Teja: All right. So, for the audience. Could you tell us where you grew up? You know, what your background is? How did you get interested in technology, entrepreneurship, basically, you know, your story.
Eoghan: Yeah. So I grew up in Dublin, Ireland, or I am right now. I spent the last 10 years in the valley, which we can get to if you want, just got back.
I grew up watching TV shows about the future, there was one Australian show in one UK, one was called Tomorrow's World, one was called Beyond 2000. It's all about the bright and beautiful future. Flying cars, and I remember an episode where they talked about the future of nutrition and food, and you just have to take these tablets, that will be all you'd need, etc. It was, you know, it was wild and weird and kooky. But it really ignited my imagination. And they celebrated inventors, and scientists and technologists, and a lot of these inventors, they were scientists, and they would be interviewed in kind of nerdy lab coats, and they had cool goggles, and little pocket protectors and in their labs and all their machinery, and I just thought that was so cool. So amazingly cool. God knows why. So I decided I want to be a scientist.
And, and, you know, we tell these stories about ourselves and our stories, who knows if it's nearly as simple as that, I sincerely doubt it. But that's the narrative I share today. But, I just had it in my head that I wanted to be a scientist. And you know, I studied just the topic of science before I got to really study it in school. And then some of my favorite subjects in school are chemistry and physics and mathematics and all of that good stuff. So I had that one little thing in my head. And when I did work experience when I was 16 or younger, I went to like local chemical production companies. And, you know, was let out amongst the factory in all these conditions that probably you wouldn't let kids run around and these days, but I was Yeah, it was pretty funny. I worked in the quality control department for two weeks in a company whose name I really shouldn't say and won't. But you know, they let me perform all sorts of tests that went into the quality control logbook, in their chemical production processes.
Anyway, that was my little foray into actually being a scientist and I did get to wear a lab coat for 14 days.
Teja: That's our I mean, that like that as a as a child like you're so into sort of marker like
lab coats, even so I was obsessed with like beepers, I wanted a beeper. I was always like, if you had a beeper, you're so important.
Eoghan: Yeah, you know, it's just something so cool about it for technologists and engineers and nerds in general. When before mobile phones, the idea that someone could kind of like send a message to you and a little digital aspect that blew my mind. You and I both missed beepers.
Teja: Yeah, okay. So I have a question for you. So, you know, Peter teal, he talks about, we were sort of promised one future. And you know, we wanted flying cars, and now we have 140 characters. So that's, you know, what his fund is trying to, I guess, create fund breakthrough technologies.
Do you feel like that pessimism, or as pessimistic as him in terms of like, the technology we have today? Are you like, you know, we've done a lot of cool shit, we're building awesome products, you know, as a civilization, or we can do more? How optimistic are you? How do you feel about that?
Eoghan: Yeah, I mean, as my my nature is, optimistic, I believe in the incredible creative potential of the human race, and of individuals, and I've had the great pleasure getting to meet so many incredible, wonderful people in the technology industry.
It's true to say that so much of our precious energy has gone into making things like, you know, auto mailers for sales development reps.
Teja: And they're happy about that, though. They like that.
Eoghan: Yeah, for sure. And, they need assistance and help and that delivers efficiencies to the businesses who have the sales teams and those businesses, deliver efficiencies, if they're selling marketing products, the marketing teams, those marketing teams, deliver efficiencies to the process of selling whatever widgets or gadgets that are sold by themselves, in turn deliver efficiencies to their customers, and they deliver efficiencies to consumers and the world becomes a better place. So it's all part of the ecosystem.
But it is true to say that the narrative I painted from the shows I watched as a kid, when I decided I want to be a scientist, and inventor, you know that they thought differently about the future. And it's just, it's just, it's undeniable that just so much energy and effort is put into things that on the face of it are pretty dumb, rudimentary, not that inspiring, creative. They don't think that big, and they don't very directly move the human race forward. There are a few notable examples. People like Ilan Musk, for example, he moves us forward, you know, maybe 100 X. You know, hundred thousand x relative to a lot of the SAS businesses that we all put effort energy into. So, you know, hard to disagree with the great man, that is Peter Thiel. I just generally tend to agree with everything he has to say, I'm afraid. But yet at the same time, I wouldn't describe myself as pessimistic only because I know what's possible.
Teja: It's so interesting that so you describe yourself as an inventor and a scientist first and an entrepreneur. Second, is that right?
Eoghan: Well, no, that was my story. Really, I mean, I don't know what the hell I would describe myself as now.
I like to try and summarize the remainder of that tail, which maybe I got a little sucked down into, as I glazed over, thinking about my sweet, sweet childhood. The remainder was that, I got into computers and, you know, got on blind in 1996. And my imagination was once again, ignited and, my mind was blown by what was possible. The people you could connect with the potential for creativity, and I decided computers is what I wanted to do, and later on, I discovered this course called computer science. It seemed to have the two things I always dreamed I wanted, and I studied that course and got to learn, you know, how to create technology, all the while just dreaming of self realization and success.
I had idols, the likes of which we spoke about earlier on 37 seconds later base camp, they started great product businesses. That was the primordial soup for what I'd do later, and my interest in science and invention, but then computers and the Internet, and then later, a drive and a chip on my shoulder to prove myself which all led into creating technology businesses.
Teja: Awesome. Okay. So you know, all businesses, I think, in the SAS world are grateful that you took that course and went on to found intercom. So, you know, we're a user, a customer of intercom and very happy with intercom. And so, you know, for the listeners, I'm sure you know, everybody who listens to this knows what intercom does. But, I would love for you to summarize it in your own words.
Eoghan: Yeah, for sure. I mean, it's a simple way to replace a lot of the complex and junky spammy crappy tools of old for internet businesses to connect with the customers in a way that their customers want and enjoy, and ultimately gives them a rich personal experience. We saw email and email marketing products and live chat and everything else has been the opposite of that. And, you know, some of our innovations, whether it was a messenger on your site, or simple bots to kind of grease the wheels and create some automation and
make it easier for end consumers to get what they want.
For businesses to spend their time properly, really did change things. And you can see, you know, many big public companies now building things that are competitive to intercom along with many other startups, too.
So, that's what it was. And it's been a pretty cool ride to get to see that firsthand.
Teja: Cool. Awesome. So, as you know, intercom is valued, well over a billion dollars today. And by the way, so, listeners, you guys need to watch an interview Eoughan did on CNBC. It's a masterclass on, if you make it to that level with your business, how to conduct yourself at that scale. You ask questions amazingly, I mean, very sophisticatedly. And they asked you a question. It was like, Are you scared that you guys raised a billion dollar valuation? Which is a ridiculous question. I mean, I, you know, it's ridiculous. But anyway, when you started the business, what was your initial goal? Was it a financial goal? Did you see a market problem that you just needed to address? Was it because you wanted to make a bunch of money? Have a philanthropic impact? Why did you start the business?
Eoghan: Other than, hey, it's cool. I want to build this product. Much like we do tend to tell little narratives about our past in grossly simplified ways, likes of which I just shared with you. I do think we tend to think about the potential for future in very simple ways. We talk about goals, but I really doubt most of us have very well verbalized, and considered thoughts about exactly what we want to achieve. And for what it's worth, I think it's a little unhealthy, because you're just not in control of all the variables. Who knows what the future may bring? True happiness comes from riding the waves of, of all the surprises and the magic that comes forth, rather than being stuck and fixed to some sort of outcome. That's a long winded way to say that. I don't really have an answer to that question.
Other than, I knew I wanted to prove myself, I had a big chip on my shoulder, I wanted nothing less than respect, love and validation from the world, and I thought I could get that by demonstrating that I was smart and being successful. Was money attractive? The idea of money? Absolutely. Was fame and notoriety? Yes, I mentioned that. I think a big part of it was trying to find a vehicle to exercise what I felt were my skills and talents. Like, I believed in my ability to create and invent and make cool things that people want, and also construct businesses and lead teams and brand things and whatnot. So, all of those things came to bear.
But you know, intercom, like, most businesses, I think, just got started with those general ideas. As technologists, we were just excited to build something really cool. We thought we could do better than what was out there. A lot of the time, a lot of this invention comes from
a distaste with what's on the market, or what's in the world. Sometimes it can be a little unhealthy. Sometimes it can be a little arrogant. Sometimes there can be negative components to it, but you look at what's out there, and you're like, Ah, this sucks. This isn't good enough, like we can do better. And, you know, I don't know if you have to have that to get started. But, this is the type of energy that has people do the crazy things that they do in the beginning. So, again, I think that's what led into it.
Did we dream, like you say, becoming a billion dollar business? I don't think we specifically dreamed about it. Of course, if you asked anyone at the start, Hey, would you like that? They'd say, Sure. I will say, a couple of days after we actually incorporated the company, I had moved over to San Francisco. My co-founders came over to visit, we signed all the paperwork, and we had yet to raise any money. So it was a scary time. There was a leap of faith required, there was no promise of income. It wasn't particularly comfortable. So to try and inspire the other guys to kind of stick with this thing that was nothing at that point for the next few months, as I tried to raise a tiny bit of money, I would tell them, Hey, I genuinely believe that in two years this thing could be worth $50 million. That was that was the biggest number I could think of. Maybe I said three years, I can't remember what the timeframe was exactly. I did have some sense, like, we were smart, and there's lots that's possible. I saw some of the other companies out there. I remember her Roku had sold for 200. And something million dollars. That was almost the biggest number I'd ever heard of, at that stage, in a funny way. So when they sold at that price, and then I got to meet the guys and understand who they were. I figured, hey, we could probably do like a quarter of that, in my head. That puts a bit of perspective on it. I certainly wasn't deeply believing that it would have died in our hands, because we had nothing on our hands.
Teja: Yeah. I mean, back then, I think that was early 2012. 200 million was, I mean, it still is, a huge number. But that was a lot of money back then. I mean, now with venture funding in the space, prices keep going up. So, let me ask you. So many impressive businesses, business people, technologists have come out of Ireland. In terms of stripe, and that whole legacy and ecosystem that they've created. Did you benefit from that at all? Or were you like, that's cool, we're gonna do this.
It's just fascinating to me, plus, Irishmen, Irish women seem to have a have this, I don't know if the right word is bravado. Don't take offense to that. But the swagger, right? I mean, I'm a huge fan of MMA as
Eoghan: No, I won't take offense. But I will tell you what we actually are like, if you want to hear from the Irish man in Ireland.
Teja: No, I want to stick with my stereotypes totally unfounded. I would like to do that.
Eoghan: Well, you're welcome to do that, too. That's how it works these days with information, decide whatever you want.
But I think you know, so, tiny bit of history, Ireland suffered until the 1920s or so, about 600 years of oppression under the British. Now, people say 600. It's kind of like 600 years of oppression is a catchphrase here. But someday, I'll actually have to look up the history myself and figure out what that what the actual numbers are. But it was big, and it was long, and it was painful. And, you know, we have just long been the underdogs. A small nation next to a bigger one, like Canada, next to the United States, perhaps there's a certain humility that comes with that. You know, the United States and the United Kingdom, as part of their culture, just have a very high degree of confidence in their greatness. And Ireland and Irish people actually never had that.
I think one of the big benefits when it comes to business and global businesses, is that Irish people tend to be pretty affable and inoffensive, and that in itself could be taken in the wrong way. I don't know how much other Irish people might like to hear that. But it means that people are both underrated, but also can connect with a lot of people. All of that said, however, there's a certain type of individual that comes from a humble culture that actually wants to shake that off, that actually wants to say, no screw that, you know, we're as great and capable as anyone else. That's the type of dynamic that can create a chip on one's shoulder and some of them overcompensate.
You know, the MMA fighter that we haven't named and don't need to, would be one example of that. But you might have seen other people in technology too. The Irish people I've seen, the technology actually has been understated and quietly confident. I think, when I moved to the United States, I wanted to compete on the basis of my own skills. I didn't get out there and try to connect with the whole Irish community. In in the latter years, I was happy to be able to use some Irish slang with people who knew it. In the early days, I just wanted to be me, not Irish, not any particular label. But I'll tell you the one benefit we had was that, we kept our r&d offices in Dublin, Ireland. So we were the first Valley company that was venture backed and super high growth, high potential, all of that stuff that built all their technology here. So we got to benefit from being able to tap that talent that we would have had to fight so insanely aggressively for in San Francisco, in the Bay Area. In that respect, we were one of the first distributed companies. Even though we never really did remote stuff, we are pretty globally distributed, from an r&d perspective. And that was a secret weapon for us.
Teja: Cool, switching gears a little bit, I would like to kind of get into how you guys scaled intercom. So, maybe kind of walk through, how did you guys get the initial customer traction for the first 10 customers? How did you go from 10 million in revenue? 1 million to 10 million. 10 million to 100 million. How do you break down those arcs using whatever framework that you have? That's how we tend to think about it. I would love to understand how you guys got the initial fire started and that scaling?
Eoghan: Yeah. At the start, we kind of begged, borrowed, and stole customers. And by that, I mean, you know, we just went to people we knew in the industry, friends, previous clients, from our consulting business, anyone we knew, and kind of asked them, would they please try this thing out. And I think there's a lesson in that. If you do not know people who could use your potential product, if there's not individuals in your phone book, that you can call or text and ask them to try the damn thing, you're working on the wrong product or service. I deeply believe that you're just making life particularly hard for yourself, if you're not close to the potential market. That's where all the initial customers came from. And, you know, we got a healthy 1,020 to 3,040 customers, just out of our own network. And that was, and is, more than enough to tweak the product, run customer development with and figure out what people want, don't want and set you up for broader stage. So that was the first set of customers. We didn't charge for a year, so who knows what the revenue would have been from them by charging 50 bucks at the start. So if that was, you know, 30 customers, it was a teeny tiny amount of revenue.
Then over time, I worked on the idea in December 2010, I pitched it to the rest of the team, couple weeks after in December, we wrote our first line of code the first days of January 2011. I think we had people using it by March or April 2011. And then we launched it publicly in the summer of 2011. And then, we used mostly content marketing to kind of just let the world know that we existed. My co-founder, Dez, was and is a particularly brilliant writer, and storyteller. So, he would just write all manner of things, probably often about product development, which is kind of what we knew, which is what got us connected with tons of early stage businesses.
The other side of that, was that the product we made was just really, really different. So we didn't need a sophisticated, considered, measured acquisition strategy, or channel, or funnel, as much as if we made something that the world clearly found interesting. And then we just made enough noise to let people know we existed and magic happened after that. So that, very clearly, brought us up to a million dollars in revenue, which we got to, close enough after we launched. I think it was probably two years after we started the business. We got to 5 million a year after that. And then 20 million a year after that. It ramped extremely fast. We went from one to 50 million in a year or in three years. And the only other company we could find at that time, that had done that before, was Salesforce. And later, Slack did beat us, so that was really disappointing and I was mad at Slack for a day. Then, many other companies beat Slack, of course. Zoom and everyone else, I mean, we're in the crazy days now. It's like like you mentioned with the pricing around the acquisition for Roku, just everything was simpler at that time. So you know, if you want to think about the arcs from zero to one, to ten, and a hundred, zero to one was really just begging people to use the thing and trying to figure out what are we building. Ten was really about getting the word out there as much as possible. But still just investing in the early stages of the product, we'd never done any business at this scale before. So much of the story from all the way from one to 100, was very similar, we just did much of the same things, obsessing about the product.
One of the things we never let go of, and that's true to this day, even as we're in the 10th year of working on intercom, is that we just believe in the power of innovation and in getting first to market and in reinventing the industry and ourselves. And that was just built on the philosophy that, you know, if you build it, they will come. Marketers and salespeople don't like to hear that but, it's true. If you have a brilliant product that's really unique in the world, customers and revenue and successful follow, that doesn't mean that you don't need a go to market strategy to really accelerate that. What we saw change was eventually, starting to optimize the things that just don't matter at the start. So optimizing pricing, and we reinvented the pricing a bunch of times, mostly to great success. Sometimes, we really pissed people off. We choose our go to market model, and we sent certain types of customers to sales teams. We kind of messed that up for many years and really didn't see a lot of value until the last few years. We then just experimented with more conventional modes of marketing, really content marketing, word of mouth, did it all for the longest time, but we would hold events, and they'd be very different types of events, we'd always try to break the rules. But eventually we got into advertising. And you know, when you're at a sufficient scale, you can just hire people to have very high degree of competence in areas of expertise, like digital marketing. So we layered on a lot of digital marketing, but really, that's just a smaller part of just organic and word of mouth. And then you know, over time you 're just tweaking whether it's sales, compensation or incentives, how you package the product and deliver it to people.
The biggest thing that changes over that period of time, and this is for a software business, it would work for any technology company, I think that sees themselves as disruptive and starts at the bottom of the market selling to little customers like we did, and overtime selling to ever bigger businesses, are factors that are influenced, like, for example, how you decide what to build, and building for the masses, you don't really land on any one of them as a way to understand what they want. And rather use your own intuition requires your own artistry and opinion to figure out what they want. You know, Steve Jobs famously said, Apple never had focus groups and the way that they built their products, at least the first years was based on what they believed the market wanted. And that was absolutely how we built for the first five years or so. But over time, as you're selling to bigger companies that have more specific and sophisticated needs, maybe sometimes they're bigger than you. And these are people that you're going to ask to sign annual contracts with and to pay up front, you're going to have to get close to them. And that's exactly what we do, we would start to use our sales and marketing teams, particularly our sales teams to understand what did our potential customers want. What are they asking for on our sales calls and our demos? and when we had long lasting relationships with them, we put in place relationship managers to manage. They then would be responsible for learning what our customer base needs, and it doesn't flip overnight. It's a long, gradual thing. And it's still happening and will happen for another decade.
But slowly over time, you're less and less reliant on your internal intuition, and creativity and artistry. You're more focused on listening to exactly what the customer needs. That's the big change. I'll tell you one of the biggest things that people actually don't understand, when you tend to think about the arcs of these custom companies, and trajectories from one to ten, and beyond, etc, is that a lot does not change. You can build a very big business, there's hundreds of millions of dollars, and really just stay focused on some of the core essential philosophies and principles. Dare I say, the longer you can stay focused on them, the longer you'll stay unique and special in the market. You know, the reason we, for example, can say we attract brilliant product or design talent and then continue to ship things ahead of the market and invent before anyone else is actually because we've stayed close to those ideals. And you know, a lot of companies I think when they get somewhat bigger, they start to share that they bring in very experienced individuals from which larger companies who have great skills that exist in your company, but just don't have the magic of the early folks that bring that creativity that make you special in the market. So while there is much realization and sophistication over time, for the really best companies, a lot of the magic and the things that makes them them does not change.
Teja: Right. In my experience, with really seasoned folks, they tend to make very safe decisions. But safe decisions aren't always the things that move the needle, you know?
Eoghan: Right. Risky decisions are important later, but they are for later, it's just really what you're trying to optimize for. And real artistry is being able to blend the risk and the innovation, the creativity with the order and the structure and the consideration and safety as you get there. And that's difficult. But it's a fun, beautiful thing that works.
Teja: Yeah, that's a great point. How closely did you own product and design engineering over the evolution of the company? Are you sort of a more product focus CEO? Where's your principal area focus?
Eoghan: I'm sure it's shifted, but you know, product is what gets me excited. It's one of the bigger areas of my expertise and unique ability.
Product and engineering reported to me for the first six years, and then reported to my co-founders. But I was very close to the product,
even into the 10th year. It just depends on what value you have to deliver a particular interest. What I got excited about, was innovation and invention and making things that were very different and surprised people, you know, I love to sweat the details, I had an eye for taste, for an obsession with frankly, perfection and a high degree of quality.
And so, I was very involved with the early stages of product strategy and setting our product strategy, figuring out what we should build and what we are in the world and in the market, and how to talk about what we are. I'd be very involved in the execution of how things would work. And then later in the process, I would be quite a bit involved in the actual details of that execution, you know, a lot of the smaller design principles, so I was very, very, very hands on. I set the standards for how we think about product strategy. How our product works, how it's executed, how it looks, how we deliver it, how we ship it and talk about it, so that was just my own inclination.
Other CEOs have a lot of go to market experience or focus on that, others are more operationally inclined, I was the product person, and I love that. It's an interesting challenge to work over time at great scale. You know, we have nearly 700 people now, and it's engineers. How do you direct project and product and use those skills and talents at that great scale? Quite frankly, you really don't. You don't really want your CEO intimately involved at that stage, because it would be impossible for everyone to get anything done. So it's an interesting journey.
Teja: Amen. Yeah. That's a great point. You were basically leading product and engineering, then up to what I mean, several hundred people.
Eoghan: Yeah, for sure. I mean, we had VPs of product and engineering who did the hard work, but they reported to me and I was intimately involved in what we didn't build, for sure.
Teja: Yeah, that's awesome. So you know, CEOs have a huge impact on culture, the sort of DNA of the company. So what are some things that are unique to you? If I were to ask your co-founders, or let's say, the people that kind of work with you closely, what are some idiosyncrasies about you that you've injected into the business?
Eoghan: Well, there's a lot of ways to answer that question. I think there was a core set of principles which I continue to live by today that I would use to both attract talent, and to kind of train people as they came in, to give people feedback, to make decisions on our product, and make decisions on policy, how to run the organization, and to help explain the company decisions that we would make. It's really important for a company that wants to build a sustaining culture, and differentiate itself from anyone else, to just use and talk about these things all the damn time.
Off the top of my head for me, you know, we've touched on some of them, perfection and just delivering brilliance, excellence. Every point that mattered in our product and in our marketing, but also just the way we worked internally and ran our offices are really trying to hold a high bar. One of our values we stated was, our bar is higher. And that's pretty brutal and exhausting, to work at a company that has such high standards, it's really, really, really difficult. It's a constant struggle and fight. But that was something I ran the company by.
The other was, the idea that the best idea wins. Making sure that there was humility, and that there wasn't a place for individual ego, in the way in which we made decisions. You know, very rarely, we made a mistake and hired someone who was political and really made sure that it was their decision that would win the day, or their team would get the kudos. It wouldn't created an us versus them dynamics in the companies. There are cultures and organizations out there that are very political. I've never worked in those types of companies around, or ran a company that way, so I don't understand what the benefits are. But, these are companies that are very, very successful, so I presume there are benefits, we just didn't do it that way. If you work that way, you got fired, actually. There's probably only three people over the course of 10 years, I'm familiar with, that I had a hand in, you know, saying, Hey, we're just not going to be able to work together. And what that left was, that whoever the the best idea came from give or take, didn't really matter. It was the idea that wins. So, there was a high degree of intellectual honesty, and it meant that, you know, it was okay to put out an idea that was a bad idea even if it wasn't the one that got picked becuase we tend to rationalize everything. You know, in a political environment, if the idea that gets chosen is the one that is shouted the loudest, or comes from the strongest person, you don't have to explain why that idea is a good idea. That's not the determining factor. But in a world where the best idea wins, there has to be a lot of rationalization, a lot of conversation. And that was the that was the environment that I liked. I always advocated for creativity and innovation, let's do things differently. You know, I've just looked around the industry and just found everyone to be really samey, really similar, not that inspiring. And then we had that degree of arrogance that I referred to earlier, which is that like, Hey, we can just do better than, than what we see. We look around and respectfully say like, This isn't good enough.
We also had a degree of kindness, where we said, Hey, we're going to treat each other with, an essential amount of kindness and respect. You know, I always found it icky when I heard CEOs and founders talk about their companies, as family. I shouldn't actually say that, I mean, if that's your era, you know, whatever you want to do.
Teja: You don't fire family.
Eoghan: Well, that's a good way to put it. We weren't as cutthroat as, say, apparently, Netflix. But at the same time, you know, it was really important to respect the human and the person, the individual. I think that allowed for a very high degree of connection. The people at intercom, especially from the early days, are so, so close, now, lifelong friends. And that went a really long way.
I think fun and play was so important. You know, one of the things I repeated the most, because I knew that I wasn't able to live by it, was to enjoy the journey. Like to not focus on the outcome, which I've spoken about a little earlier, to just embrace the adventure and have fun with it. Create space for silliness, and play and fun, so that people could actually feel safe to try new ideas and really express themselves and be themselves. That has great benefits just for the feel of the culture, so people don't feel contained, and judged. They feel welcome, and they're able to enjoy themselves. But, it's a really brilliant, beautiful thing for the work product. Also, when it's safe to do, really dumb and silly things. You have some really dumb and silly and weird and wonderful and wacky and highly disruptive and effective marketing or product ideas and features. So, play and fun was a big part of my value system that I promoted.
Teja: Awesome. Well, the world is significantly better off having you, in new terms of, inventing and scaling intercom. So, really appreciate you joining us today and for sharing your story.
Eoghan: Thank you. It's my pleasure.
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