Irish unicorn tech company Intercom co-founder and chairman Eoghan McCabe is returning to the company for a second term as CEO.
cCabe will replace current CEO Karen Peacock, who will assume an advisory role on the board.
McCabe’s move may come as a surprise to some.
Why is he returning to the job now?
“The board members asked me if I would consider coming back,” he told Independent.ie.
Intercom is a specialist in customer communication software. The most well-known feature is the chat bubble for Messenger customers, used by thousands of companies on their websites.
Founded by McCabe, Des Traynor, Ciaran Lee and David Barrett, the company distributes its hundreds of employees between its engineering center in Dublin and San Francisco, where it focuses on sales and marketing.
“I left the CEO role in the summer of 2020,” says McCabe.
“At that point I felt like I had achieved everything. When we started Intercom, I hoped it could be a $50 million deal. By 2020, it was well over a billion dollars. The time was right. I was ready for a break to try new things. I brought Karen with me [Peacock] as COO with the expectation of eventually becoming CEO. So I got my break and started some new fun projects.”
But he stayed on as chairman of the company.
“It was remarkable to see how much I still cared about it and still felt very connected to it,” he says.
McCabe has spent much of the past two years as an angel investor, backing several software startups including trucking logistics company TrueNorth, CRM company North and AI text analytics company Monkeylearn.
As he returns to the CEO role, his plans for the company are now “aggressive.” Intercom, he says, has been a successful — but second-tier — player in key markets it’s chasing. Now it wants to become a giant in the industry again. That means targeting Zendesk.
We choose to become one of the great leaders in space
“For me, that means finishing what I started by becoming super aggressive,” he says. “We pick a lead and start a fight. We choose to become one of the great leaders in space. In particular, we follow Zendesk in customer support. You were the leader and did a phenomenal job. And yet their technology represents a way of doing things that hasn’t really changed in a few decades. We know we found a new way to solve the same problem. So we will go after them.”
Zendesk is about 10 times the size of Intercom and has an office in Dublin with hundreds of employees.
“Intercom is used by a lot of really big, respected brands,” says McCabe. “But it’s often used as a complement to tools like Zendesk. If this big next step works, it won’t be a companion anymore. It will be the platform.”
When asked what a “next big step” might mean, McCabe says the company will launch a major product refresh next week.
“The big highlight is a complete refresh of our messenger,” he says. “You see it on every website now, and it’s just become a core expectation from consumers when they’re trying to reach businesses. There are enough imitators. That’s why it’s really important that we’re always one step ahead. This refresh will overtake the competition once again.”
McCabe’s return as CEO marks the end of a two-year tenure led by Karen Peacock, who rose from the position of the company’s chief operating officer to assume the helm in 2020. Ms. Peacock, who jointly made the announcement to staff today, will remain with the board as an advisor. Did she approve of Mr McCabe’s return as CEO?
“Karen has been a phenomenal leader and leader for us,” he says. “We have matured a lot under her. She really changed the company and is now an important part of our history. We are just super grateful to her.”
In a statement, Ms Peacock said: “It has been a privilege to serve as Intercom’s CEO and I would like to thank the Intercom team for all we have been able to achieve together. I’m excited to see where Intercom is headed and what the next chapter will look like.”
Last year, Peacock said the company was in the early stages of preparing for an IPO. Is that still in sight?
“Anybody can see that the IPO window just closed,” says McCabe. “Technology is facing this insane headwind right now. So I feel like everyone is on the back burner.”
The company is 12 years old at this point. It’s like a milestone for the company to reach this point
But McCabe says the company is committed to “getting an outcome for all the thousands of stakeholders involved,” including “investors and employees.” Past and present”.
“It could be an IPO or something else,” he says. “The company is 12 years old at this point. It is like a milestone for the company to reach this point.”
The tech industry has seen valuations plummet this year, hitting private companies like Stripe as well as some publicly traded multinational giants like Google.
How is Intercom’s “unicorn” rating holding up?
“I really can’t say,” he says.
Is Intercom Profitable Right Now?
“Well, we’ve always been close over the past few years,” he says. “There have been periods where we have been profitable and some where we have not been profitable. I think right now maybe we’re not.”
Intercom still intends to move forward with a new huge main building next to St Stephens Green, he adds.
It counts more than 25,000 companies among its customers, including Amazon, Microsoft and Atlassian. The company says its platform is used to send over 500 million messages a month and enables “interactions” with over 600 million monthly “active end users.”
The latest valuation of $1.27 billion is based on $240 million in funding from global venture capitalists including Kleiner Perkins, Bessemer Venture Partners and Social Capital.
Nonetheless, McCabe’s return to the helm of Intercom is also likely to raise questions about a controversy he’s been linked to. In 2019, a US publication named him in connection with the 2015 harassment of a co-worker at a social event. After the story’s publication, McCabe apologized for what he described as “poor judgment” in the “early company”.
A resulting investigation into the company, assisted by an outside attorney from a well-known US law firm, acquitted him of wrongdoing. An official complaint was not filed. However, the investigation called for some improvements to Intercom’s internal policies. These included a number of recommendations to “place more focus on our anti-harassment policies and build on current harassment education.”
The story attracted a lot of attention in Ireland. Was that why he resigned as CEO?
I think my track record of creating inclusive and open cultures speaks for itself
“Absolutely not. I went there a full year after the investigation was closed.”
So it didn’t contribute at all, even marginally, to the reasons he wanted to resign?
“It had nothing to do with that at all. I gave someone an advance in the early days of the company. I was naive. I thought we were all on the same level. But it was thoroughly investigated by HR and the board, as well as outside counsel engaged by the board, after which the board decided that no action was necessary against me and they voted unanimously to support me as CEO.”
Does he think this is the kind of thing that can linger as a problem?
“I think my track record of creating inclusive and open cultures speaks for itself,” he says. “Anyone I worked with in the early days will tell you that I am passionate about creating a good, healthy and open environment. When I left, about 46 percent of all promotions and hiring from directors and above were women. That was without any kind of directive. It was just because of the culture and the environment. So I think that’s going to be the thing that’s going to be the most pervasive and on the minds of employees.”
McCabe describes the next period in Intercom’s chapter as one where it needs to become a bigger company.
“Our big innovation was to make it really easy for companies to be personal with their customers,” he says. “We had Messenger and we had bots and things like that. But we were never the ultimate leader. Yes, we are a multi-billion dollar business, but there are higher levels.”
https://www.independent.ie/business/technology/intercom-ceo-eoghan-mccabe-on-why-hes-back-to-pick-a-fight-42046468.html Intercom CEO Eoghan McCabe on why he’s back to ‘pick a fight’