Intercom, the customer communication platform based in Dublin and San Francisco, is going on the road next month with Inside Intercom, a tour of live events in six cities – London, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, Paris, Berlin, Dublin – with six US events to follow in June in cities like New York and Austin, looking at building great products. It’s the next step for the company, which ran some smaller events in the past, and is indicative of its growth over the last few years.
The company has raised over $65 million in funding since it was founded in 2011, with a $35 million Series C round last August led by Iconiq Capital, though it remains unclear if the company will be seeking any further funding in the near future. “We have no comment on financing in general,” said co-founder Des Traynor.
As Intercom prepares for its series of events in Europe and North America, Traynor spoke with Tech.eu about why it’s venturing out on this tour and what the current state of Intercom is.
Tech.eu: First of all, what is the aim of this series of events for Intercom?
Traynor: Our goal with these events is to connect with our customers, listeners, our audience, the readers of our blog and in a sense give a live performance of what our product and what our people and our product is all about. What we’ll be covering at the events is the thinking and theory and tactics of what we do at Intercom and how it’s worked for us so far.
We’ll be sharing lessons learned along the way. I think what often happens with the startup space, there’s a wealth of advice about what it takes to build a product at the very start or what it takes to get to your first ten customers. Usually when people get to our stage, which is over 8,000 paying customers, over 200 people etc., people generally tend to stop talking about what’s actually going on behind the curtains.
We’re all about making business personal, what’s more personal than meeting in person and explaining to them how we work, what we do? Hopefully attendees at the events will learn, they’ll see that aside from the huff and hype you get at normal events, what we hope to show them is real tangible examples of real principles that we’ve learned and applied along the way.
So the events are targeted more so at the customers you already have?
Our audience for this is the tech community in each of the cities. What we’re shooting for is an evening’s entertainment where we’ll discuss how to build great products and how to scale them and scale all the various aspects of them. People who benefit from this, anyone who’s involved in product, from a design, engineering, product managing, marketing or support standpoint, there will be something there for them. The audience will be local startup people from the community in Paris, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Amsterdam, London and it should deliver a great night, a combination of education and networking.
Who will be speaking?
Our VP of product will be speaking, Paul Adams. He runs product at Intercom, before that he was at Facebook where he was global manager of brand, before that he was at Google where he worked on Google+. Emmet Connolly, who is our director of design, worked on Android Wear at Google. I’ll be at the Berlin date. I think one interesting thing about this tour is that we have a different line-up in every single city so it’s not going to be a rinse and repeat, you’re not going to see jaded speakers rehashing the same thing for the fifth time.
It’s unique to each city.
Dublin is your R&D base but why have you chosen these five other cities?
Last year we ran two events in Dublin and they were both very successful and what we wanted to do was take the next step up. In a sense it’s a big tour for us but in another sense I could see people could say, compared to Metallica’s latest tour, it’s small.
From our point of view this is the next step up. If last year was seeing if we could host an event, this is us seeing if we can host a few events. That’s why it’s these five cities aside from Dublin. As to why these five, it’s kind of a blended analysis. There’s a few cities we would have loved to have gone to that didn’t make the list. What we looked at basically was, where are our listeners, where are our readers, where are the tech communities that are really keen to interact with and for sure, where are our customers too.
Your choice of venues is interesting. In Dublin you’re hosting in the Olympia Theatre with 1,400 people. It’s a venue more suited for concerts or plays, why are you hosting there?
It’s interesting, I think most people would agree that the average tech event is pretty shit. It’s jaded speakers in a boring hotel room, usually it’s an official function room where the night before it hosted a wedding and the night after it would host something else like a birthday party. It’s in no way designed to be unique or interesting.
Megan [Sheridan], who is our manager of events, deliberately chose really unique venues in each place we’re going. We’re not going to any official or formal conference venues because we want to create a unique experience, we want people to leave thinking that was a great night, not just that it was good content on the same old stage.
We’re shooting for a really interesting experience so we’re looking at things like silent cinemas, restored factories and in Dublin we’re looking at the Olympia. We pick our venues pretty deliberately on terms of what lets us be as creative as possible to give a pure sense of what we’re about rather than 40 banquet chairs in a small room in the corner of a Marriot somewhere. There’s a time and a place for that type of thing but for us we’re hell bent on making this a unique experience.
There are so many tech events happening nearly every week, how do you differentiate?
When I say tech events all fall into the same mould, either it’s a networking meet-up at a bar where the emphasis is way too much on drink and too little on value or meaningful discussion or for the ones where there is actually content, it tends to be a pretty standard issue venue that’s provided by a conference centre or hotel. I think we’ll stand out in a few different ways.
The average conference will run 40 minute talks, what we’re doing is mixing and matching. We’re having short talks and long talks, practical talks with high level visionary talks. We’re going to have a panel in the mix of it all. We’re going to invite some local people to speak as well.
You have two offices in Dublin and San Francisco. Dublin is where your product development happens, so what’s the role of the San Francisco location for Intercom?
The product is entirely built in Dublin and as a result if you move around the Dublin office what you’ll see is designers, engineers, product managers, product researchers. That’s solely what we do in Dublin. Every other function is in our headquarters in San Francisco.
That’s sales, marketing, finance, analytics, growth, obviously administration and high level leadership. Our CEO is there. We have a product office and we have a go-to-market office. That’s what the divide is.
How has Dublin been for building a product?
Absolutely, Dublin is a fantastic city to do a product-first startup out of. That means that if you need to hire engineers, there are a lot of them there. Designers or product managers, there’s maybe less there but we’re still doing quite well at it.
Our anticipation is that we’ll continue to grow and expand in Dublin. I’m not sure what our latest projections are but conservatively, we’ll maybe double the size of that team in the next year and a half or so. It’s definitely something that we benefit a lot from because a lot of our peer startups, who are based in SF or anywhere else, they’ll struggle in a way that we don’t struggle in Dublin. We really believe that if you want to work on a product in Ireland, the absolute best place to do it is at Intercom. That’s actually true across mainland Europe.
If you want to work for a Silicon Valley startup and you don’t want to move to the Bay Area specifically, Intercom is really a strong bet. We’re doing incredibly well. We are set up like a Silicon Valley company in every other sense. We have a very compelling offer as an employer and we also have a strong employer brand there as well so.
With plans to double your staff numbers in Dublin (currently around 130 people), would you ever feel the need to move to a new location to accommodate that growth?
We’ve gone on record a number of times saying we’re in Dublin to stay, we’re not going to jump ship any time, and it’s definitely where I see the future of the R&D or the product development team being.
A particular challenge in Dublin for startups has been office space, both in availability and terms. If you continue to grow as much as you hope, will moving to a new spot in the city be on the cards?
The challenge with office space for me… of all the things to have to worry about in building a company, I just didn’t expect that this would be one of them. The nature of trying to find a compatible building that is suitably modern and best in class combined with favourable terms and I don’t mean in terms of money.
A lot of Irish landlords, and I don’t know how common this is across Europe, they want to see for example five years of accounts but the company is not yet five years old. They would like us to sign a ten year lease and the problem with us signing a ten year lease is that we will be significantly bigger in ten years’ time so that any lease we sign we would end up wanting to rip up. Lastly there is a bit of a lack of inventory on the market in terms of modern high spec buildings that are above 50,000 square feet or whatever.
It’s an unfortunate problem but I’m optimistic that it will get resolved over time, even what we’re seeing now where our office is in Dublin is a lot of buildings are getting renovated and moving to a higher spec. It’s not so many pokey small rooms with tiny windows and they’re actually starting to turn out a little bit better. The office space problem has been a rare one and hopefully it will go away soon but we’ll see.