Ivan Cossu - CEO and co-founder of deskbird.
Can you provide a short overview of your business and the problem it tries to solve?
deskbird is a workplace management app that gives employees superpowers in the hybrid work world. We're incredibly determined to provide an easy-to-use solution. Employees can see who is in the office, schedule their office and work-from-home days, and book desks in two clicks. With a fast and intuitive user experience and a quick and reliable onboarding process, we build deskbird primarily around users, not buildings.
We're one of Europe's fastest-growing SaaS startups, helping people and organizations to reach their full potential. We have raised over $8M in capital and operate globally with companies such as Vitra, Red Bull, AON, ThyssenKrupp, and Amnesty International offices.
What’s your background, and how did you come up with the idea?
I kick-started my professional journey with a solid educational foundation from St. Gallen University. My expertise was further honed through my tenure at highly reputable enterprises, including Morgan Stanley and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
I've always loved entrepreneurship and creating new things. With deskbird, I finally found the right idea and co-founder to build my dream startup. And that’s how we started.
At first, we operated as a coworking space marketplace, similar to Airbnb for workspaces. The concept came from our difficulty finding and comparing coworking spaces, which usually required membership and only allowed hourly bookings. We successfully added over 300 European workspaces, including well-known brands like Mindspace and The Office Group (TOG), to our platform.
Although we tried, the demand for this service did not increase as expected, and we needed help finding a way to create a viable business model. As a result, we shifted our focus and started paying closer attention to the challenges faced by companies in our vicinity.
Our focus has always been serving other businesses (B2B) and engaging with various companies. Through listening to their feedback, we realized that the main issue was not space availability but office management. To address this, we decided to modify our existing B2C app - initially created for high user satisfaction and conversion rates - into a tool that B2B companies could utilize. Our partners were enthusiastic about using it to manage their internal spaces.
We transitioned from being an "Airbnb for coworking spaces" to an "OS for flexible workspaces" when deskbird started to gain momentum. Our software now prioritizes the user experience rather than simply the office space. This new approach has given us a competitive edge and is a valuable legacy from our past business model.
How did you get your first customers during the early stage of the business?
After pivoting our business towards hybrid work, we immediately gained traction with customers due to the popularity of this topic. Although we had no established reputation in this area, we utilized our network of business leaders, referrals, and advertising to generate traction. However, developing organic traffic has taken some time as we didn't have an established brand name.
Developing partnerships and referrals take time in a B2B setting, as I have learned through experience. To build trust with potential partners, continuously improving your product and demonstrating financial stability is crucial. Customers demand a reliable solution that will not require switching providers due to missing features or the company's potential bankruptcy.
How’s the business doing now?
The company is doing great and exceeding all our expectations. High expectations drive our culture, leading us to seek record-breaking months. As I evaluate competitors and startups, I use various factors such as employee headcount on LinkedIn, funding history on Crunchbase, and website archives to gauge their growth. With a team of over 80 deskbirds, we are performing well and have exciting prospects for the future.
As of now, what marketing channels are working well for acquiring customers?
Much of this is a competitive advantage, so let me think of some meaningful insights I can share. However, any thorough due diligence of deskbird will tell the interested reader what we are up to.
Your branding will become critical in any competitive business environment sooner or later. We started a year after our launch to increase our efforts—for example, publications with the Business Reporter and The Guardian in the UK. We collaborated with Slack on an excellent case study in T3N recently, and so on.
For us, 2023 is also about experimenting, including a social media strategy for Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. If you don't see your competitors there – it means one of two things: they are convinced it's not worth it, or they have not tried. Beliefs can come from assumptions or actual proof. Established companies rely on assumptions due to their experience and past decisions, making it difficult to change their mindset. This is because they may have tried something before, and it failed, leaving a lasting impression that is hard to shift.
Young companies like us will likely take risks here, experiment, and consequently are best positioned to find channels with untapped potential. You probably guessed it, but we don't see much competition out there right now.
And even if you are not growing like crazy on those channels, it doesn't mean you are unsuccessful. By now, we all know that follower count is almost a vanity metric. We aim for meaningful conversations with thought leaders to learn and build a reputation. Hybrid work is still a niche, and many leaders must learn how to manage its complexity successfully. Sharing knowledge on those channels will benefit them if they have not become our newsletter subscribers.
What has been your biggest achievement as a founder?
Convince others to join the vision. Jonas, my Co-founder, and I gathered a group of risk-takers to build something that people (and companies) want. The initial small group has grown to over 80 individuals and counting. And if you look at their resume, you'll see we didn't hire just anyone.
What has been your biggest challenge since you started the business?
Pivoting. You're running a growing business, and then the pandemic hits. Now you start doubting and challenging everything. We were already 10+ people and thus burning our pre-seed money fast. So, we needed to build a valid hypothesis quickly. Change was inevitable, but progress was not. After talking to businesses and potential customers and looking at the competitive landscape, we decided to align with the new vision. That was a big decision, and the challenge to get it right was certainly one I remember very vividly. After that, we built an MVP fast and failed fast, got it right, failed again, got it right, and so on.
What’s something you know now that you wish you had known when you started the company?
How much there is to know. So many things I did not even know that I didn't know—the unknown unknowns, so to speak. You know you need to become an expert in your industry and category – you read about product-led growth, focusing on a small target audience first, and find your first 10 paying customers. All correct, but easier said than done, and I think everyone who started a business will agree with me here. The exchange with other founders was a valuable resource to bounce ideas off, learn from their lessons, and reflect.
What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs?
Don't make assumptions. A while back, I had a conversation with an entrepreneur with a unique idea for a sustainable childcare product delivery service. He had already secured distributors and was looking to hire a software engineer for the platform. After speaking with some friends who recently became parents, he shared his plans with me. I suggested he buy the product from a large German grocery chain (like Müller, for example), repackage it with his branding (very cool!), and deliver it to his parent friends for three months. He could note what he learned, calculate the unit economics, and test different prices with his friends in the fourth month. This would give him valuable feedback and help him spend less money upfront. I don't know if he followed through with the idea, but I hope he did. As an entrepreneur, taking action and seeking feedback to improve your business is essential.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
That's easy: I have a strong drive to build. My mission is to develop something completely transforming how we work and our work environment, as this is a pressing issue of our time.
What are your plans for the next 6–12 months?
We are just about to launch our public product roadmap. We are very excited about building an even better product for modern companies. You can find the link here.