Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane on IPO Honeymoon, Wisconsin Growth

Zendesk’s first two employees hired in Madison, WI, were originally supposed to relocate to the company’s San Francisco headquarters. They never ended up moving.

After several months, co-founder and CEO Mikkel Svane took notice of the small Midwestern city’s strong talent pool, budding startup community, and humble, hard-working culture that reminds him of his home country of Denmark.

The customer-service software company went on to open an office in Madison in May 2013—its only domestic location outside San Francisco. The Wisconsin outpost has grown to more than 50 employees, and on Wednesday Zendesk publicly unveiled its new digs: a 14,000-square-foot space in a building on the Capitol Square that has room to accommodate about 100 staff members.

Zendesk has made the Madison office its primary support center, and today it introduced its first Madison executive, Greg Collins, who will have global responsibilities as the company’s vice president of customer advocacy. Collins was previously a VP at Madison-based Shoutlet.

Zendesk co-founder and CEO Mikkel Svane“Madison started a little like coincidence,” Svane (pictured left) said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony this afternoon. “We’re very honored to call this our second home.”

Zendesk is one of several well-known technology companies that have opened offices in Madison in recent years, joining the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Dell. “They’re coming to Madison because they see talent; they see opportunity,” Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce president Zach Brandon said.

Svane sees Madison as an “up and coming” startup hub where the competition for talent is less fierce than a place like Silicon Valley.

The local expansion continues Zendesk’s rapid rise. Co-founded by Svane in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2007, the company moved its headquarters to San Francisco (by way of Boston) in 2009. It has since grown to more than 700 employees and nine international offices. The company raised more than $85 million in funds before netting about $100 million in an initial public offering in May.

“I’m still in the honeymoon phase where I think everything is fantastic,” Svane joked in an interview after today’s event.

Svane said he spends a lot more time these days “telling our story” and handling the increased requirements that come with the territory for a company that now answers to public shareholders. “But it doesn’t change the mentality of the company. We’re very much on the same growth trajectory and strategy,” Svane said.

Although it’s difficult for the company to be as nimble as it was in the early days, Zendesk “can get so much stuff done” now that it’s a big company with “more ammunition,” Svane said. “You have to constantly change. I think we enjoy that. We embrace that.”

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