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Startupland: How Three Guys Risked Everything to Turn an Idea into a Global Business




Startupland: How Three Guys Risked Everything to Turn an Idea into a Global Business

Mikkel Svane, Carlye Adler (With)

ISBN: 978-1-118-98081-1 January 2015 Jossey-Bass 224 Pages


The real story of what it takes to risk it all and go for broke.

Conventional wisdom says most startups need to be in Silicon Valley, started by young engineers around a sexy new idea, and backed by VC funding. But as Mikkel Svane reveals in Startupland, the story of founding Zendesk was anything but conventional.

Founded in a Copenhagen loft by three thirty-something friends looking to break free from corporate doldrums, Zendesk Inc. is now one of the hottest enterprise software companies, still rapidly growing with customers in 150 countries. But its success was anything but predestined. With revealing stories both funny and frank, Mikkel shares how he and his friends bravely left secure jobs to start something on their own, how he almost went broke several times, how they picked up themselves and their families to travel across the world to California and the unknown, and how the three friends were miraculously still together for Zendesk's IPO and (still growing) success.

Much like Zendesk's mission itself—to remove friction, barriers, and mystery in order to make customer service easier and more approachable—Startupland removes some of the myths about startups and startup founders. Mikkel's advice, hard-won through experience, often bucks conventional wisdom and entrepreneurial tropes. He shares why failure (whether fast or slow) is awful, why a seemingly boring product or idea can be the most exciting, why giving back to the community is as important as the bottom line. From how to hire right (look for people who are not offended by swearing) to which personas generate the highest response rates, Mikkel answers the most pressing questions from the perspective of someone still in the trenches and willing to share the hard truth, warts and all.

While there are books by consultants who tell you how to build businesses, or by entrepreneurs now running billion-dollar businesses, there are few books from people still in the trenches who acutely remember the difficult daily decisions, the thrill (and fears) of the early days, the problems that scale with growing a business, and the reason why they all went on the adventure in the first place. Startupland is indispensable reading for all entrepreneurs who want to make their ideas the next big thing. The book will inspire and empower you to follow your own dream and create your own story.

Foreword by Alexia Tsotsis ix

Introduction: The Pursuit of Happiness 1

1 The Honeymoon 7
Believing that what you’re doing is great and knowing nothing of what’s to come

2 The Salad Days 31
Keeping it together when things should be falling apart

3 Going for Broke 57
How to turn down money and keep your company (and your soul)

4 The Bubble Redux 69
Battling circumstances beyond your control

5 The Game is Not Over 81
Getting investors and getting along with your partners

6 Coming to America 97
Chasing the dream—and dealing with the reality

7 Go West 115
Leveraging location and upending our lives

8 Growing Up 133
Going from building a product to building a company—and messing up along the way

9 Innocence Lost 151
From idealist to realist, and the uncomfortable journey in between

10 Going to the Show 167
Becoming a public company and remembering where we came from

Epilogue 179

A Few More Thoughts 185
It’s all about relationships

Notes 189

Acknowledgments 191

About the Authors 193

Index 197

“Mikkel Svane’s Startupland is a refreshingly honest and provocative account of his journey building Zendesk, complete with the hard choices, unexpected turns, and sheer terrors involved in running a startup. Svane blends practical advice with deeply personal reflections on the company, the industry, and Silicon Valley as a whole. A must-read for aspiring entrepreneurs.”
—Aaron Levie, cofounder and CEO, Box

“Mikkel Svane is a great founder who wrote a great book about some of the not-so-great moments throughout his entrepreneurial escapades. With honesty, humor, and humility, Startupland shows what it’s really like.”
—Paddy Cosgrave, founder, the Web Summit and F.ounders

 “I read Startupland over one weekend. I laughed, I cried, and mostly I was so happy I was on the other side. Mikkel Svane knows what it’s like and tells it as it is. A must-read.”
—Julia Hartz, cofounder and president, Eventbrite, Inc.

“Startupland is a refreshingly honest and humble inside look from Mikkel Svane, a Silicon Valley outsider. Startup founders will want to keep it as a reference for whenever things aren’t going according to plan (which is all the time).”
—Ben Chestnut, cofounder and CEO, MailChimp