Des Traynor has built a tech startup that empowers businesses to have 20 million conversations with their customers every month, which has also enabled him to invest in dozens of other startup companies.
During his appearance on the Dealmakers Podcast, Traynor talked about the power of blogging, UI and the value of talking to your customers, making internet business personal, raising millions of dollars, and how he evaluates potential startup investments.
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Becoming Obsessed With New Technology
Des Traynor grew up in Dublin, Ireland. It was the 1980s, and a tough time for the country economically.
6 of his brothers ended up emigrating to the US. Traynor spent much of his childhood playing soccer, and being into music. Though it was getting his first computer that really set the trajectory for his life. A Commodore VIC-20.
In fact, it was playing computer games with a friend and tinkering with the computer’s memory that really got him delving into technology. They figured out how to hack games to give themselves more lives, and so they would never run out of ammo.
This passion took him to study computer science and software engineering at university and put him on the path to making it his life’s work.
He even went on to begin working on his Ph.D. Yet, found watching the new technology that was emerging every day so compelling he just had to get involved.
It was a time when Gmail, Google Maps, and other elements of Web 2 were being released. He particularly became attracted to usability in product design and then ultimately product management.
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The Power Of Blogging
Des Traynor credits much of his success to his blogging.
He is passionate about storytelling, and appreciates all versions of it, including reading a good amount of fiction books. Being involved in the tech community in online forums, and reading articles by Paul Graham certainly influenced him in making the leap as an entrepreneur as well.
He says that at least half of his career is a result of him writing blog posts, including meeting the CEO for his company. He says that “you really really can’t overstate how important that is as a skill, and how it most directly helped.”
He says that he probably wrote around 93 of the first hundred Intercom blog posts himself, though he is also now working on Intercom’s own product podcast.
It didn’t just attract online traffic either, it turned into live performances of the blog, with events in sizable venues around the world, from Dublin to San Francisco. It was instrumental for crafting their brand and founding story too.
Making Business On The Internet Personal
Des’s first business started off as a software development agency, building things for other people to buy themselves time to work on developing products they found interesting and valuable.
They had built several things. One they really wanted to scale. He saw the need to make interfacing with their customers easy, or they just wouldn’t use it.
So they built a widget to talk to customers inside the product. He became obsessed with the importance of talking to customers.
He had seen how a local coffee shop owner was able to build up their business one customer at a time—something that wasn’t really enabled on the internet at the time. So, they wound up their consulting business and decided to go all in on this widget as its own business, Intercom.
The early days of Intercom were much like any startup. Working 16 hours a day, six days a week. Building, shipping, and getting customer feedback.
They did a lot of things that didn’t scale on the way. Like talking to individual customers for long periods of time, and emailing them individually with personal messages and cold pitches.
Today, they are a B2B SaaS business, with five offices, around 900 employees, and over 25,000 customers who have half a billion conversations with their customers every month using their software.
On the way they’ve also raised $241M, partially thanks to sending their CEO out to raise in California, and to head up their go to market plan and marketing with US based talent.
They are working on building a much better world and internet by designing for customers and enabling businesses to benefit from providing dramatically better, and more personalized customer service.
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Investing In Startups
Traynor has also invested in dozens of other startups himself. Asked about his criteria for investing, he told the Dealmakers Show audience that 80% of the pitches he turns down are due to one of the following.
- They don’t have a good product
- They are not solving a real problem
- It’s not a problem that people care enough to pay for
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- The types of startup investments he is making
- The future of business on the internet
- Des Traynor’s top advice when launching your own business