When he wrote his book, Startupland: How Three Guys Risked Everything to Turn an Idea into a Global Business, Zendesk co-founder Mikkel Svane had no intention of telling someone else how to start a business. He simply wanted to take readers behind the scenes of his own experience in growing one of the top tech companies today.
Along with two friends, Svane walked away from a secure, comfortable job to provide a help desk ticketing platform for businesses. Despite nearly going broke several times, he eventually achieved his goals. While he says that other people's advice can rarely help an entrepreneur, he offers a few takeaways from the book that he thinks can help startup founders.
Screw the business plan.
Founders spend months building and refining a winning business plan to meet industry requirements. However, Svane has found that a business plan can lock entrepreneurs into focusing solely on what they already know, rather than freeing them up to learn the many things they know nothing about.
Says Svane: "If we had limited ourselves to the stuff that we knew, to the state of the industry back then--if we hadn't kept ourselves open for quick iterations and quick little pivots along the way, to really cater to the market that we found out there--then we would never have been where we are today."
Users are people, too.
Svane finds that in today's growingh hacking-oriented startup environment, it's too easy to get caught up in spreadsheets and databases and forget the human beings behind the names and data. He describes how Zendesk once made the mistake of deploying a major pricing and packaging change, out of certainty that it was a great idea. Within eight hours, the company was on the front of TechCrunch and was dealing with a customer revolt.
"We had to go out and say, 'Sorry. We forgot there were actual people behind the spreadsheet. We forgot that we didn't consult with you, that we didn't treat you better,'" Svane says. "We had to go out and apologize in every possible way. It became very defining for how we thought about our customer relationships."
Businesses are also people, too.
When Zendesk joined the customer-service industry, businesses hid behind photos of smiling customer-service operators. The image had long before begun to ring false. ZenDesk responded and in the process influenced how the customer-service industry communicates to the market: Zendesk's strategy: It chose to find real stories and make real connections with people who actually used the software. Instead of a smiling model, the company began using a cartoon of a happy fat guy that it calls "the new face of customer service."
As Svane explains, "He represents us in a jolly way, and that kind of tone has followed us all the way through. We try to be authentic, we try to be honest and straightforward about what is customer service. This imagery has followed [us] all the way through [to the point] when we went public on the New York Stock Exchange."
Svane says he's learned that there's no one correct way to build a startup. Instead, it's a complicated journey, with each entrepreneur finding his or her own path. A startup has a 99 percent chance of failure, which Svane believes serves as an important reminder to enjoy every step of the journey.