I've never thrived in traditional jobs; I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur.
It wasn't long after my parents bought me my first laptop in 5th grade that I wanted to start an internet company. After college, inspired by bootstrapped tech start-ups like Basecamp and Campaign Monitor, I left a career in the music business to teach myself how to build software.
My co-founders Denny Swindle and Jared McDaniel and I learned to build gadgets for the web while diving into passion projects on the side. As much as I appreciated creating content for other people, I wanted to make something that was ours, something we could put all of ourselves into. I knew it was only a matter of finding the right idea.
At the same time, one of the small projects we built called feedmyinbox took off. It was our first web app – a simple tool that made it easy for people to subscribe to RSS feeds without the hassle. As it grew, we all pitched in to manage customer support.
Every day, I responded to customer questions, and I quickly realized that the tools in the market for customer service didn't make for a quality customer experience. They were optimized to make businesses more efficient.
I experienced similar challenges first hand with feedmyinbox, and I knew there must be a better way to manage customer service. By empowering customer support professionals with a tool that would help them to grow their small businesses, we could make everyone's lives better.
After sketching a plan, and my co-founders and I took six months away from client projects and enrolled in Boston-based Techstars, which helped us turn our vision into reality.
We wanted to understand the people we were serving, so, during those first months, I spoke to hundreds of business owners and customer support professionals until I could finish their sentences.
This made all the difference to our product and viability as a company. As a team, we immersed ourselves in the experiences of the customer support community; and from our first days leading Help Scout, we aligned product and business decisions with the needs of real people.
We complemented this customer-first approach with determination to bootstrap the company as much as possible. We held out on raising institutional capital — instead pursuing financial solvency — so we could prioritize the customer experience above the interests of investors.
More so than revenue or funding, our customers' needs continued to be a guiding light. Because we cared about the right things, our product immediately resonated in the market.
We have grown to a 60-person company with over 200,000 customers. Continuing to expand our team, we've become even more intentional about weaving our company's values into everything we do. And I consider it my job as CEO to make sure that we deepen our commitment to the customer support community with every new hire and product.
That's why, after four years at the helm, I hop in the queue and respond to customer support complaints like I did at feedmyinbox; and each week, I interview customers to learn about their experiences and how we can help them meet their goals.
Building a value-based business means practicing values, and it's even more important when you're the one making decisions. Because I'm never too far from our customers, my decisions are always grounded in their needs. That's my commitment.
I believe that every entrepreneur benefits this kind of single-minded focus. Take the customer-first approach, and you'll build a resilient company with an impact — and a strong future.
About the author: Nick Francis is the CEO of Help Scout, a customer service software and education company.