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- In July, the former COO of $1.3 billion customer messaging startup Intercom — Karen Peacock — took the role of CEO, replacing cofounder Eoghan McCabe.
- She joined at a tough time: Months into the coronavirus pandemic and shortly after Intercom laid off 39 employees to cut costs.
- As CEO, Peacock plans to lead the company to profitability and an IPO in a few years.
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When long-time Intuit executive Karen Peacock first started speaking with Intercom cofounder Eoghan McCabe in late 2016 about potentially joining the customer messaging startup as COO, the plan was that if she took the job, she’d eventually become CEO when the time was right.
McCabe made it clear from the beginning that he wanted to transition from CEO to chairman eventually, though “none of us had a specific timeline,” Peacock told Business Insider.
She took the job in 2017 and after three years — as Intercom’s annual recurring revenue swelled to $150 million from its over 30,000 customers —Peacock officially became CEO of the $1.3 billion startup in July.
It wasn’t exactly an easy time to make the switch: The coronavirus pandemic had already been raging for several months. Although Intercom has raised a total of $240.5 million from the likes of Index Ventures and angel investors like Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg, it hasn’t had fresh funding since 2018 and, to cut costs, it laid off dozens of employees in May.
“We thought ‘Now is the right time,'” Peacock said. “I don’t think that things are going to change from the pandemic’s perspective in a month’s time, in two month’s time. We didn’t want to put anything about our business on hold so we moved forward.”
McCabe has become company chairman.
Beyond navigating the company through the pandemic, Peacock’s main goal as CEO is to guide the company to profitability “in the next couple years” and an IPO in a “few years out.”
Winning larger customers and the path to an IPO
Before joining Intercom, Peacock spent about 8 years at Intuit, most recently as the senior vice president of small business, a unit which includes accounting platform QuickBooks and that she grew from a $500 million business to $2.5 billion.
She was intrigued by Intercom in part because she wanted to move away from building up businesses within massive corporations.
“I was looking to move to something smaller and more nimble,” Peacock said, “Where I can get the experience and have the impact I wanted to have — to be able to learn and grow and become a CEO.”
She’s currently focused on strengthening Intercom’s relationships with customers, as well as reinventing some of Intercom’s products so they’re more useful for larger companies. One area in particular where she’s investing is conversational support, so that customers can immediately have any questions answered.
“We’re very much focused on driving revenue growth that is sustained and predictable,” Peacock said, “And long-term relationships with customers who are staying with Intercom and recommending it to others.”
Over the past year and a half, Intercom has focused on winning over larger companies. Today, it counts Facebook, Amazon, and Lyft as its customers.
“For every company, just continuing to grow and scale is something that we’re always focused on,” Peacock said. “Making sure to invest in our products and keep reinventing ourselves is important to do. We also hired a lot of people over the last few years. Continuing to build a culture as we build a company is very much on our mind as well.”
Intercom recently brought on its first CFO — Sitecore veteran Dan Griggs — in April, and he will help the company build its roadmap for going public, including its plans for reporting and compliance.
Layoffs and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic
During the coronavirus pandemic, Intercom quickly announced in March that it would offer its services for free for any nonprofit or institution fighting COVID-19 and leading projects related to the outbreak.
But Intercom itself wasn’t immune to the effects of the pandemic: It laid off 39 employees in May and also shifted 47 current roles from San Francisco to Dublin, where the majority of R&D and product development take place. It also cut back on certain spending, including putting real estate renovation projects on hold and cutting its travel budget.
Overall, Intercom’s smaller company customers got hit harder by the pandemic and, as a result, tried to reduce their usage and spending, the company said. Still, Peacock says the company has seen “record amounts” of new user growth, both from large and small companies. People had increasingly expected to communicate with businesses through real-time messaging tools even before the pandemic, Peacock says, but the decrease in in-person interactions during the crisis has accelerated the shift.
Read more:Intercom, a $1.3 billion messaging startup backed by Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, laid off 39 employees and is relocating 47 roles to Dublin
Peacock says Intercom’s product “has never been more needed” than today. In a few months, the company will be launching a new product to improve on getting customers instantaneous support. “One of the things we’ve realized and seen is that traditional support tools don’t work anymore,” Peacock said. “If I have a problem with something, I don’t expect to write a support ticket. I don’t expect to write an email and hear back in a few hours or days.” Users want real-time, contextual support, which is what Peacock says Intercom will start to offer.
Taking care of employees
Finally, another key priority for Peacock is investing in diversity and inclusion for Intercom’s workforce. The company made public statements condemning systemic racism both inside and outside the company during the civil rights protests in June, and Peacock says that she also spent time reading, listening, and educating herself before becoming CEO.
Throughout the last two months, Intercom has hosted internal panel discussions and published podcast episodes to amplify Black voices, and it’s thinking about how to eliminate bias in recruiting and build a more diverse candidate pool, Peacock says.
“One of my reflections is there is more work that we can do and should do at Intercom,” Peacock said.
As she steps into her new role as CEO, she’s been spending a lot of time on Google Meet and Zoom for meetings. As she transitions to her job virtually, she says it helps that she already knows the team and that it would’ve been harder if she had never worked at Intercom before.
“The fact that I’ve known the team for three years, worked closely with them for three years, made that easier and more smooth transition,” Peacock said. “It would be a lot harder to come into a company as a brand new CEO during the pandemic.”
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