“Being lucky is just so much work,” Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane told our co-editor Alexia Tsotsis during a fireside chat at TechCrunch Disrupt London today. As a startup, you always have to try to embrace luck, Svane argued when asked about what role luck plays in the life of a new company. “As an early startup, there is no way around trying to open all the doors,” he said — and that’s exhausting work.
Svane would know, because while Zendesk has been a huge success — and went public earlier this year — his first company, which was aptly named “Caput,” went bust after the first bubble. “We had a fantastic time and sold software all over Europe,” he said. “But once the bubble burst we lost almost all our customers.” He hit rock bottom when one of his employees died the night before he was about to lay off most of his employees. But when you run a startup, you also have to know when to quit “before you burn all your bridges to make your startup work.”
One of the employees he had to let go at that point, by the way, was Ruby on Rails inventor David Heinemeier Hansson.[gallery ids="1073603,1073605,1073607,1073610,1073608"]
With Zendesk, Svane clearly hit his stride, though. Here at TechCrunch, however, we missed our chance to play a role in this success because Zendesk was actually rejected from the first Startup Battlefield in 2008. “We got a bit down the process but were basically rejected,” Svane told Tsotsis. “We were sitting in this small loft in copenhagen and trying to do these conference calls where we could pitch the company. And one day we pitched Jason Calacanis. And he was: ‘So what? You built a helpdesk with an RSS feed.'” Still he admits that the team wasn’t very good at pitching back then.
As for taking his company public, Svane noted how it’s the right step for a company that has a natural path to continue and grow its market. “But you should never do it before you are ready. It’s an immense amount of work,” he warned. You also shouldn’t even try to time when you go public. “You should optimize for the right time for you to go public. Maybe there will be a correction, but the stock market always goes up and goes down,” he said. “You have to focus on your company, your stock and your performance.”
Talking a bit more about the past of the company, Svane also noted how he felt dirty when he was taking money from others. But not for the reason you would expect. “When you take the money, you feel a little bit dirty. You have this great vision and then it’s just about dollars,” he said.
You can watch the full interview below: