Bootstrapping Intercom’s London Office

When Intercom decided to open a new office in London, I was fortunate enough to be the company’s first UK hire for the London team. The opportunity to not just witness, but actively shape the growth of a new R&D office from inception through to maturity was a truly unique learning experience, and one which I’m incredibly grateful for.

I joined as a senior product designer, and alongside a product manager and engineering manager who relocated from Dublin, we set about growing the London office from a tiny team (in a cramped WeWork) to 5 fully-staffed product teams, with consistent shipping momentum, and a fully-fledged dedicated office that people all over the company wanted to come visit.

Our first London office was a tiny WeWork space in the heart of London’s financial district.

Within 5 days of opening the office, we were streaming live from our cramped London WeWork office, demoing work as a team at weekly show-and-tell which they’d already designed, built, and shipped to production—a wonderful start, but shipping was just one of many aspects of our job.

Starting a new office from scratch presented us with a range of interesting challenges. In addition to fleshing out the rest of the first team, we also had to juggle a bunch of other priorities:

  • Building shipping momentum on the product which our team had been given responsibility for (the Articles / Help Center product)
  • Figuring out how to adapt ways of working across design, product, and engineering—with R&D now spread between Dublin and London (and shortly after came the SF office too!)
  • Setting culture for what the London office would become as it grew into the future—we wanted it to feel sufficiently like Intercom Dublin/SF etc, but at the same time feeling distinctly Intercom London.

The product our first team was given responsibilities for was Articles—Intercom’s help center and knowledge-base product (which was originally called Educate). The idea was that by carving out a key piece of the wider product offering and having complete ownership within our office, it would ensure that London wasn’t psychologically subordinate to the Dublin R&D office—instead encouraging healthy collaboration patterns and cross-office integration points.

Weekly show-and-tell sessions were a great way to keep the wider company in the loop with what we were working on, streamed live across all Intercom’s offices.

Initial momentum for Articles

In order to prioritise building initial momentum for the first London team, we focused first on a bunch of foundational level improvements—e.g. rolling out mobile native integrations for Articles and the Help Center, letting folks create and populate their knowledge base articles from pre-existing saved replies, and so forth—while we simultaneously researching and fleshing out a longer-term roadmap of high-value problems to solve.

Growing the London office

After we’d built initial moment with the first London product team, we didn’t stop there. As the initial trio for the London office—myself, our product manager Mark, and engineering manager Niall—were heavily involved in hiring for two additional product teams, as well as interviewing and hiring for Director-level roles for London too—as until that point everyone in London had still been reporting to folks in Dublin, which was less than ideal for many reasons.

Lunch at the London office was always a great opportunity for folks across teams to catch up.

As the London office grew, so did Intercom’s design team, and I eventually stepped up to take on the role of design manager for the expanding London design discipline. In this role I was responsible for hiring and coaching designers across a range of seniority levels, as well as continuing to shape the product and design culture in the London office, while leading design for some of our largest projects.

With every additional success delivered by London’s teams over the years, London ended up becoming the R&D office responsible for all of Intercom’s Customer Support suite of product offerings (in many ways the core aspect of the entire product!), and my role evolved further to become group design manager—in which I played a significant role in a some of the largest coordinated product launches Intercom had ever done.

Coby Chapple (@cobyism)

@cobyism—a.k.a. Coby Chapple is an autodidact, systems thinker, product architect, pixel technician, full-stack algorithmagician, multi-media maker, cryptography geek, aspiring linguist, and generalist Designerd™ extraordinaire. Read more »