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How Three Guys Risked Everything to Turn an Idea into a Global Business

By Mikkel Svane
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Startupland by Mikkel Svane

In Startupland (2015), Mikkel Svane tells the origin story of his own company, Zendesk. He explains how he went from working on a small website in Denmark to becoming the CEO of a million-dollar trading company in the United States, and shares the insights he gained along the way.

Key idea 1 of 8

It’s okay if your first start-up isn’t your last.

When Columbus returned from his journey to the Americas, some of his peers insisted that any Spaniard could have “discovered” the new continent – all they had to do was sail westward. To prove them wrong, Columbus placed a hard-boiled egg on the table in front of them and challenged them to make it stand on its own. When they failed, he took the egg and gently tapped it against the table, creating a small, flat base that it could stand on.

Columbus’s point was that it’s easy to do something once you know how – when you don’t, you have to take a risk. Start-ups work the same way.

Founding a start-up is all about using your entrepreneurial spirit to try new things. The author worked on a number of projects before developing Zendesk, a software tool that enables companies to provide better customer support to their clients.

His first venture created 3-D illusions based on 2-D patterns, using a piece of software. He ran his business alone: customers sent him orders and he sent the disks out himself.

The author’s next product was a tool for producing websites, and it gave him his first taste of failure when it collapsed during the dot-com crash of 2001.

When founding a start-up you also have to realize that sometimes the best ideas are not always the most interesting.

At first, few people had faith in the idea for Zendesk, as they weren’t inspired by the thought of a company focused on providing better help desks and customer support. Alex Aghassipour, who ended up becoming one of the company’s core members, initially thought Zendesk sounded incredibly boring.

Like Zendesk, a lot of important start-up ideas might seem unexciting at first, but they can become very attractive if they’re executed well. Take the company Dropbox, for instance. File-sharing isn’t the most exciting service to provide, but Dropbox has made this tedious task easy, interesting and even socially engaging.

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