Passion Driving Intercom’s Upward Trajectory Globally

Via The Sunday Business Post: Intercom has raised $116 million since it was founded in 2011.

It is 9am on the west coast of the United States. Intercom co-founder Des Traynor (pictured) is wearing a crumpled white shirt when he appears on the screen of my mobile phone on a Skype call.

The 35-year-old is in a meeting room on the fourth floor off 55 2nd St, Intercom’s new 20,000 square foot office in downtown San Francisco. It is a much bigger and swisher premises than the firm’s former headquarters on nearby Battery Street.

In February last year I’d visited their old place – which was cool – but crammed with people.

“We have a lot more space and meeting rooms now,” said Traynor, who is chief strategy officer. “We’re not so bad here, but Dublin is starting to get tight.”

It is not surprising Intercom is running out of space again. It is growing fast. Last year it doubled both its headcount to 250 people and its customers to 10,000.

Revenues – a closely guarded secret – are in the tens of millions of dollars. In a year’s time, when it finishes hiring 100 more engineers in its Dublin office, it will have to move out of the building which once housed Anglo Irish Bank.

New generation

Nine hours earlier Traynor had stayed up past midnight when Intercom pushed the button on its latest press release.

This announced that the customer communication platform business had raised $50 million, taking its total funding since it was founded in 2011 to $116 million. It is big money but what is more interesting is who is investing in Intercom.

Patrick and John Collison, the Irish co-founders of online payments business Stripe, Stewart Butterfield, the chief executive of Slack, the cloud-based collaboration firm, and Jason Fried, the boss of project management company Basecamp, all participated in the round.

It was led by Ilya Flushman of Index Ventures who was previously the head of product at Dropbox, the online file storage company.

These are the stars of the new generation of software firms shaking up how companies do business online – and evidently they believe Intercom is becoming one of them.

Our mission is to make internet business personal… that’s what we want to do and I will die if that’s what it takes to get there.”

How did Intercom assemble such a group?

“When Eoghan [McCabe, the 32-year old chief executive of Intercom] first moved to San Francisco a few years ago he moved around and got out and about,” Traynor said.

“That’s how he met Biz [Stone, the co-founder of Twitter and an investor in Intercom] for example.

“One of the great things about the Valley is it is so open and transparent. When you walk around the streets over here you bump into people. These are people who have built $1 billion businesses but they are just regular real people who are happy to meet you.

“The thing about Ilya and Dropbox or Stewart from Slack is that these as people are true product first people. We all focus first and foremost on the user,” Traynor said.

“Relatively we have overinvested in R&D [versus some other companies],” Traynor said.

“What you get in return for doing that is a true product market fit.”

Intercom spent almost nothing on sales and marketing until recently.

Instead like Dropbox, Stripe and Slack, it just focused on its customers and making the best product.

“If you have a good product you can get a sense of virality – not like say something like Farmville [the online video game]by spending a tonne of money on online ads – but real virality by getting people to recommend us based on product strength,” Traynor said.

Intercom’s approach to building its customer base is anything but in your face.

It has a blog that is thoughtful and intelligent. Last September Intercom filled the Mansion House in Dublin with technologists and engineers. Each paid €10 a ticket to hear Intercom’s senior people and guests like Hassle co-founder Jules Coleman talk about the lessons they’ve learned in business and what’s next in technology.

This May, Intercom has booked the Olympia in Dublin (capacity 1,240 and ticket price €25) to do the same again, only bigger.

It is the last stop of a 12-night European and United States tour. “It is not quite the Rolling Stones,” Traynor said.

What the events and the blog do is build relationships. It is a soft sell, not a hard one.

“A lot of what we want to do is educate the market,” Traynor said. “Educate them that there is a more effective way to connect, support and learn from their customers.”

Intercom has doubled its customer numbers in the last year. How quickly can it do so again?

“I believe we can get to 20,000 customers. I would need to sit down with our analytics guys to say exactly when.”

This latest round of investment pushed Intercom to a valuation estimated at well north of $500 million. Traynor is not interested in discussing what the company is worth.

“Valuations take the focus away from what we are doing. I always cringe when I read about people going on about them. It feels a little bit crass . . . I don’t want to know about valuations but tell me what you’re doing.”

Traynor said he and the Intercom team had no major plans to celebrate its new fundraising round.

“I’ve a full day ahead,” he said. “I am sure I’ll have a drink tonight but we are more psyched when we release new products.”

A new product is planned this summer, so that’s what Intercom is more focused on. Traynor – his co-founders McCabe, Ciaran Lee and David Barrett as well as its investors – have, so far, rejected five attempts to acquire the company.

They are not sellers. “Today is another progression mark along the way… but it has more impact on me when we hit a certain customer number or when a signature user starts using us.”

Will Intercom float on the stock market and when might that happen?

“If the question is, is it possible? Then yes. Our trajectory is incredibly strong. Our goal is not an IPO. Our mission is to make internet business personal… that’s what we want to do and I will die if that’s what it takes to get there.”

Later, dressed in a grey T-shirt, McCabe tweets a link to a video he’s made on YouTube.

One bit stands out: “The reason we get out of bed every day, that’s to build fucking great products for you to help you better connect with your customers . . . ”

It is the passion and determination that has taken Intercom on a fast upward journey.

Originally published in The Sunday Business Post.

Privacy Policy
Cookie Policy
Terms of Use