10 Things You Didn’t Know about Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane

Mikkel Asger Svane is one of the biggest names in San Francisco startup history. He founded Zendesk – a cloud-based, helpdesk software solution that allows customer service agents to stay productive – in 2007. Less than a decade later, Zendesk hit the New York Stock Exchange as a publicly-traded company, a testament to Svane’s success as a business leader. The millionaire software mogul clearly has an eye for opportunity. But he is so much more than an everyday entrepreneur.

If you want to learn more about one of the most successful people in Silicon Valley, read on to learn Ten Things You Didn’t Know about Mikkel Svane.

He Started Zendesk in Copenhagen

Not many successful startups, especially in the tech game, come out of Europe. Zendesk is a major exception. When Mikkel Svane founded Zendesk in 2007, he was still living in Copenhagen, Denmark. However, citing the lack of funding and solid startup culture, he elected to move the company to San Francisco in 2009 (which was a solid business move that contributed to the upstart’s success).

He Won a Crunchie

The Crunchie Awards from TechCrunch are coveted by any businesses in the technology field. In 2013, at the 7th Annual Crunchies Awards, Svane and Zendesk received the “Sexiest Enterprise Startup Award”. For Mikkel Svane, this meant that he and his company were receiving recognition from key players in San Francisco – a huge boost to his company’s credibility and his own self-confidence as an entrepreneur.

HQ Used to be a Buddhist Center

The Zendesk headquarters was, in fact, a former Buddhist meditation center. Though Svane didn’t know about the past of his building originally, he was pretty excited to find out when he did. Mikkel Svane appreciates diversity, and likely savors the knowledge that his company’s headquarters used to be a place of peace and meditation.

He Was in the Military

When he still lived in Denmark, Mikkel Svane served in the military for some time. He has let some of the training that he received affect his management style. For example, when he is screening new recruits he will walk really fast to ensure that they can keep up. He believes that athleticism is an important trait for someone working in a startup.

He Has an Interesting Screening Process

Besides walking really fast, Svane will also screen his employees in more subtle ways. For example, he will take them to a famous San Francisco hotspot (like The Creamery) and see if they let him order first and who offers to pay. Plus, he swears like a sailor the whole time to gauge the responses of his potential employees. When you think about it, this is an effective screening that will ensure that Svane only hires people who will do well in the Zendesk company culture.

He Has Used Recreational Drugs

Like Steve Jobs and Doug Engelbart before him, this tech entrepreneur partook in the use of recreational drugs during the creation of Zendesk. He actually ended up bragging that he coded Zendesk’s billing system “in a four-day, LSD-induced stupor” – which he later regretted admitting.

He Owns a Tesla Model S

Mikkel Svane occasionally measures success by whether you are working in your garage, or if it is taken up by a brand-new Tesla. After his company went public back in 2014, Svane traded in his old Volvo for the new Tesla Model S. It’s a fitting choice for this tech superstar, as the Tesla is the product of a start-up too. Musk didn’t start the company until 2003.

His Wife is Deaf

The Zendesk CEO and Chairman is married to a deaf woman. He noted that, upon moving to the United States, things got a lot harder for him and his wife. In Denmark, the support infrastructure for deaf people is much stronger than it is in the States. Of course, this lack of attention to special needs is what made him ensure that Zendesk was the top-of-the-line customer service software it is today.

He Penned a Memoir

If you want to enter the tech startup world, or become an entrepreneur in general, it is worth reading about how others have succeeded in starting a business. Mikkel Svane recently released a book called Startup Land, which follows the story of Zendesk from its conception to where the company stands today. It is definitely worth checking out to learn even more about the talented businessman.

He Founded Caput A/S

Caput A/S, which Mikkel Svane founded back in 1996, was a communications framework company. It allowed users to use message boards, polls, chat rooms, e-mail, calendars, and file upload and storage, mostly based upon intercorporate and business-to-consumer relations. He served as the CEO of Caput until 2002, at which point he moved on to become General Manager at Materna (a German consulting firm). Then, in 2007, he founded Zendesk with his colleagues Morten Primdahl and Alexander Aghassipour – and the rest is history.


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