The problem we’re solving has been around for decades and it’s only grown bigger.
When I was younger, I worked in call centres which took care of outsourced customer service for a lot Nordic brands. At one of these call centres, ProffComm, where I started as an agent, I had to use a lot of different software from many different vendors just to complete my day-to-day tasks. This made for a pretty chaotic and challenging workday to put it mildly – constantly switching between tabs, having some interactions over the phone, others over email, and others over live chat, etc. It was pretty common for dotcom companies to outsource their customer service in the early 2000s, so I’ve really seen it all over the past two decades. Especially what’s been done wrong. The industry started with a very cost-centric approach to customer service, then shifted to a more profit-centric approach, and now we’re seeing the move to an experience-centric model.
Dixa is my fourth company, and before Dixa, I founded other customer service engagement companies where we tried to fix the big problem in customer services for consumer-facing brands and their amazing employees. We knew that in order for them to deliver a remarkable customer experience, they needed to be present on all channels, at all times. Now there are lots of touch points, including email, phone, live chat, Facebook Messenger, etc., even physical stores… Attaining omnipresence across all channels has been a problem for brands for decades and it’s only grown bigger as the available channels grow in number.
My Dixa co-founder Jacob and I experienced this in our previous company, which was acquired by a big telco. We saw the problem becoming more severe as companies tried to add channels such as Facebook, WhatsApp and live chat to their offering. All these different channels were disconnected, which meant that all their awesome employees had to try and be present on all these different channels at the same time, constantly switching between windows and views and vendors. With enquiries from both happy and angry customers coming in at them from every which way, it was a hectic working experience. It wasn’t clear which team a customer should be going to, if they were happy or angry, or if they’d already contacted the company in the past. In our previous company, we tried to integrate all these different channels, but we never really succeeded in 100% solving the pain points.
With Dixa, we’ve had the opportunity to be very ambitious and not only solve the omnichannel problem, but also create what we call a ‘customer friendship’ approach to customer service. We really want customer support to go hand-in-hand with brand loyalty and advocacy – this truly is the peak of customer relationships. It’s extremely ambitious of us, because the customer service and tech industries are already ruled by some big players, so it’s a battle against the giants. We’ve also found out that it’s pretty hard to start completely from scratch and build the platform. Instead of thinking about tickets, which is normally what you see in customer support, and focusing on the consumers (who are, of course, still very important) we decided to look at it the other way round, focusing on the customer service agents. We wanted to know about the pains they were experiencing in their day-to-day, both the historical customer service role pains and also the modern ones that come with lots of disconnected solutions. We also figured out that eight out of ten companies were using a combination of both old and new solutions, which were really disconnected, meaning that teams, people, data, channels and solutions were all siloed.
Taking all of this into account, we started Dixa with a very practical mindset, starting with a minimum viable product. With this product, we onboarded some leading ecommerce companies in the Nordics – around 2015-2016 – such as Interflora and then also Bosch. This was how Dixa came about, as a response to a combination of professional and personal frustrations around how bad customer service was and our thinking that technology (cloud and software) would play a significant role in fixing the problem of bad customer service.
From there, we’ve really had the classic startup experience. We ran out of money several times early on but fortunately there were a few investors that believed in us and believed we could take on giants like Cisco or big companies like Salesforce. Luckily we did it and have got to where we are now, but it’s been tough, particularly during those first bootstrapped years.
The vision of ending bad customer service has stayed the same.
Our vision is clearer than it was back then, because now we have this vast platform where we can start to leverage all the data that we have for our customers. We can aggregate all of this data to get a higher level of customer support and customer loyalty (customer friendship as we call it!). We are now on a journey where we can create a proprietary metric to measure the real value of the customer relationship and this has taken us four years. It’s taken us a long time, but our goal of ending bad customer service, building customer friendship for brands at scale, whilst also fixing the omnichannel challenge by still being efficient and scalable has stayed the same. With our goal of improving the agent experience, we have automated a lot of repetitive tasks, ensuring the right conversations are given to the right agent at the right time.
So the vision has stayed the same, but we have become a platform where we can integrate a lot of ecosystem partners that do things like use gamification for agents, quality assurance and a lot of different chat bots, on top of being just really cool customer service software. We can see now that this has paid off, though it will take us longer as it’s very difficult to build a marketplace and build an ecosystem.
A shared journey with our customers.
A pivotal moment in our journey was having ecommerce and direct-to-consumer brands in Scandinavia and the Nordics as customers during the foundation stages of our journey. When they first became customers they’d often have ten customer service agents or so, but then would grow all of a sudden – and very rapidly – outside of the Nordic countries. Often this was in the UK or France, which were very big markets for them and it meant we’d grow on that journey along with them. Of course, there are different things to think about from market to market and vertical to vertical, but there weren’t too many regulatory compliance things we needed to tackle, other than elements such as GDPR. It was a huge inflection point for us, as all of a sudden we had brands that could take us into the UK, for example, that were actually already established in the UK. It was very important to us that we were close enough to these customers to allow us to give them the solutions they needed– and it paid off – a lot of those customers are still with us today. On the product side, working with these companies as customers also allowed us to build up the platform, which has allowed us to start working with some very big American companies as well.
Hiring game changers has been the most difficult part of our journey.
When we were at Seed or Series A, we were around 30-40 people and we all knew each other from the SaaS ecosystem in the Nordics and Copenhagen. We quickly realised that as we were growing, we’d need to hire internationally and we saw this as being really vital from a diversity and culture point of view, because you need to be truly diverse internally to have a global outlook. We have a very thorough hiring process, but it’s really centered around personality and culture, so it’s quite a non-traditional process in that way. Of course, for some roles, they need the right experience, but we want to make sure that we have the right people on board, with a variety of backgrounds and nationalities, to reflect a global customer service software company. The process means that very early on, we can pinpoint the game changers by running this personality test and seeing who’s aligned with the culture. And, almost everyone, from managers to the C-suite, etc., go through the same interview process, or at least the first parts of it. Then we can figure out who fits; it’s important for us that we don’t hire jerks, given that we’re running a customer friendship company.
The other part of our hiring journey is that in the early days, like many other startups, we did have our fair share of wrong hires, but I think that’s just all part of the experience. I remember when Notion Capital led the Series B, there’d been a load of work done on how well-positioned we were to grow when put up against a series of benchmarks, based on where we were at with our headcount and hiring. I was pleasantly surprised that we were well-suited for hyper-growth on the trajectory, and I hadn’t been aware of that before.
The biggest challenge is delivering mission critical software for our many customers at scale.
Customer service software is often the second most important part of their technology stack, so they place a lot of trust in us. We’re changing the way brands work with their customers and their customer experience offering, so we have a big responsibility to be stable, scalable and a bunch of other important elements.
Another challenge is the responsibility of having people working together across the globe – we now have between 100-150 people, but soon this could be 300 or 500. Whilst it’s great to have all this support and know you’re not alone, you still need to be the person that leads the way for everyone, even when things get tough. This could be through difficult experiences in the market, losing amazing people or the fundraising game – it’s always nerve-racking going through the different rounds! Throughout all of this, you still need to be there for your leadership teams and for your people. You need to be true to yourself too, otherwise you’ll burn out. One thing I’ve learned that helps with this, is that a great CEO shouldn’t be the smartest person in the room. You need to surround yourself with great people, which means the leadership team is able to drive more of the business and can embrace and navigate those challenges alongside you. But in order for this to happen effectively, you still have to set aside time to be there for them as a leader and that can be very difficult, much more so in a startup or scale up than in a corporate company, because you’re building this machine, you’re travelling at warp speed and you have to be a leader all at the same time.
What’s surprised me most is how rapidly things change.
It can be difficult to build infrastructure and processes when things are constantly changing, and so rapidly, so whilst it’s great getting new employees and customers on board, the industry dramatically changes almost every quarter, and we’re constantly having to adapt. Just recently, one of our biggest competitors in the US was acquired by Facebook, which was an interesting move and has changed the landscape. There seems to be a lot of consolidation going on in the industry. You need to adapt to that speed both internally and externally. It’s a good thing though, as it shows that customer service is a hot space, and when we first started we wanted it to be disrupted, as we believed it was old fashioned with ticketing systems from 15 years ago, etc. We still need a lot more disruption and change, but it has surprised me how fast it’s happening, how hot the space is and how many different vendors are coming in. We’re in a very good position to take the lead, but we need to ensure we’re constantly adapting.
From a professional perspective, I see Satya Nadella from Microsoft as a huge inspiration.
I’m not sure whether he’s actually built or scaled anything from scratch, but I admire what he’s done at Microsoft, both from a culture and business perspective. It makes me believe that even if we grow to be a very big company one day, we can still keep our strong culture while holding on to the ability to transform and be agile. This is the case at Microsoft, and I think bringing Nadella on board was an amazing move, as what he’s done there is obviously proof of strong leadership. He wanted Microsoft to take a good hard look at itself – especially from a leadership perspective – and as part of this they have given a lot of autonomy to the different divisions, empowering them in the process. Alongside this, they’re remaining competitive with Apple, one of the most valuable companies in the world. I just think what he’s done is inspirational – I know it’s not the most sexy or popular choice of inspiration, but it’s definitely the one for me!
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
There’s lots of advice I could give to my younger self, but I think the most important piece of advice would probably be to be patient and tell yourself that things will be alright in the end. That goes for the hiring process, funding process and an array of other things – I think hearing this piece of advice early on would’ve helped me much more than any other. There are, of course, areas where you can benefit from a big driving force – for example, I think many entrepreneurs benefit from a good dose of urgency and a little bit of creative paranoia at the seed round. But you just need to make sure you continually balance that with patience and always remind yourself that Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Notion is the go-to European SaaS investor.
I’d been following Notion for a long time (since our Seed round in Jan 2018). I had my first coffee meeting with Notion shortly after that. I loved the SaaS focus that Notion has and it was great to see other successful Danish startups in the portfolio, such as Tradeshift, so Notion was very much on my radar for the next rounds. When it came to raising a round, we had a pretty good relationship already, and we knew what we needed on the journey of building a great SaaS company in Europe and then expanding into the US. Notion companies have a great track record of this, which was extremely important to me, not to mention that Notion is the go-to European SaaS investor. We had some other tier one VCs at the final stage of our round, not only from Europe but also from the US, but it wasn’t a difficult choice for me to go with Notion. From a strategic point of view, we needed someone pretty close whilst we were building and creating our sales, marketing and go-to-market engines. We also needed some of the operational services of the Notion Platform, such as (from a talent perspective), gaining access to best practice benchmarking that set us up for bringing the best C-suite leaders on board.
The best advice I can give is that if you get a VC on board, make sure they tick all the boxes you need. To me, that’s more important than the best valuation, the most money or having the most prestigious VC brand name. For some companies, those elements will be more important, for example, if you need to have a big US presence, you might want to go right to a leading US VC. This may make more sense for us at the C round for example, but in those initial startup and scale-up days, I think it’s important to have VCs close to you as well as ones experienced in your space.