Catching Up With Y Combinator Alumn Olark

December 13, 2012

1:00 pm

Since launching in 2009, Olark’s click-to-chat customer service tool now greets visitors on hundreds of websites, used by clients ranging from Michigan State University to menswear outfitter Trunk Club. Customers use it to get their questions answered (and complaints heard), and companies deploy it as a real-time customer service tool complete with analytics and CRM integration.

Olark received angel funding from Paul Graham’s Y Combinator in 2009, but since then the company has stayed relatively quiet, focusing on product development. We caught up with Olark cofounder and CEO Ben Congleton. Here’s what he had to say.

Tech Cocktail: What are the most innovative ways you’ve seen Olark being used?

Ben Congleton:Wow, good question. We’ve seen quite a few interesting use cases for Olark live chat. 99designs and New Relic target the use of Olark as part of their signup flow to help their most valuable customers convert into paying customers. Acquia, the fastest growing software company in America, is a heavy user of Olark. They use Olark exclusively to talk to their high-value enterprise customers. Mancrates.com uses Olark to emphasize their brand by heavily customizing the chat box messaging. We recently saw one of our customers using Olark as a way to notify themselves when a customer encountered an error on their website. From real estate agents to car dealerships, universities, startups and Fortune 500 companies, it’s amazing how many people benefit from being able to chat with their customers.”

Tech Cocktail: You were a Y-Combinator company in 2009. Talk to us about startup life post-Y-Combinator. Is the network still paying dividends?

Congleton: “A lot has changed with Y Combinator in the past three years. It’s pretty fun to be able to see all these new companies getting started. It gives you a real perspective on how far you’ve come. The real value of YC is the support network. Paul and the Y Combinator partners have done a really good job building a network of entrepreneurs who are very successful, but also happy to give back and help out other startups. So even though we are not tapping into the network every day, it’s great to know it’s there when we need it.”

Tech Cocktail: What’s next for Olark?

Congleton: “Live chat for customer service is a fast-growing area. People see the benefit of talking to customers while they are still on your website, not to mention that operators can handle many more chats than phone calls. So, it’s really exciting over here as we grow to meet the huge demand. We have a bunch of announcements on the way. We’ll be sure to let you guys know :-).”

Tech Cocktail: For some people, success is selling to Google; for others, it’s profitability or a huge IPO. What does long-term success mean to you?

Congleton: “The whole team loves the process of building an amazing company. The great thing about building an amazing company is it opens up quite a few options. Right now we are passionate about building an amazing product that helps thousands of companies communicate better with their customers. At the end of the day, we want to build a fast-growing company that provides a lot of value to our customers, our employees, and the larger community.”

Tech Cocktail: Is there anything else you want our readers to know about you?

Congleton: “The thing that makes Olark amazing is our team. In August, we rented out a big house on a river near Sonoma Valley and held a company-wide retreat. We flew in all of our remote employees and their spouses. We cooked meals together, went wine tasting, took canoe trips on the river, and waxed about the future of Olark. If you can, build a company where you can all hang out as one big happy family. Trust me, it will make a world of a difference.”

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Andrew Cross is a Tech Cocktail contributor and an account director at Walker Sands Communications in Chicago, where he handles PR strategy and media relations for tech companies. He covers tech startups, particularly those based out of the Midwest. Contact Andrew at andrewrcross AT gmail DOT com or on Twitter @Andrew_R_Cross.

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