[The Turning Point] How three broke boys turned entrepreneurs built global customer service giant Zendesk

Turning Point is a series of short articles that focuses on the moment when an entrepreneur hit upon their winning idea. Today, we look at San Francisco-based Zendesk, a global leader in customer service.

Mikkel Svane and Morten Primdahl, the co-founders of Zendesk, were once selling old school help desk ticketing software. But they realised that this particular flavour of enterprise software did not really work out, nor did the users like it.

Speaking to YourStory Media, Morten says that it was not only a poor software, but they were also selling it to an industry that had forgotten to care about the very same human interests that it was supposed to support.

L to R: Alexander Aghassipour, Morten Primdahl and Mikkel Svane.

While working in the customer service software industry, both Mikkel and Morten noticed a couple of things. First, the focus was not the customer, but it was strictly internal processes and business optimisation. Customers were regarded almost as if they were getting in the way of the businesses that served them.

He says, “Second, the software available for delivering customer service looked terrible and was not a software designed for humans. By this, I mean there was no sense of joy in it, and only page after page of forms to fill in.”

At the time, the sales processes excluded the customer, and it was a standard model where million-dollar deals were made between salespeople and executives, far removed from the customer service function. It was more focused on ‘making a deal’ rather than providing support to sell a great product.

The lightbulb moment

The co-founders knew they could do better. They understood the almost childish joy software can bring once it resonates with the human behind the screen. That was how they identified a problem worth solving - with a solution they felt people would be willing to pay for. Zendesk was thus founded in Copenhagen in August 2007.

“The implementation was about satisfying business process requirements defined by process consultants. It should have been about satisfying the needs for human interaction when the customers are in distress.”

The founders came up with the name Zendesk because they wanted to bring the notion of calm into the frazzled and under-appreciated help desk industry.

Zendesk was supposed to be the antithesis of the fake, stale, sterile, and forgettable projection of customer service that the industry had gotten used to.

Morten says, “Our very first motto and rally cry was ‘Love your helpdesk’, because it sounded implausible, and it was something nobody expected from the industry. It was still what we wanted to keep.”

Today, Zendesk is a global leader in customer service, and a leading software development firm that provides a SaaS suite of tools that offers help desk ticketing, issue tracking, and customer service support.

The founders - Alexander Aghassipour, Morten Primdahl (CTO), and Mikkel Svane (CEO) - started the venture when they were almost broke and were working as part-time consultants in their initial days. The team also faced initial rejections from experts who found their product ‘too simple’.

Today, the company has over 3,500 employees across the globe. It went for an IPO in May 2014 and reported an annual revenue of $311 million in 2016, $430 million in 2017, $598 million in 2018, and $758 million in 2019.

(Edited by Megha Reddy)