(Editor’s note: In a series of articles, tech.eu is putting its spotlights on a number of European tech companies who’ve achieved success while bootstrapping the business.
This time, we caught up with Cork, Ireland-based company Teamwork, which develops an online collaboration tool with 2 million users that’s grown into a profitable business without a sales team or VC financing. Earlier, we've profiled the likes of Mixcloud, Cleverbridge and Glispa.)
Looking for an online project management tool that caters to and complements your business can be rather daunting. Especially when a slew of companies – such as Asana, Apollo, Basecamp, GoPlan, Redbooth, Team, Trello, the list goes on – are all screaming for your attention with customer testimonials and a free trial.
One bootstrapped European company in this space that’s remained under the radar despite its growing global footprint is Teamwork. Currently, there are 350,000 companies ranging from PayPal and eBay to individual Web design agencies using the platform and around 2 million users on the platform overall, said Peter Coppinger, co-founder of Teamwork in an interview with tech.eu.
To put that into perspective, Chicago-based Basecamp, an established player in this space, claims on its homepage to have 6 million active users.
Understandably so, Teamwork is adamant on differentiating itself from Basecamp – to the extent where the company has dedicated a page titled ‘Teamwork vs Basecamp’ .
Not only are these two companies offering similar products, they also have a similar backstory.
More specifically, both Basecamp and Teamwork’s project management platforms were spin-offs from their respective Web design firms, 37signals and Digital Crew. Eventually, the project management products proved to be successful enough that the companies shifted their business to focus solely on this particular aspect.
In Teamwork’s case, the company decided in 2011 to concentrate all efforts on its project collaboration tool.
Building a bootstrapped company without a sales team
Headquartered in Cork, Ireland with employees working remotely in places such as Australia, New Zealand and the US, Teamwork is currently a 26-person team. What’s really interesting though is that the company operates without a single sales person.
“The funny thing about our company is that we have no sales people. Therefore, we don’t have to do the whole thing that requires opening a sales office somewhere. All of our business comes to us directly, in particular, most of it comes to us via referrals and recommendations from existing customers,” said Coppinger. “I don’t think we could have gotten away with that if we had raised money.”
For Teamwork, going down the bootstrapping path was very deliberate. Coppinger said it’s very unlikely that the company will go and raise financing in the future because this route has allowed the team to focus on what customers want, instead of on what investors want.
Echoing sentiments from other European founders of bootstrapped companies we’ve spoken to in the past, he said that one of the main advantages is full control over the direction of the business.
“We don’t have anybody trying to convince us that we need to push the business in a certain way, except for the customers. So when customers tell us they want something, we build that for them, that’s why I think our business has been so successful because the only outside influence on us is our customers... it’s made a big difference for us,” Coppinger added.
So did Teamwork experience any drawbacks from bootstrapping? Though Coppinger couldn’t think of any, he said this really depends on the business itself.
“We’re lucky here because we’re primarily a tech company – of the 26 people working here at the moment, probably 21 or 22 of them are software developers,” he explained.
“In a company like that, it’s particularly handy not to have anybody else telling us what we should and shouldn’t be doing... We like that we listen to our customers – and that’s it. It’s also meant that in the early days, we had to plan our scale very, very well.”
Teamwork’s upcoming tasks and the Irish startup scene
Although there are plenty of players in the online project management landscape lasering in on certain segments of the market, Teamwork thinks it's carved out a place for itself by offering a flexible platform that can be adapted to all businesses and use-cases, whether it's managing various projects for a big corporation or keeping track of tasks for a personal project.
As for the future, Coppinger said the team will be rolling out two new products in the next couple of months and plans on doubling the Teamwork headcount by the end of the year.
When asked about the current climate of the startup and tech scene in Cork, and Ireland in general, Coppinger admitted to finding it strange that country’s ecosystem doesn’t get more press considering the success of the Collison brothers, who founded Stripe, as well as companies, such as anti-fraud tech startup Trustev, who’re making a mark on the international stage.
Ireland is known to be a hotspot for corporate headquarters for large (American) tech companies, and Coppinger said that – in terms of talent acquisition – this has turned out to be sort of a good thing because oftentimes people go into work for these tech juggernauts and then later decide they want to work for smaller tech companies.
“Ireland is generally being very supportive of tech at the moment and in particular with startups. They’re finally turning the corner and realizing that most of the new jobs are gonna come from startups and new businesses as opposed to existing ones like Microsoft,” he added.