Startup Land: Book Review

Startup Land by Mikkel Svane

I dived into Startup Land: How Three Guys Risked Everything to Turn an Idea into a Global Business by Mikkel Svane, the founder of customer support technology company Zendesk, recently. We sponsor their annual London event, so it was a great time to read more about the company and the guys behind it.

This is a very direct story about what it really takes out of people to scale a business as fast as Zendesk.

Startup Land is a brave book: quite sad at times, and really honest.

Zendesk revolutionised the concept of the helpdesk. They have popularised “customer love” more than any other software company. They have definitely contributed to making customer service and support an aspirational activity.

So here are my top 5 takeaways, and top 5 quotes from Startup Land. I’ve focused this on learnings for the customer service folks amongst us. But it’s a great story to read for interest, too.

Startup Land: Top 5 takeaways

  • It’s ok to shift your customer strategy. Svane points out that what worked for growing your first ten thousand customers may well not work for the next ten thousand. Some companies doggedly use the same strategy that has “always worked”. If you look harder at your stats and your process, as you grow, you’ll find better ways.
  • Hire people for their differences. Svane’s hiring checklist is surprising, and includes items like “hire athletes”, “hire travellers” and “hire women”. In such a fast-growing company, argues Svane, you simply can’t hire for just the skills in a role. Not least because that role’s probably going to change the following week. He also argues that if you hire in a diverse way, it allows your team to span the necessary cultural barriers encountered by global companies.
  • Building relationships with customers is what really drives growth. Zendesk had no sales team and no marketing team in the early days. They had to rely on their support process to reach out beyond its natural sphere, and help them grow. They tried some unconventional things like adding deliberate spelling mistakes and pretending their emails were coming from women, to drive up their likelihood of getting initial interactions. From these first interactions, Zendesk could then build longer lasting relationships.
  • Engage as early as possible with your customers and potential customers. Early in their history, Zendesk created a team of customer advocates. Designed to be “on the customers’s side”, the customer advocates were there to engage with customers around the trial period. Svane notes how this had a very positive impact on conversion rates.
  • Are you only providing customer support to paying customers? Startup Land describes how Zendesk initially wouldn’t support anyone who wasn’t already a customer. Svane says they unthinkingly copied this from other companies at the time, and only later realised their mistake. Your customer relationship can (and should) start right at the beginning. It is not mandatory to have a purchase order in place before the customer support team swings into action!

StartupLand: Top 5 quotes

  • “Customer service interactions are becoming your primary means of creating true customer relationships.  To be a successful business today, you must understand how relationships actually work and how to build them.”
  • “…the world of customer service had turned in our direction too. Customer service had within a few years become a very public experience due to the Internet and social media. Customer service no longer happened in a vacuum; it was something customers shared online, with the whole world.”
  • “There was room and reason for a new generation of software. I knew this could be done in a way that was so much easier… We were motivated by the opportunity to disrupt the very core of the software model by making things easy, elegant, inexpensive.”
  • “I learned that even if your intentions are the best and you are trying to make things simple, you can still destroy everything with a single wrong interaction in which you forget the basic principle for any type of personal interaction: empathy.”
  • “Seven years ago we were just focused on building a product for an industry we believed needed a better product. It was only along the way that we discovered that it wasn’t just about the product. the best product would be why nothing without the right relationships.”

Where next?