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Chris Cardell

Interview with Ian Landsman (HelpSpot)

HelpSpot is a web based help desk software solution.

I interviewed Ian Landsman, HelpSpot founder to find out more. This interview is the ninety first in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Ian!

How would you describe HelpSpot in under 50 words?

HelpSpot is a help desk software application for managing emails, online support and customer self service.

UserScape produced HelpSpot, of which you are founder. What made you decide to start working on HelpSpot?

Before founding UserScape I worked in several different types of help desk and customer service environments. These all universally used horrible tools for managing their customer service process.

At the time I founded UserScape (2005) there were very few fully web based help desk applications. Most were still client/server with a few I used even being mainframe terminal based (ahhhhh!)

It seemed to me that there was a market for a fully web server and browser based solution.

How did you come up with the name?

I spent a lot of time trying to think of a name that conveyed what I wanted HelpSpot to be. Basically a single unified interface for organizing your customer service. I also needed something with an available domain, which as always is tricky.

In the end HelpSpot was short, conveyed the proper message and had a domain that was available from a domain ransomer at a reasonable price ($300). In fact, as we were just starting up I had my wife buy the domain as my birthday present :)

Where are you based?

I’m in Poughkeepsie, NY which is about 1.5 hours north of New York City. We have a small office here, but most of the staff telecommute. Currently we have employees in Kentucky, Arkansas and North Carolina.

What technologies have you used to build HelpSpot?

HelpSpot is built on PHP. It’s really the best choice for an application that can be hosted on-premise as it’s ubiquitous. Also, to be honest for all it’s warts I rather like working in it.

The next major release, which is currently in early development will use the Laravel PHP framework which is a huge productivity boost for us.

HelpSpot also supports several database platforms including MySQL, Postgres and Microsoft SQL Server.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing HelpSpot?

There’s a lot that goes into something as sophisticated as HelpSpot, but probably the most difficult thing is that HelpSpot sits at the intersection of many other technologies. We need to deal with email, website servers, databases, external API’s and more. All while allowing our customers to host HelpSpot themselves (if they choose, we also have a hosted option) which means we’re not in control of their OS, their web server configuration and a million other things.

So building an application that in many organizations is used 24/7/365 and keeping it reliable and up in unknown environments is really the biggest challenge.

What organizations currently use HelpSpot?

I’m not that big on name dropping :) but a few of our long time customers include Campaign Monitor, University of Connecticut, Joyent, the NFL, OPSCODE among thousands of others.

How did you decide on the pricing plan?

Deciding on pricing is always nerve wracking. Even when you do well you never really know if you have optimal pricing. For me though, I just wanted to keep it fair. By going with a named user model we were able to keep it affordable for small businesses and startups while charging larger customers a fair value given their heavier usage of the system.

What would you say is HelpSpot’s USP?

There’s a lot of competition in the help desk space these days, but there’s a few things that make HelpSpot unique.

  • We have a real focus on request management. We don’t do asset management, change management or have other non-request related ‘modules’. We’re completely focused on letting our customers provide amazing customer service to their customers.
  • We allow our customers to host HelpSpot themselves if they like. It’s a breeze to do and lets them run it completely offline behind a firewall, on their own cloud infrastructure or anywhere else they like.
  • At UserScape we have a commitment to keeping HelpSpot affordable. HelpSpot provides the features and power of packages 10 times the price. We also keep pricing stable, licenses have increased once in 7 years and support costs have never been raised.

When did you start work on HelpSpot? How long did it take to put together?

Early development on HelpSpot started in 2004, with primary developing occurring in 2005. It took about 6 months to build V1.

You say version 3 is ‘simply the best HelpSpot ever’. What features did you add and improve?

Version 3 has an all new interface that’s cleaner and easier to use. It also has a lot of advanced new features like triggers. As the name implies, triggers let you watch the system for changes and when those changes occur automate actions. It’s really powerful and allows you to automate a lot of things that would normally be done manually.

As founder of UserScape which was formally incorporated in March 2005, what do you wish you’d have known 7 years ago when you started out that you know now?

Everything I know now :)

It’s such a different world now though. When we started there were really no PHP frameworks, no javascript libraries like jQuery. I hand coded every line of javascript in pure javascript. It was crazy!

If I had to do over again, I might have tried finding a co-founder. Starting a business is so much work and there’s so much to do early on that having someone else to share that with and lean on I think would be great (if you can find the right person).

Has HelpSpot got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

HelpSpot has done far better than I ever expected. I would have been happy to just make a decent wage and leave it at that. However, we ended up building a great community of customers (I think the best out there) and now having the ability to build a great team that I love working with is just awesome. That we’ve bootstrapped it all, is also an aspect I take great pride in.

Where do you see HelpSpot in 5 years time?

We’re working on some things now for HelpSpot 4 that are really going to blow people away. I see us really taking the next step in advancing the art of how you provide customer service online.

We also have some other ideas in the customer service area that I’d like to have firmly in place 5 years from now, but no details just yet :)

What one piece of advice would you give to someone taking their first steps in starting up?

I think you have to decide early on what kind of startup you want to have. What your goals are. There’s really only 2 types.

Type 1: The Lottery) You want to get huge and sell to Google for a Bajillion dollars.

Type 2: Hard Work) You want to replace your day job, make a nice living, make other peoples lives a bit better and if that turns into #1 that’s fine, but it’s not your goal.

Once you figure that out it’s much easier. We’re type 2 and as such I know more about that area. Really the key is to find a niche that’s proven and innovate in it. If you do that your chance of success is very high.

It doesn’t have to be radical innovation, iterative improvement is fine. Do it and you’ll be able to replace your day job easy.

Type #1 is much harder with a much higher failure rate. Of course, if you become Instagram or OMGPOP then you can buy Ferrari’s and miniature giraffes.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Right now I’m really excited with the team we’ve built at UserScape and the work we’re doing on the next HelpSpot. They’re a remarkable group.

Can you convince the reader to start using HelpSpot in under 50 words?

My main comment would be to those using pure email or a sub-standard help desk tool for support. Switching to HelpSpot will make a huge difference in your customer support quality and efficiency. Give us a try!

Finished reading? Check out HelpSpot!

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 24th, 2012 at 8:18 pm GMT. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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