Today’s guest post is by Tiago Paiva, the CEO and cofounder of Talkdesk, the world’s leading cloud-based call center software solution. When he isn’t running a high-growth startup, he enjoys reading, snowboarding and playing with his dog, Buster.
It all started with a laptop.
I had recently graduated with my master’s degree in computer science from the University of Lisbon. My intention was to found a startup – to create an innovative product that could change the world – but the startup scene in Portugal hadn’t taken off yet. I spent hours every day working on various entrepreneurial projects, brainstorming business ideas, listening to “This Week in Startups” and scouring the Internet for a way to break into that space. I even had “The Noob Guide to Online Marketing” and S1s from recent SaaS IPOs hanging on my wall. One day, while looking into successful startups, I saw a blog post for a Twilio-hosted hack-a-thon in which the first prize was a MacBook Air.
I wanted that laptop and everything it represented.
That was 2011. Four years later, I’m the CEO of a hyper-growth startup that has raised over $24.5 million from top VCs such as DFJ, Storm Ventures, 500 Startups and Salesforce Ventures. My company now has more than 120 employees and over 1,000 customers. We just moved to a beautiful building in downtown San Francisco.
So, what happened? Well, first things first: I won that laptop.
I had a simple idea. I set out to create a cloud-based call center software solution that would streamline the annoying, expensive and otherwise unpleasant process of interacting with customers over the phone. I wanted this solution to provide comprehensive, real-time information about the customer so agents could personalize and expedite conversations. And I wanted all of this to occur in the browser so that companies could have their phone support infrastructure up and running in minutes, not days or months.
I enlisted the help of a colleague from the University of Lisbon, Cristina Fonseca. Together, we worked towards my vision and called the result Talkdesk. Our prototype took first place at the Twilio-hosted hack-a-thon and we won that laptop.
Prize in hand, I realized that we had created something that was addressing a big market need. There was no other simple cloud-based call center software available at that time. Taking the laptop and going home without turning this prototype into a company would be a huge mistake. That’s when Paul Singh, one of the judges at TwilioCon, approached me and invited me to join 500 Startups’ third batch. How could I turn him down? So I stayed in America.
500 Startups was my first exposure to the culture that I had spent so much time studying from the outside. The early-stage entrepreneurs, like myself, who were laser focused on turning their idea into a reality. The mentors, VCs and other influencers in Silicon Valley. The late nights, whiteboard sessions and offsites – I loved every bit of it. It was there that I realized that the dream I had for so long was mine for the taking.
In November 2011, before 500 Startups’ Demo Day, Talkdesk attracted the attention of an investor from AngelList, Alex Khein. Weeks later Talkdesk had $350,000 and wind in our sails. We wouldn’t raise funds again until 2014 – and at that time we had the same money in the bank as when we received the Angel Investment. How did we do it?
We were hungry (not just because we were stretching one Mongolian BBQ meal into three), lean and we knew that if we were going to make it we had to listen to, learn from and go above and beyond for our early adopters. This meant that I had to get over my hesitancies about speaking to customers over the phone and get my hands dirty. I decided to serve as the lead and only team member for Talkdesk’s marketing, sales, customer success and customer support departments for the first two years – all while leading product development. While taking this extremely lean approach was important, what was even more critical was that I was gathering data from our customers that would help shape the future of Talkdesk into a product people would love.
For the first two years, this was Talkdesk’s culture. My team of engineers in Portugal was helping me provide 24-hour phone and email support. I was not only doing demos all day long, I was also onboarding new customers, troubleshooting and customizing Talkdesk’s configuration to their use case – and using this experience to fuel product development. This approach allowed me to keep my fingers on the pulse of our customer base and to create a product roadmap that was based on feedback and data.
I quickly found out that the provision of this type of VIP, customer-centric service had a trickle down effect for us. Our early adopters loved us and were fiercely loyal to Talkdesk. They appreciated our responsiveness, which meant that they were tolerant as the software evolved to better meet their needs. As word-of-mouth referrals increased, our customer base grew organically. This allowed us to spend exactly $0 on marketing, relying only on customer referrals and direct and organic traffic to our website.
Once we hit $1M ARR, still working off of our Angel Investment, I knew that all of my hard work – staying up late every night, being away from home, working without a salary – was going to pay off.
In the past few years, Talkdesk has gone from selling call center software exclusively to SMBs to signing deals with huge, publicly traded companies like Box, Qualis and DemandWare. Our company has grown 10x year-over-year and shows no signs of stopping.
But I’ll never forget what it was like to be the head of that lean, scrappy startup. I am intimately aware of what it feels like to be in that space and to wonder what’s going to make the difference between success and failure. Looking back on this experience, there’s a straightforward answer: customer service.
Providing excellent service to our customers was a main factor influencing Talkdesk’s growth and, I believe, essential for the growth of any early-stage startup. Talkdesk would not be what it is today if it had not been for our customer-centric mindset from day-one. I know this because I lived it and because we created our product to help teams do exactly what we did. Now I feel like it is my turn to give this knowledge to early-stage startups wondering, as I did, what is going to make the difference between making it and not.
That’s why we created the Talkstart Program. It’s designed to help facilitate the development of customer service departments in startups – to provide a leg up to the next generation of dreamers with Noob Guides on their walls. We are working with accelerators, incubators, co-working spaces and VCs to offer up to three free Talkdesk licenses and a VIP onboarding coach to qualified startups. Our team will help startups implement Talkdesk, integrate it with a CRM, helpdesk or other tool, and begin to build a foundation of customer service excellence.
I’m proud that 500 Startups is participating in the Talkstart Program. Only a few years ago, I was one of many participants in their third batch. Now, I’m running a hyper-growth startup and finally getting a chance to give back to the 500 Startups community that helped me out when Talkdesk was just an idea I had to win a laptop. I hope that all of the startups in the current and future batches will thrive and I hope that Talkdesk can be a part of their development as customer-centric businesses.
Oh, and did I mention that, these days, every member of my team gets a Macbook Air on their first day on the job?
Talkdesk is easy-to-use cloud-based call center software that enables businesses to provide excellent customer service with phone support. The intuitive web-based interface and robust call center functionality, including IVR, skills-based routing and comprehensive reporting, make it possible for your agents to have real-time, personalized conversations with customers. With Talkdesk, you can create your call center in minutes and integrate it with a variety of top business tools, including Salesforce, Desk.com and Zendesk. Visit www.talkdesk.com to learn more. For more information about the Talkstart Program, visit https://www.talkdesk.com/talkstart.