and scope for disintermediation and disruption than ever before.

“I’m just extremely intrigued by the state of the software market. A company like Groupon could never have grown as quickly without this new, agile set of tools. It’s going to change not only the software industry but how companies do business.”


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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