Team­work.com pays for en­trepreneurs

Hav­ing steadily built their busi­ness since 2007, Cop­pinger and Mackey want to hit rev­enues of $450m a year within a decade

The Irish Times - Business - - BUSINESS THIS WEEK - Char­lie Tay­lor Team­work.com co-founders Daniel ■ Mackey, left, and Peter Cop­pinger won the EY En­tre­pre­neur of the Year Award in Oc­to­ber. PHO­TO­GRAPH: DAVE MEE­HAN

They won the pres­ti­gious EY En­tre­pre­neur of the Year re­cently but the founders of Ir­ish tech­nol­ogy com­pany Team­work.com read­ily ad­mit to hav­ing ini­tially been clue­less about how to run a com­pany.

“We were ter­ri­ble busi­ness­men in the early days. We knew noth­ing about VAT, proper in­voic­ing, staged pay­ments, and so on. We lit­er­ally made ev­ery mis­take imag­in­able,” says Peter Cop­pinger, who es­tab­lished the com­pany along with Daniel Mackey in 2007.

“I ac­tu­ally re­mem­ber one time hav­ing to go to the bank to beg for a car loan that we then used to pay the VAT,” adds Mackey, shak­ing his head in dis­be­lief.

Team­work is a Cork-head­quar­tered soft­ware com­pany that makes prod­ucts that help or­gan­i­sa­tions of all shapes and sizes be more or­gan­ised and ef­fi­cient. It em­ploys 230 peo­ple and counts many of the world’s most in­flu­en­tial com­pa­nies among its 24,000 pay­ing cus­tomers across 183 coun­tries. These in­clude Dis­ney, Net­flix, Forbes, Paypal and Spo­tify.

In­stead of get­ting a guided tour of their funky Cork of­fice, which in­cludes slides that em­ploy­ees use to travel be­tween floors, we’re stuck in an an­o­dyne board­room in Dublin. The lads have brought the colour with them, how­ever, sprin­kling the con­ver­sa­tion with oc­ca­sional swear words, will­ingly ad­mit­ting to pre­vi­ous mis­takes, and in­sist­ing they’ll keep do­ing the right thing by their em­ploy­ees and cus­tomers.

While both are in­for­mal and friendly by na­ture, they ad­mit to hav­ing had to be­come a bit more se­ri­ous as their com­pany has grown.

‘Af­fects all of these peo­ple’

“We held our first Christ­mas party for chil­dren last year and I re­mem­ber stand­ing in the midst of the chaos and think­ing ‘Je­sus, ev­ery de­ci­sion we take af­fects all of these peo­ple’,” says Mackey.

“I thought this isn’t just about two lads hav­ing the craic any­more and what we do doesn’t just im­pact on us and our friends.

“There are fam­i­lies with kids who trust us with their ca­reers so we have an obli­ga­tion to do the right thing.”

This duty has led the two to es­tab­lish a set of core val­ues, some­thing they could never have imag­ined do­ing ear­lier on.

“A few years ago, we were just a cou­ple of hard-nosed de­vel­op­ers and, if some­one had men­tioned core val­ues to us, we prob­a­bly would have punched them in the face,” says Cop­pinger.

“Now we un­der­stand they are ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal to who we are and, just as im­por­tantly, en­sures we don’t bring any dick­heads into the com­pany.”

This is pretty crit­i­cal for a busi­ness that lists “don’t be a dick” as one of its most im­por­tant val­ues and one the founders tem­po­rar­ily ditched on urg­ing by se­nior ad­vis­ers. “We were told it was a lit­tle ju­ve­nile and might not res­onate with cor­po­rates, but we rein­tro­duced it be­cause ev­ery­thing we do comes back to that,” Cop­pinger ex­plains.

A pri­vately-owned com­pany that has never re­ceived any out­side fund­ing, Team­work has big am­bi­tions. Cop­pinger and Mackey are in­tent on main­tain­ing the 40 per cent an­nual growth rate that Team­work has achieved over re­cent years. They’re tar­get­ing turnover of $50 mil­lion (€44 mil­lion) by the end of 2021 with the ul­ti­mate goal of hit­ting $450 mil­lion in an­nual re­cur­ring rev­enues within a decade. “This isn’t just a fig­ure we’ve pulled out of our ar­ses,” Mackey says. “As long as we stay close to our cur­rent growth rate, we will hit that. We have two new prod­ucts out next year and are look­ing to get to 10 prod­ucts at some point. To do all we want to achieve, we will need to triple our work­force.”

The pair, who hap­pily re­fer to them­selves as “two bog­gers from Cork who are hard­core de­vel­op­ers”, both got into com­puter games at a young age. Cop­pinger’s first for­ays into the world of busi­ness came as a pre-teen when he started selling games he had cre­ated in his bed­room via the Ir­ish mag­a­zine PC Live!

The two first met as ri­vals – col­lege stu­dents who had in­de­pen­dently started build­ing web­sites for small busi­nesses in Cork. “There was a bit of an arms race go­ing on with the two of us go­ing out to ev­ery pub and restau­rant in Cork try­ing to flog web­sites. Once we were in­tro­duced, we re­alised we had a lot in com­mon and de­cided to drop out of col­lege and join forces,” Cop­pinger says.

This was around the time of the late 1990s dot­com bub­ble and busi­ness took off quickly. They pro­gressed over the next few years to de­vel­op­ing ecom­merce sites and data­bases for cus­tomers that in­cluded Pfizer and Eli Lilly.

As the Celtic Tiger be­gan to roar, how­ever, it seemed that every­one was get­ting rich but them. “We had a con­sul­tancy that had lots of work and a good rep­u­ta­tion, but we weren’t mak­ing any money,” says Mackey, who reels off var­i­ous other side pro­jects that came and went in­clud­ing selling hot­dogs on the streets of Cork and run­ning an in­ter­net cafe.

The pair wised up, dou­bling their fees and tak­ing on more valu­able pro­jects, en­abling them to take on staff and be­gin to build a proper busi­ness. The idea that re­ally set the two en­trepreneurs on their cur­rent path came about by ac­ci­dent.

“We had so many pro­jects on and, be­ing as dis­or­gan­ised as we were, found our­selves strug­gling to stay on top of ev­ery­thing. We saw a cou­ple of fledg­ling project man­age­ment ap­pli­ca­tions and tried out what was then the mar­ket leader. We dis­cov­ered pretty quickly that it didn’t do nearly enough of what we re­quired,” Cop­pinger says.

“I po­litely emailed the guys who made the soft­ware to ask if they were go­ing to be adding in other fea­tures but got a sneery, dis­mis­sive re­sponse. I couldn’t be­lieve their at­ti­tude. We fig­ured we could prob­a­bly build a bet­ter ap­pli­ca­tion our­selves, so we set about do­ing that.”

They quickly got ex­cited about what would even­tu­ally be the flag­ship ap­pli­ca­tion in a full suite of prod­ucts. They worked all the hours they could on their new project and, one night in 2007, hav­ing put to­gether a web­site and hooked it up to PayPal, they launched at Team­workPM.net.

‘Con­tin­ued push­ing it’

“In the first month we made $186 so that proved there was a mar­ket out there for the project man­age­ment soft­ware we had cre­ated, but we didn’t know how big it might be. We were keen to move away from con­sul­tancy to mak­ing our own prod­ucts so we con­tin­ued push­ing it, even to the point where we passed on our con­sult­ing work to an­other com­pany for free to let us fo­cus on Team­work,” Mackey adds.

The two only re­alised they had se­cured their first ma­jor client when the head of IT at Dis­ney called them out of the blue a few months after the web­site had launched.

“We were get­ting a few hun­dred sign-ups ev­ery month when we got what we first imag­ined was a prank call. What had hap­pened was that one per­son in Dis­ney had started us­ing Team­work but she passed the mes­sage on and sud­denly there were so many sign-ups that the head of IT in­ter­vened. He asked us for an en­ter­prise ver­sion of the soft­ware and we dropped ev­ery­thing to make sure we de­liv­ered. Within a short space of time we had them as a client with­out once ever hav­ing met any­one from the com­pany,” Cop­pinger says.

Oth­ers quickly fol­lowed, but with such a clunky in­ter­net ad­dress, po­ten­tial clients had trou­ble track­ing them down.

In what is now a well-told tale, the guys paid €500,000 to an in­di­vid­ual who owned the Team­work.com do­main ad­dress. This wiped out the com­pany’s sav­ings and only came about after Cop­pinger had talked him down from an ask­ing price of many mil­lions.

“Every­one thought we were crazy to spend that much on an in­ter­net ad­dress. It took me two days to ad­mit to Dan I’d gone ahead and bought it, but I didn’t want to spend my life re­gret­ting that we didn’t have the URL to go with our com­pany name,” Cop­pinger says.

In hind­sight, it was a smart move. If not a house­hold name, Team­work has be­come a well-known busi­ness, in part due to hav­ing a brand name that suc­cinctly ex­plains what the com­pany does.

As well as pro­vid­ing project man­age­ment soft­ware, Team­work has ex­panded to of­fer helpdesk and col­lab­o­ra­tion so­lu­tions as part of an ever-ex­pand­ing plat­form. It is busy ex­pand­ing its pres­ence in the United States, where it has just opened an of­fice in Bos­ton.

“We are get­ting fan­tas­tic trac­tion from com­pa­nies there with any­thing from 200 to 1,000 em­ployes. We are tar­get­ing those be­cause there are huge rev­enues pos­si­ble, they tend to stick around longer and are gen­er­ally more open to us­ing a whole suite of prod­ucts, rather than in­di­vid­ual so­lu­tions,” Cop­pinger says.

Open to the idea

‘‘ A few years ago, we were just a cou­ple of hard-nosed de­vel­op­ers and, if some­one had men­tioned core val­ues to us, we prob­a­bly would have punched them in the face

Hav­ing boot­strapped the busi­ness, the founders ad­mit they may need ex­ter­nal fund­ing and are open to the idea of ven­ture debt as it would leave them in con­trol. While an even­tual exit from Team­work via an ini­tial pub­lic of­fer­ing (IPO) is a pos­si­bil­ity, Mackey says they won’t want to even be­gin that con­ver­sa­tion un­til they have worked up to $100 mil­lion in an­nual rev­enues.

The busi­ness­men have had a long jour­ney to get to where they are to­day, but it is ob­vi­ous they still en­joy each other’s com­pany. “We’ve done well to be as good friends as we are con­sid­er­ing all we have weathered. In the early days, it was just two lads and no for­mal­i­ties at all with de­ci­sions be­ing based on ‘best idea wins’. We used to have blaz­ing rows, but have learned that it isn’t the best way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing,” Cop­pinger ad­mits.

“We still have ar­gu­ments, but once we stop and look at the big­ger pic­ture we re­alise that we both re­ally want the same end goal. We might have dif­fer­ent ideas about how to do that but hav­ing the same ul­ti­mate aim unites us,” adds Mackey.

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