Billion-dollar tech firm Zendesk wants a Dublin HQ that 'reflects Irish hospitality'

The software firm isn’t being put off by the war for talent in staffing its new Irish base.

By Jonathan Keane Reporter, Fora

ZENDESK CHIEF EXECUTIVE Mikkel Svane sees Dublin staking a bigger footprint in the billion-dollar customer service software firm in the future.

“We are going to do a lot more engineering here. Engineering is going to grow substantially,” he told Fora.

Svane officially opened the doors this week on the company’s new offices in Dublin, which is its EMEA headquarters.

The Danish company, now based in San Francisco, has been in Dublin since 2012 and has recently pumped $10 million into the new HQ building. It currently employs around 290 people in Ireland with capacity for 500 staff in the office.

Among its 17 offices, Dublin serves as one of its development hubs, handling development for Zendesk’s mobile products and voice telephony services. The company  employs more than 2,000 people globally.

“It’s the first time we’ve really doubled down on building out an office that very much feels like Zendesk so this is definitely a big commitment from us to our Irish activities and to the business here in Dublin,” Svane said.

Development hub

Zendesk, which is valued at nearly $6 billion on the New York Stock Exchange, tries to spread its development work around globally rather than centring it all in Silicon Valley, Svane said.

“It’s not without pain,” he added.

“I think it also brings a tremendous amount of value that we have people from all over the world working on technology. It gives us a very diverse perspective on building our products.”

ZendeskDublin_11 Zendesk's Dublin HQ
Source: Donal Murphy

Zendesk, with more than 100,000 paid users, develops multiple products for businesses to carry out their customer service operations. It’s a rapidly evolving sector in which the company is constantly required to develop different products to suit varied clients.

Some of their clients’ users are mobile-first and more likely to communicate with a business by messenger-type services, while others will still pick up the phone.

“All these (new) channels are growing much faster than traditional telephony, but telephony is still a big part of how you think about customer engagement.”

The wealth of information that businesses need to track is always growing. On top of direct emails and phone calls, they have to contend with comments on social media or reviews in app stores.

The next step for the company is building “pre-emptive customer service” that helps businesses predict issues for customers before they become problems.

“How to bring all these channels into an interface that helps them serve their customers better is a challenge for a lot of businesses today, so we’re doubling down on helping businesses with that,” Svane said.

Bottlenecks

When it comes to staffing its Dublin office, Zendesk competes with the ever-growing cohort of big names and up-and-coming tech firms for staff.

The highly competitive arena of recruitment isn’t new to the company, given its experience in Silicon Valley, but Svane said the cluster of tech companies here was positive as it meant there was great talent to draw from.

“Hiring is always a bitch,” he said, “whether there’s a shortage or there’s too much supply or whatever. It’s always hard.”

Housing is another thorny issue in the capital, and one that’s only worsening at present.

However Svane said similar issues exist in most cities in which the company operates – and that housing shortages hadn’t been serious enough to inhibit any of its growth plans.

“I live in San Francisco, I can tell you a thing about housing issues. The problem with housing is that you’re always behind because it takes forever to build stuff,” he said, adding that the issue is indicative of growth for a region.

“If you have full supply you’re not growing. It’s an element of growing that your housing supply is behind.”

Zendesk helps some employees early on with relocation if they need temporary accommodation or support with visas and work permits.

ZendeskDublin_8
Source: Donal Murphy

The office is located in Charlemont Place overlooking the Grand Canal but away from the typical tech office maze on Grand Canal Docks.

“What we see in this office is that if you want to live like in walking distance or bicycle distance from the office, it’s hard. If you’re willing to have a 30-to-40-minute commute in the morning, it’s not that hard,” Svane said.

Tax and hospitality

The other hot-button question for any international tech firm with a European HQ in Ireland is tax.

The matter of the country’s low corporation tax rate and generous incentives for multinational firms invariably dogs any company that chooses the country as a HQ.

Svane, however, is quick to point out that the Dublin office is a full-fledged development hub and not some brass-plate operation designed to take advantage of the tax environment.

“I don’t think for anyone considering scaling the operations… I don’t think (tax) is an element,” he said.

One common thread in many of Zendesk’s locations is its involvement with incubators and events in those cities.

“It’s important for us, wherever we have offices, that we engage fully with the local communities,” Svane said.

The company wants to bring that engagement to Zendesk and “reflect the Irish hospitality” by opening its doors to local startups that want to host events or become involved with the company in some way.

“The startup ecosystem is a big part of who we are. In many ways we still consider ourselves a startup even though we’re like a few thousand people,” he said.

“We grow something like 40% year-on-year. We’re in constant change so we still think of ourselves as a startup.”

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