Last updated: Jan 3, 2024
Table of contents
My beliefs and values
Elsewhere on the WWW
The earliest days
Eoghan McCabe was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1984. OK, this is Eoghan McCabe writing this so let’s try that again. I was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1984.
That's me in the red. "Computer"! Far left is my mom, then my sister, then on right is my late grandmother
I was a pretty shy kid with varying interests. At many points I wanted to be an artist, and at other points a scientist. My friend’s nerdy dad and nerdy bothers had a PC. My parents could definitely not afford such things. I was fascinated by it, and then my mind was blown all over again when I experienced the Internet on it. (We had just watched the Mighty Ducks movie and we went to the official web site of The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim soon after. It was literally all we could think to look up! The innocence. It made the story real and there was something so tangibly magical about connecting with this idea or entity all the way over in the United States, where I had never been. I’ll never forget that sense of wonder at the early Internet. I can feel it now.)
Our first computer
Eventually, after probably a lot of pleading, my dad somehow bought us a Packard Bell computer. We did not have the Internet so I spent hour after hour after hour sifting through every last digital corner of that thing. Poking at file systems and configuration files, figuring out how it all worked, and often breaking it and suffering days of panic after while I tried to fix it on my own. Eventually we got a free AOL CD in the post and got online. About 2 weeks after that I made my first website, on Geocities, in 1996. (This site is an ode to that service and that time and that site, copies of which I hope have long been lost. )
My first and last jobs
A few years later, at the tender age of 16, I had my first and last jobs in quick succession over the course of a summer break. I worked for a few hot weeks in a local hotel bar, clearing tables. I absolutely hated it. Couldn’t stand being told what to do. I “resigned” and explained to the bar manager at length everything he was doing wrong. I then got a job at a local software company and an amazing couple of guys (Mike Nagle and Aidan Coyne) took me under their wings. Aidan gave me a chance to learn how to program, completely on the job, writing a web based version of their software. I shudder to imagine what that code looked like, but it got shipped and got used and I was gone about 2 months after I started.
Would you like to hire a 16 year old consultant?
After that I pivoted to building web sites for small Irish businesses and did this all the way through college. I worked for the type of people who thought hiring a 16-17 year old consultant was a good idea, and as a 16-17 year old consultant to say I had no idea what I was doing was an understatement. So as you can probably imagine, hilarity and much stress ensued. But through this I cut my teeth in business very young and honed many principles I still lead by today.
I am a computer scientist
At college (Trinity College, Dublin) I studied computer science. I remember at around age 16 I realized that since I loved computers and always wanted to be a scientist “computer science” would surely be perfect for me! Actually that simplistic thinking was right and I LOVED pretty much everything I was exposed to in that course. I was surrounded by so many wonderful nerds, both students and staff. And took from that time a deep respect for the history that got us to the incredibly technically sophisticated place that was 2002 (when I started the course). I hated to study and just about got by most of the years. But I threw myself at the subjects I loved. One was computer vision and as my submission for my final year I invented what I believed then and believe now to be the world’s first ever face tracker using a web cam. I won the “Ludgate Award” for that and received a check for EUR 126.97 by way of a prize. I made the difficult decision to not lodge the check so that I could keep it instead as a trophy. I then promptly lost the check.
I used the face tracker to create a parallex effct in Quake to let you "look around" corners
Let's get down to business
My first professional photoshoot, I think aged 20
As much as I loved college, I could not wait to get out and start proper in the business world. I devoured business books and dreamt of Internet adventures. In 2006, in my last year I printed out and read, perhaps four times, 37 signals’ Getting Real book all about the business of software. That’s what I wanted to do! Immediately after graduating I started my first consulting company, imaginatively registered as Eoghan McCabe Limited. I kept a blog at the time, the name of which I’m going to leave out now to try make it more difficult to find. I wrote about web design and the web design industry in Ireland. Ireland felt small to me and the standards were uninspiring. I saw many people enjoying their size as a slightly-larger-than-other-fish sized fish in our small pond and I wanted more than that. My blog posts were critical of the Irish industry and the standards I espoused helped me find the interesting technologists of my generation in Ireland. People like Paul Campbell and David Rice, who I worked with for some time. People like Eamon Leonard who became a lifelong friend. And others like Des Traynor, Ciaran Lee, and David Barrett, who I am likely to mention later in this text in the event I don’t get too tired of writing this bio.
Exceptional and New Relic
Eoghan McCabe Limited later became Contrast, a “web app” design and development agency. (“Web apps” were a new idea then and a consultancy focused on that was novel). Paul and David joined and alongside our consulting work we created Exceptional, a crash monitoring service for web apps. Des and Ciaran and David and Darragh Curran and Wal McConnell joined Contrast along the way and helped build out that product. We gained some notoriety but we didn’t know how to do it big like the Silicon Valley guys. We bootstrapped Exceptional while others in the dev tools space like New Relic raised hundreds of millions of dollars and achieved billions of dollars in valuation. Lew Cirne, founder of New Relic, quickly became a personal hero. He was an approachable dude, gave me the time of day even though we were definitely just little guys and nobodies, and comparing my experience with Exceptional to that of Lew’s and others definitely helped set my ambition for what must come next.
Falling for the Bay
In 2011 we managed to sell Exceptional to a crazy and wonderful man named Jonathan Siegel. I’m pretty sure he paid way too much for that business and I’ve heard him say so himself! But through that experience we became friends and he a major supporter, being the first to commit to our seed round for Intercom. Ciaran and I travelled to San Francisco that summer to complete the technical handover of the app, which was my second trip to the city that year. I was falling hopelessly in love with the place. Traveling there so often was an expensive habit and I took out a loan of EUR 2.2k from Allied Irish Bank to fund my flight tickets. I stayed in a small and very warm room off Alamo Square.
Ciaran in the Mission on that trip
"We could call it Intercom?"
Wal, Des, David working in our office in Temple Bar in Dublin around the time we started working on Intercom
The first lines of code for Intercom were written in the very last days of 2010. And we started to move to focus on Intercom full time that summer after selling Exceptional. We didn’t make that much at all from the deal, but it was all the money all of us had in the whole world and more than we’d seen in our lives. We were four at that point: me, Des, Ciaran, David, and we agreed on a set of ridged principles we’d follow if we were to use that money on Intercom. We gave ourselves 6 months to try make it work.
I was ~27 when wrote this. Des, Ciaran, David were about 30. You'll see the immaturity (and misspelling, which has not improved since) that you'd expect from young lads that age with so much to prove. But you can also see the intensity and ambition and focus that served us so well too. The essence of lot of this is still in our values today and are ideas I promote to founders of all ages.
Our first founders photoshoot in Oct, 2011! Image credits: Ben Arent
Fundraising is hard
In the late summer of 2011 I set out to raise a seed round of $1M for Intercom. It was BRUTAL. Miserable. I couldn’t get meetings with VCs. There weren’t really seed funds back then anyway. I met with many angels, nobody got it, and it’s certain I was not doing a great job pitching it. In the end I scraped together $500k from what I lovingly think of as a raggle-taggle group of amazing, wonderful humans. The biggest check was $100k. We got one of those. The smallest was $5k. I’m flooded with emotion right now thinking of the crazy bet they made on this crazy kid of 27. Then an even crazier set of people in Tokyo wrote a check out of nowhere for another $500k after a very different kind of pitch meeting by Skype video call. I was back in Dublin, back from SF, defeated, I couldn’t raise the $1M. And then one meeting later with a bunch of lovely guys who I could barely understand, and who I’m sure could barely understand me, we had our seed round!!! We were relatively experienced founders, we sold our last business, and raising just $1M was like pulling teeth. So for founders lamenting the fact they can only raise $5M for their seed rounds I say: you’ll be fine.
My pitch deck for our seed round
The time of our lives
The 10 years that followed are a blur. One thing I know for sure is that we all worked as hard as any human can, that we had the absolute time of our lives growing up together, making memories on every street of San Francisco and friends for life, and that we created the kind of beauty and magic in our work that if we never make another thing again, we could die happy knowing what we did for Intercom.
Some photos from the early years
Wait what is Intercom?
In that time too, Intercom went from being worth nothing, to billions of dollars, and changed fundamental components of the Internet. Wait, I forgot to describe what Intercom is: We started by building a cool little messenger you could put on your web site. It was intended to be a “direct line to the customer.” I imagined it as the “intercoms” we had in school in Ireland that the principal would use to talk at everyone and feel important. Kind of like how I do today as CEO at All Hands meetings. It BLEW UP! People loved it. Our mission was to “make internet business personal.” We saw email and all the crappy email based systems as transactional, fake, spammy, grossly impersonal. We knew nothing about how to sell things to the world, but we knew how to build cool shit. Mostly because it was cool (and because Des and the others like Paul Adams kept one of the most interesting blogs in tech at that time) we grew from $1M to $50M in ARR faster than any software company prior, apart from Salesforce. The mark we made can now be seen in the fact that basically every single digital business uses a little floating messenger in the bottom-right corner of their site. (Most of which are Intercom messengers, but many of which are copycats from the likes of Zendesk, Hubspot, Front, Drift. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery! )
In early 2012 Zendesk asked me to come visit them. I did, and the entire core product team and all the founders were waiting. I naively told them all about our plans but also insisted on them letting me take this photo which I just saw for the first time since then!
CEO, not CEO, then, CEO
I was CEO of Eoghan McCabe Limited, believe it or not. And then of Contrast and Exceptional and Intercom. Until when, in 2020, I was not! A few years prior I managed to convince a very experienced operator named Karen Peacock to become our COO with the suggestion that one day she might become CEO. By around 2015 I knew I did not want the grind of the CEO life for forever. The reasons why are for another day, but the venture backed tech CEO life is all encompasing—and I have other things I want to do too. I dreamed of “moving up” to Chairman, being in the mix but not being in the grind. In June 2018 I got very, very sick (also a story for another day, but in short I eventually discovered 5 years later it was a neurological autoimmune disorder which I have essentially healed from by quitting gluten!!!), and by 2019 I was falsely accused of some things I refuse to repeat or link to here (search "the information intercom") and had no idea how to defend myself. The board freaked out and commisioned an extremely agressive 6-month investigation to show they certainly weren't at fault. Then when they got the results they unanimously backed me as CEO. But by 2020 I was DONE. As in GET ME OUT OF HERE done. Sick as a dog and still burned to a crisp from the PR crisis and investigation. So it felt like the right time to cut and run and start adventures anew. Karen graciously took the job, and I took two years off trying to get better and trying to wrap my head around what happened in 2019, and also exploring and starting new projects. And then in 2022 I did something I really never, ever thought I’d do. I spent a solid 30 days in August/September 2022, day in day out, trying to convince myself not to do it. I went back. Intercom was in need of help, and try as I might I just could not stop caring about that thing we built. I wasn't proud of how I ran away from it, I felt the job was not complete. And so I came back to finish what I started. And here we are in August, 2023, 9 months back and 3 months away from a big reveal of my most ambitious endevor yet which I'm calling: Intercom 2.
Let’s see how that goes and we’ll come back here to add more paragraphs later. Please hit the refresh button in about one year.
Me at my house in Berkeley, California in Aug, 2023
My work is my primary “interest.” I love starting businesses, running businesses, growing businesses. I love building important and cool technology before anyone else. I love creating inspiring and emotive brands. I love leading people and bringing truly great people together and giving them and myself something greater than ourselves to believe in.
"The work" ;)
I’m deeply committed to my inward journey. I believe in the importance of getting to know oneself deeply and have found there to be unending levels of wonder and magic as we look inside. I nerd out on psychology and any type of approach to wellness and spiritual development. I’ve studied under a truly brilliant man, Yosi Amram, who for 10 years, every single week, I’ve got to meet as my coach, confidant, therapist, and spiritual teacher. One of the greatest blessings of my life has been meeting Yosi. Yosi released a very important and powerful book in late 2023 detailing his approach to couching leaders in their spiritual develeopment.
I love nature and adventure. I love being on the road. While I LOVE cities, I also love being away from the cities. One of my absolute favorite things in the world is a hike in the pouring rain in a North California forest. There’s a lot about the Bay Area I complain about, but I choose to live here in one great part because I can be so close to nature.
Burning Man! )'(
I’m a longtime burner and have gone to Burning Man every year since 2014 (except 2020 when it was cancelled due to Covid!). The freedom and creativity and beauty and space for joy and play and love makes my heart soar. I’ll probably go every year until I die or it dies.
My sister Niamh and I at Burning Man, I think maybe 2017
Apart from my work work, my other avenue for creative expression is through interior architecture and design. I love renovating spaces and buildings and creating experiences that are surprising and delightful and stylish and tasteful. I’m uncomfortable always in a poorly designed space. It’s a miserable curse that I don’t wish on anyone. But it’s led to my dedication to creating as many fun spaces as my wealth will afford for others to enjoy. I’m still learning but I’m 5 years and 3.5 projects in now and plan to invest a lot more energy in this passion in the future. I’m deeply grateful to Richard Petit of The Archers for being my creative partner and teacher in interior design and excited to work with him for many years to come.
Richard and I at Salone del Mobile, Milan 2022 (Image copyright: WSJ Magazine)
Helping the next generation
Finally, it’s quite intangible, but this may end up driving the most important work in my life. I have a keen interest in young people learning the power of deciding to become masters of their own destiny. To fix whatever they see as broken about themselves or their lives, to succeed in whatever way they dream, to achieve happiness and meaning and love. This life is so short but infinitely full of possibility. We are our own greatest hurdles and I really want to help as many young people overcome theirs as I can. Today that work looks like investing in and mentoring young founders but I will try to scale this in time to help many more than I can today.
My beliefs and values
These are always maturing. Right now I believe…
That life is a gift. It’s incredibly precious. It’s fleeting. That we must make the most of it and the talents and opportunities that we are given. That this will not only make us healthier and happier but that this is the way to show true reverence and respect for the gift.
That a well-lived life is one of purpose and adventure and play and connection and creativity and love and magic.
That we must strive to live according to truth. Every action we take or word we speak or thought we think that is not in accordance with the truth creates friction and suffering for us and others. We must live our true authentic lives. This is incredibly hard and everyone dies before the end of that journey.
That there are no rules. There are infinite ways to live this life, to achieve our goals. That the most interesting lives and those most deserving of celebration are the ones that are most unique and non conforming.
That humans deserve freedom. That they flourish most when they can choose their own path through life. I disagree with authoritarianism of all sorts. I believe humanity would achieve its highest degrees of wellness with less laws, less regulation, less government.
That capitalism and merit are the most productive and fair ways for humanity to collaborate to further civilization and everything we call civilized.
That tribalism and polarized thinking are dangerous. I have no political affiliation, and am very much a centrist. Life and its emergent properties in humanity is so much more interesting than something than we can fit in two buckets.
That much of what ails us in society is our disconnect from nature, from simple sources of nutrition, from spirituality, from each other. That we’ve long known these things but that our egos exposed to the modern world unforuntely have us prioritize lives that further this disconnection.
OK, that’s enough for now. Time for a hike :D
My investment portfolio
Try as I did to not become an “angel investor”, I was repeatedly invited to participate in what would become some of the greatest software companies of our generation. Here is a subset of incredible companies that I have very little right to own tiny yet valuable slices of. (In order that I invested, roughly.)
Elsewhere on the WWW
- Restarting the start-up: Why Eoghan McCabe returned to lead Intercom
- Eoghan McCabe & Des Traynor, CEO and CSO of Intercom, on the AI transformation of customer service
- Eoghan McCabe helped build a billion-dollar business. How did the 36-year-old do it, and what will he do next?
- 20VC: Intercom Founder, Eoghan McCabe on How To Deal with the Weight of Expectation
- Eoghan McCabe on Twitter!
- Eoghan McCabe on LinkedIn!!
- Eoghan McCabe on Instagram!!!