Teamwork’s Peter Coppinger: ‘We want to have a huge influence on the world’

18 Nov 2016

Pictured: CEO Peter Coppinger at the Web Summit in Lisbon. Image: John Kennedy’s Peter Coppinger has ambitions to make Cork Ireland’s software powerhouse and a global go-to location for SaaS. He intends to do so by building a company with revenues of €100m a year.

I initially meet CEO Coppinger in a bar at an Intercom-hosted party in Lisbon during the Web Summit, and we agree a time for our interview the next day.

While all around him people appear to be getting blitzed, he is switched on and all business.

The next morning, hours before our chat, we bump into each other and he’s still intensely focused. When we finally sit down to talk, he is still fresh and focused. It must be the water in Cork, I muse to myself, and remember an equally focused Pat Phelan from Trustev in similar circumstances at Mobile World Congress five years ago.

While everyone else was dutifully manning their booths at the Enterprise Ireland stand, Phelan was having none of it and was out and about winning business, eyes shining with glee and clearly on a roll. Definitely something in the water.

‘Our target is to first get to €20m annual recurring revenue, and then we want to hit €100m. We are at about €14.5m at the moment. We are very focused on the prize, not resting on laurels’

I first heard of Teamwork, or Teamwork PM as it was originally known, until two years ago when we wrote about the Cork tech company that had just forked out €500,000 just to acquire the domain name

Coppinger laughs at the memory. “There were a lot of people on internet forums saying ‘These guys are crazy, what are they doing? They must be VC-backed!’

“We weren’t VC backed, it was our own money,” he exclaims in a singsong Cork accent. “We could have gone off and bought two Maserati cars but we decided instead to double down, reinvest in our company, and we spent half a million on a domain name. It was the biggest decision we ever made and it was amazing for us. Things have really taken off since that point.”

He’s not exaggerating. Teamwork – which makes enterprise software that competes with technologies from Microsoft to Slack, Trello and Zendesk, to name a few – counts companies like PayPal, eBay, Disney, Forbes and Spotify as customers.

Teamwork’s product is designed to streamline processes and help teams work better together.

There are over 268,000 companies using Teamwork products across the globe, with almost 2.8m users. The company was founded in 2007 by developers Peter Coppinger and Daniel Mackey. It employs 73 people and recently announced plans to create 50 new jobs.

Turnover at the company has increased year-on-year and in 2015, the company is understood to have recorded €14.5m in revenues, and is eyeing a €20m target for 2016.

It is investing $2m of its own funds in a new office fit-out designed to woo and entice software developers from around Ireland and across the world. “These will be the most beautiful offices for developers anywhere in Europe,” he claims.

The customer is always right and a good enemy is essential

The backstory to the origins of Teamwork would be familiar to anyone who ever attempted to run a services business in Ireland. No matter how much drive and passion you put into it, making a profit can sometimes be nigh impossible.

‘The response they sent back was so rude and curt and dismissive of our genuine business concerns, that I said “Screw those guys, we are going to do this ourselves.” And we did’

“We used to be a web design agency with a great reputation doing work for the Bon Secours hospital, Cork Institute of Technology, University College Cork; we were winning big contracts – but we were broke. We were working night and day. It was a services business and that is always hard, especially when we were too generous with our time and would give extras to clients and wouldn’t charge them. But in early 2007, we knew we wanted to get into products. We tried a few things that didn’t work, made about €100,000 over three years and it was not enough money for the amount of time we put in.

“We decided we needed to get organised and looked at the software out there to help us get organised. And we tried the market-leading products and after two weeks of using it, realised ‘This product is terrible, how is it the market leader?’”

What happened next is a classic case of ‘The customer is always right’.

Coppinger pointed out to the market leader that core things were missing from its product, including the ability to assign deadlines for tasks.

“Still not thinking about making a product to compete with them, I asked them if they would add the features we were looking for. And the response they sent back was so rude and curt and dismissive of our genuine business concerns, that I said ‘Screw those guys, we are going to do this ourselves.’ And we did.

“There is nothing as good as having an enemy in business to give you that kick, that extra focus to work that bit harder and make sure your product beats them. And we did.”

According to Coppinger, there has never been a better time to be building software, and unlike a lot of software companies in Ireland, Teamwork was able to bootstrap and scale up to a point where it is 100pc self-funded.

“It has never been cheaper to make software. There seems to be a common misconception that you need a lot of money to be able to create software. You don’t.

“When we started, our first server costed $15,000 a month. That same server with all the shared services would today cost $1,000 a month. If you are starting off now, you can run your first server for €50 a month. You could work in McDonald’s and work on a software start-up business.

“We have millions in the bank, we are totally self-funded, there are only two owners; myself and Dan. We’re putting a share option scheme in next year to give a chunk of the company to all of the long-term employees.”

Again, Coppinger and his team are swimming against the tide and have no plans to sell the business any time soon.

“We don’t have any plans to exit in the foreseeable future. We have a nine-year plan. We have a huge vision for where we want to take company. We have three products now and foresee five products in the very near future. We have a vision that we will have a suite of products that will run every business in the world, where all the products actually work together and talk to each other.

“No one else in the world, not Microsoft, not Salesforce, not IBM; nobody has solved this problem yet.”

So who are Coppinger’s competitors? “We have three products. Our team chat product competes with Slack, the market leader [and] our Teamwork projects product competes with Trello and Asana – but we see those guys occupying the low-entry market. We see ourselves as a professional offering. And then our third product, Teamwork Desk, which is our support desk product, competes with Zendesk. All three we feel are better than the leading products in their categories, but all three talk to each other. A ticket comes in, you create a task and workflow across all products.

“We are adding the missing part of the picture next year, which I can’t talk about. Exciting times ahead.”

Eye on the prize

Coppinger’s pride in Teamwork is evident and he has an ebullience that contrasts with the usual understated CEO in Irish software.

This prompts me to ask what kind of legacy he and Mackey want to achieve.

‘Cork IT companies need to do a better job of knowing each other. A guy five doors away from me in Cork runs an internet company, doing $5m revenue with 120 people worldwide, and I’ve never met him before’

“We just want to be proud of the company we created. That means we want a big company, a company that has a huge influence on the world. We are stepping toward that. Our target is to first get to €20m annual recurring revenue and then we want to hit €100m. We are at about €14.5m at the moment. We are very focused on the prize, not resting on laurels.”

The first step on the road to €100m began last year with the creation of an enterprise sales team, which clocked up sales of €500,000 in its first year.

Teamwork also achieved the milestone of translating its software into 42 languages.

But despite the global outlook, Coppinger’s heart is in Cork and fostering a world-class software industry. He is planning a new recruitment drive under the banner ‘Escape to Cork’ and wants to foster greater collaboration between various local tech companies.

“Cork is nowhere as bad as Dublin for talent competition. You don’t have that crazy commute. House prices are actually affordable, so when you hit [your] 30s and you want to buy a house, you can buy for half the price and companies will pay you just as much as you can earn in Dublin, with twice [as good a] lifestyle.

“Cork IT companies need to do a better job of knowing each other. A guy five doors away from me in Cork runs an internet company, doing $5m revenue with 120 people worldwide, and I’ve never met him before.”

His plans are to create a network of software as a service (SaaS) companies in Ireland.

“I want every SaaS company to know one other and help each other grow. It should be about solving pain points, stop making the five same mistakes and going directly to the solution. I got great advice from HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan last year and I learned loads. For two hours, he talked to me about business and problems. I found that hugely powerful and believe that senior leaders in the tech community need to do the same to help younger leaders emerge. We have a long-term plan and don’t want to sell out.”

Part of that long-term plan involves doing surprising things, such as creating a data-hosting business within Teamwork.

Since the European Court of Justice declared the Safe Harbour privacy principles invalid and the new EU-US Privacy Shield emerged, Teamwork listened to customers’ concerns about having their data hosted in the US and has built a solution using Amazon’s servers in Dublin.

“It is technically a hard thing to do, to recreate an entirely new infrastructure on a new continent, but that’s what we have done.”

In a world of Trump, Coppinger’s hunch may prove prescient. “No SaaS company has done this and I believe it could be a tipping point for the business.”

As Teamwork moves to new offices in December in Blackpool, Cork, Coppinger says he plans to hold onto the old offices for future expansions. In the meantime, he intends to use the space to host start-ups in the SaaS space.

“One of the problems with incubators out there is they all have an angle; rates, percentages, shares in your start-up, you name it.

“But any start-ups that want to get free mentorship, free coffee and snacks for a year from next year, just reach out to me. So far, I’ve gotten five serious applications.”

The new incubator space will not be for tyre-kickers.

“All I ask is that you have a real product. I don’t care how bad it is, but that it is a SaaS product. If you meet that base requirement, we will back you to the hilt.”

Judging by the fire in Coppinger’s eyes, I would take him at his word.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years