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Zendesk CEO: 3 things you need to think about when building a company

building a company building a company

Zendesk's rise from a Copenhagen loft to the New York Stock Exchange is one of tech's fairytales. Here is what its CEO, Mikkel Svane, learnt about building a company.

Stay true to your vision when building a company

The journey from the excitement of having an idea to the hard work of building a company is a challenging one and, when you’re just starting out it can feel like you must accept every potential opportunity.

But there are times to say ‘no’ and trust your instincts.

Early in our startup life, we desperately needed to raise money and had an interested, big name angel investor.

We were getting close to closing our first investment with him, but something didn’t feel right. He was carrying the process out needlessly and being highly critical of minor issues.

My founders and I decided he wasn’t right for us—even though we were nearly broke. We said “no” to that money for the sake of our vision.

It’s tempting to take any offer that might come your way. But you have to think about the long term when building a company and accept the opportunities that are right for you.

Remember it’s never too late

All too often, the media representation of entrepreneurs is of a genius teenager or scrappy 20-something who wants to take on the world. The reality is quite different.

Having a career behind you can give you the experience and credibility that someone immediately out of college might not have. Life and work experience are valuable assets to have when building a company.

The records of successful startups are full of older founders making it in their 30s and 40s. When we were establishing Zendesk, my two co-founders and I were in our mid to late 30s.

We definitely were motivated by our age; we felt like Zendesk might be one of our last chances at startup success and building a company.

That gave us extra determination and willingness to work hard.

Hire for attitude

When we moved Zendesk from Copenhagen to San Francisco in 2009, we experienced a completely different culture of self-promotion that is ingrained in the American psyche.

It was quite a shock.

We learnt that we had to adapt to a different working environment. We would be reading CV’s thinking ‘wow, this person should have my job!’, only to be disappointed by the candidate at interview.

We learnt to counter this by introducing tests into our recruitment process to bring a measured approach to it.

More than anything, we learnt that hiring for attitude is often more important than hiring for skills in a startup.

Building a company consists of a close-knit group of people working really hard.

There can be yelling, swearing and hurt feelings in the craziness of it all, and you need to be sure you hire people with the attitude that matches your vision and an ability to thrive in an intense environment.