On leaving Talkdesk, my journey and a scorecard

Gadi Shamia
Jul 19, 2018 · 5 min read

After three and a half years, I am stepping down from my full-time responsibilities as the Chief Operating Officer of Talkdesk.

My time at Talkdesk represents one of three major growth periods in my career and I am grateful to be part of its journey. While I will continue to support Talkdesk’s future growth from the boardroom, I wanted to take a moment (or a few) to share some of what we accomplished in this period and what’s next for me personally.

While this transition was planned a while ago, my timing could not have been better. The company is in great shape, with rapid growth, committed customers, and a strong leadership team. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and I step back from the company with the utmost respect for all Talkdeskers. I’m optimistic for the future and can’t wait to see what the team does next.

I joined as COO to help Talkdesk co-founder and CEO Tiago Paiva to grow and scale the company. Now I want to take everything I’ve learned as a leader and executive of a fast-growing company and leverage that experience , as the person in charge.

Talkdesk had a different beginning than many Silicon Valley startups. It started in Portugal in late 2011, and for the first three years of its life, it survived on $450K in angel investment. This meager amount enabled the company and its then-six employees to grow to $1M in ARR. When I joined, the company just raised its seed round and started hiring the first sales and support people. It had roughly 20 employees, a few hundred SMB customers, and a few millions in revenue. Back then, Talkdesk was targeting the SMB space, and most of its customers signed up for a month-to-month subscription after a short demo. What was especially unique about Talkdesk is that Tiago had a much bigger vision. He wanted to build a large company, and we decided that the only way to get there was by going upmarket. This decision started the journey that shaped Talkdesk into what it is today and it will impact the company for many years to come.

For a startup, 3½ years represent a long period and a series of changes and achievements. Now that I am leaving my operational role and becoming COO emeritus, I wanted to highlight what I find to be the top ten achievements of team Talkdesk, during my time with the company.

  1. We grew. During the last 3½ years, Talkdesk grew nearly 20X in revenue, headcount, and value. With this growth, we moved offices five times and opened offices in San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Lisbon, and Porto, where we have our own “Talkdesk (mini) Tower”.
  2. We became an enterprise company. From a self-service SMB product, Talkdesk turned into an enterprise company. In 2015, nearly zero percent of our revenue came from enterprise customers. Today, almost two-thirds of our business comes from multi-year, enterprise deals.
  3. We built a customer-first culture and process. Caring about your customers can’t be a value if you don’t put people, money, and process behind it. We built a world-class customer success team with one goal in mind: advocate for our customers and retain them for life. Our best-in-class net and logo retention numbers are a testimony to this focus.
  4. We became the youngest company on Gartner’s CCaaS Magic Quadrant. From an unknown player in an old industry, we moved right into the visionary quadrant in Gartner’s Contact Center as a service MQ. Getting there required much more than handwaving: we had to complete a detailed RFP, go through series of demos, and provide a number of reference customers with at least 300 seats each. Fun fact: the average age of the companies that share the right side of the quadrant with us is roughly 25 years.
  5. Over 1000 customers in our second customer conference, Opentalk. It is never too early for a customer conference, and we had our first one in 2016. We invested in top speakers, venue, and overall experience and it paid off. For Opentalk 2017, we set a goal of 1000 customers and crashed it, creating a new customer-centric community almost overnight.
  6. AppConnect, the first enterprise app store. Contact centers are not one size fits all. Each one has different needs and areas of focus, and for that, we wanted to build a platform so our customers can enhance their experience by adding third-party products. We were put off by the complexity of the current enterprise app exchanges and decided to base ours on Apple’s app store. The result: our customers can now browse dozens of apps, pick the one they want, install it in one click, and be up and running in less than two minutes. Every customer gets a 30-day free trial, and when the trial is over, we add a line item to their invoice and bill them monthly. Don’t want the product anymore? Just delete it, and we will stop charging you.
  7. We made the Forbes top 100 cloud companies for two years in a row and were named as the next billion dollar company by the same publication.
  8. We built a great team. Hiring is hard in San Francisco (and recently in Portugal as well) and retaining top talent is even harder. But we were able to bring together a special group of people that really want to win. From industry veterans who left the current market leader to help to build the next one, to young college graduates who wanted to join a fast growing startup to maximize their learning.
  9. We did all of the above without spending loads of cash. You read about companies that raised $700M and got to $100M in revenue or ones that raised $1.5B just to get to $250M. We did things differently with a revenue that far surpasses the total outside investment in Talkdesk. It is good for our employees and our investors, and keeps our focus on our customers.
  10. We (mostly) had fun. Don’t get me wrong, there were many moments of frustration, disappointment, tension, and regret, but overall participating in building a great company was both fun and rewarding and created hundreds of memorable moments.

If you read all the way down to here, you may ask about the bad things, the mistakes, and the wrong turns. Worry you not, there were many. Moving to enterprise cost us a year of slower growth as we had to adjust everything to the new market. We hired many great people, but some of them were not a good fit for our culture and style and we could not keep them. We strived to serve our customers in the best possible way, but sometimes we disappointed them and didn’t live up to their expectations.

If you’ve ever sailed on a sailboat, you know that sailing against the wind looks in the moment like a series of zigs and zags. When you reach your destination, or even just stop for the night, you can assess the progress you made, and the distance you covered. Looking back at the journey we had at Talkdesk, I can clearly see this same pattern, but also the great distance we covered. I have great trust in the Talkdesk team, and I excited to watch the next chapter, from the convenience of the boardroom :)

PS — feel free to reach out. I am doing a bit of consulting work and taking my time finding the next great thing for me.

Gadi Shamia

Written by

Former COO @talkdesk (now BoD). Past incl. SVP @SAP, GM @reachlocal through IPO, EIR @stormventures, CEO @MagnetoCal. Past boards: EchoSign and @SageIntacct