McCabe, who was CEO from 2011 to 2020, steered Intercom to $100 million in revenue, was accused of making unwanted advances toward several female staffers. He told Forbes investigations into the incidents cleared him.
Intercom cofounder Eoghan McCabe, who led the messaging software company to a billion-dollar valuation before stepping down a year after accusations of sexual misconduct, is returning as CEO.
McCabe begins his second stint as CEO, effective immediately, according to a company email sent out to staff Thursday. Former COO Karen Peacock, who succeeded McCabe in 2020, will depart the company after a six month stint as an adviser to the board of directors.
“I never could stay that far from the company,” McCabe told Forbes. “I care as much as I ever did, and I got a lot of clarity in the last couple years about what [Intercom] could and should be. Recently some board members asked me if I would consider coming back as CEO, and I felt called to finish what I started.”
Intercom was founded in Dublin, Ireland by McCabe and compatriots Des Traynor, David Barrett and Ciaran Lee. The company started out by building messaging tools for businesses to communicate with their customers and by 2016 it had become one of Silicon Valley’s fastest growing startups. Under McCabe’s leadership, the company reached $100 million in annual revenue and a $1.3 billion valuation with investment from VC firms including Bessemer Venture Partners, Index Ventures and Kleiner Perkins.
“We want to do what Figma did to Photoshop.”
McCabe’s meteoric rise faltered in 2019 following reports that he had made unwanted advances towards junior female employees. The allegations, which included instances of inappropriate touching and the propositioning of at least one junior staffer, were said to have prompted an exodus of women from the company which was sometimes referred to internally as “wexit.”
McCabe, who told Forbes he was unanimously cleared by both inside and outside investigations into the allegations, ascribed the incidents to his relative youth. “The reality of the situation, which I’m very happy to set straight, is in the early days of the company I hit on someone. I was naive and thought we were all on the same level,” he told Forbes, referring to the power dynamics between an executive and a junior salesperson. He insisted that his decision to step down as CEO the following year was a personal choice, as Intercom’s board had voted unanimously to keep him in the position. “My intention was never to be CEO forever,” he said. “I dreamed of moving to the chairman role and getting to try some new things.”
Under Peacock, Intercom reached $200 million in annualized revenue and rose to no. 35 on Forbes’ Cloud 100 list largely on the back of its product that became popular among small and medium sized businesses. In recent months, the company’s executives and board of directors began to discuss Intercom’s next act. McCabe told Forbes that talks have settled upon narrowing the product scope—which currently includes software to drive sales and customer retention—to focus specifically on customer support. In doing so, Intercom, which once billed itself as a “next generation Salesforce,” is now aiming to take down a different company. “We’re going to get really aggressive and pick a lane, pick a fight with Zendesk,” McCabe said. “We want to do what Figma did to Photoshop.”
McCabe said that he sees Zendesk as the current market leader in support software for mid-market companies, while Salesforce and ServiceNow dominate the enterprise customer base. He believes Intercom, which has more than 1,000 employees, can overtake Zendesk by concentrating its mission on customer support. But that will entail reprioritizing research and development efforts and leveraging the marketing team to sell a brand new narrative. After deciding upon Intercom’s new vision, multiple board members approached McCabe about his interest in returning as CEO, he said. As to why a CEO transition was necessary to execute the vision, he was cagey: “You’d have to ask Karen.” Reached for comment, Peacock wrote in an email: “I’m excited about where Intercom is heading and what the next chapter holds. I will forever be Intercom’s biggest fan and advocate.”
McCabe said he was excited to celebrate Peacock on her way out, but the company’s focus is now on his “super aggressive” vision. “The board realized that I’ve done this before at Intercom—define a category and make a lot of waves in that space,” he said. “Evidently, they believe I can do it again.”