Four Irishmen on a mission to build a billion-dollar company

When it comes to communicating personally with consumers, Intercom says it has all the answers

The names Eoghan McCabe, Des Traynor, Ciaran Lee and David Barrett may not ring a bell for most people, but the four Irishmen are ones to watch. Having convinced investors to part with $30 million (€22 million), the Intercom co-founders are now on a mission to build a billion- dollar company.

Their start-up, which employs 30 people in Dublin, claims to help internet businesses to connect better with customers. Its personal messaging system provides a single, integrated platform for the whole company to use for support, marketing, product and sales communication.

“As ‘software eats the world’, in the words of Netscape’s Marc Andreessen, all businesses are becoming web businesses. The potential for these businesses to sell to and support customers at scale is truly awesome,” Intercom chief executive McCabe says.

There is a flaw in the system however. Businesses don’t know or talk to the people who use their products and customers don’t know or talk to the people who make products.

While businesses have tools to run online help desks, email marketing, customer relationship management and marketing automation, McCabe says they cannot provide a holistic view of the customer. As a result, the customer’s experience is very disjointed.

He says the development of more personal connections to customers is something that businesses have historically sought to establish, but the internet is only now starting to catch up. Intercom allows companies be personable with their customers.

“I used to go to this coffee shop in Dublin and noticed that the owner knew all of his customers’ preferences. He had built up a loyal customer base as a result. I realised internet companies couldn’t have the same personal interactions with customers that he did.”

McCabe says the start-up has the potential to "disrupt" the business of Salesforce and Marketo. It would seem investors also have confidence in the company, parting with $23 million in the last few weeks alone to help Intercom increase staff numbers and scale the company.

McCabe says Intercom plans to create 100 new jobs in Dublin over the next 18 months, mainly in engineering and design.

“All of the company’s research and development is done in Dublin,” he says. “There is a massive war for talent in Silicon Valley. There are not enough engineers and that hampers great companies. Demand is still big for engineers in Dublin, but it’s not as bad as Silicon Valley.

“We will spend millions of dollars in Dublin over the next few years.”

Intercom’s four co-founders have had big ambitions from the beginning.

“Technology is special in that you are literally bringing a new thing to the world. You’re not going to open a café and have it worth €10 billion in three years’ time. That can happen with a tech company though,” McCabe says.

“As a result, everyone in the tech business is scared shitless everyday that they are creating the wrong product.

“The four of us previously created an error tracking service called Exceptional. It did very well, but we were not passionate about it. We managed to sell the business in July 2011 and used the proceeds to develop Intercom.”

McCabe decided to move to the US in 2011 to learn how the big tech companies were built in Silicon Valley.

"You can look people in the eye in Silicon Valley, tell them you want to build a multi-billion dollar business and have a productive conversation," he says.

Biz Stone
While there he convinced Twitter co-founder Christopher "Biz" Stone to invest in Intercom. "I had first come to San Francisco in 2007. It was the early days of Twitter and Biz Stone's name was on my mind so I took a guess at his email address and mailed him. I asked to meet up, saying we would buy him Guinness.

“I couldn’t believe when he wrote back a few minutes later saying yes. He brought the other Twitter founders with him, and so a handful of Irish nerds ended up having drinks with the Twitter founders.”

When McCabe returned to San Francisco in 2011, he contacted Stone asking to meet up again.

Over a walk in Dolores Park, he told Stone about the idea for Intercom. A few days later, Stone got back to him saying he would invest in the company.

Alongside the latest funding round, the company also announced a new chief operating officer: former Paypal and Yammer executive Mark Woolway.

"I'm a big believer that you should hire out of your league," he says. "Mark previously worked for Peter Thiel and Elon Musk. He led Paypal's IPO and acquisition. He was also executive vice president at Yammer and led the deal for their acquisition by Microsoft. "

As for the future, the company is looking towards mobile.

“We haven’t seen the impact of mobile on the world. The Intercom dream is for company directors to reach out to customers using mobile. For example, two directors could be having a meeting in a coffee shop where they come up. They could take out their phones and message 200,000 of their customers.”

Having raised $30 million in the last two years, he says the pressure is now on to do well. “When you raise a significant amount of money, the measure of success is upped drastically.”