On the same page: Zendesk’s soul-searching on the road to going public

On the same page: Zendesk's soul-searching on the road to going public

 

“I always compare it to moving out of your family’s basement,” says Zendesk founder Mikkel Svane about his company’s going public last year.

Svane was describing 18 eventful months that have seen not only the company go public but also his publishing of a book on the journey of taking a startup to the market.

“There’s a lot of things you have to do different,” says Svane on becoming a listed company.

“You’re on your own in many ways and you have to explain how things make sense. I think we’ve really embraced it and we enjoy it.”

 

Relaxed about the unicorns

 

While Zendesk was never classified as ‘unicorn’, having never been valued a billion dollars while private,  Svane is relaxed about the stratospheric valuations of the current group of hotshot tech firms.

“Most of these unicorn companies are amazing, they are changing the world and the lives of people,” he says.

“Even if there is a correction most of these companies will do fine.”

“The thing about the private market is you don’t have pessimism build in, you only have optimism.

“But in the public markets there are people shorting your stock because they have a different view, you don’t have that when you’re private. That’s why valuations can get a little out of control.”

 

Taming the enterprise

 

For Svane, his optimistic view comes partly from Zendesk’s entry into the enterprise market.

“In the last couple of years we’ve had some incredible momentum. We’ve done that while we’ve stayed true to our roots, to the small businesses and the startups,” he says.

“Enterprises have a different set of needs and issues, the bigger you get as a company the harder it is to be agile and nimble.

“Companies have hundreds of thousands of customers, they have millions of interactions and have all these data points. Managing these data points is hard. They also have to deal with compliance and have to figure out all these different things.”

 

Understanding one’s values

 

Figuring out a corporate identity is one of the themes touched on in Svane’s book Startup Land, where he sees it as being important in helping both he and the company understand their values.

“I thought it was important to be honest about our roots and where we come from,” he says

“We haven’t sorted everything out. Things are still complicated for us and we’re still in the early stages of building the company we want to build.”

“I think it’s important when you’re a fast-growing company, doubling in size every year, having an anchor point about what you are is important. If you have a good clear idea of where you come from and why you do what you do it’s easier.

“The process of writing this book helped me understand a lot better why we’re doing this. Not that I found the answers but now I have a much better understanding.”

 

Creating business value

 

For Svane one of the things he’s proudest of over the past two years is how many people Zendesk’s success has helped.

“It’s important to create wealth for every one,” he says.

“One of the things I’m proud of is how we’ve created wealth for regular employees, we completely changed their lives.”

“As long as you’re creating real wealth, not just for shareholder and investors, then that’s something to be proud of.”

Paul Wallbank is the publisher of Networked Globe, his personal blog Decoding The New Economy charts how our society is changing in the connected century.

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