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This Messaging Startup Wants to Put a Face on Your Business

Intercom is by no means the only startup selling messaging technology intended for businesses rather than consumers, but it’s probably far larger than you realize.

How big? The San Francisco-based firm’s software is now used by more than 13,000 companies—including Ancestry, IBM, RackSpace, Shopify, and Yahoo—which, in turn, rely on it to communicate with a combined audience of more than one billion customers. As of early April, Intercom’s disclosed total customer count was 10,000 businesses (a number that’s still on its web site). That number has doubled in the past 12 months, according to a company spokesperson.

Intercom started life as a provider of chat software within web applications, but the latest edition of its software (which shipped last week) helps companies unify customer conversations across diverse channels including email, mobile apps, and the Facebook messaging platform. (For perspective, it’s worth noting that Messenger recently passed the one billion monthly user milestone.)

Don’t make the mistake of pigeon-holing this as a customer service system: the software supports a variety of scenarios ranging from support interactions to marketing campaigns. That’s an important differentiator in a world replete with consumer messaging platforms that are being recast for business purposes, notably Facebook’s Messenger.

“The conversation is in context,” says Intercom co-founder and CEO Eoghan McCabe.

Intercom is getting far more personal (dare we say human) with the latest edition of its software. The app allows a company’s employees to create profiles that can be seen both by colleagues and by the customers with whom they’re chatting. Employees can even share emojis or GIFs, if their managers let them.

“Companies have always wanted to be faceless brands, but people abhor that,” McCabe says. “We show the customer when their message has been seen, when someone is online.”

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Intercom has raised $116 million in venture funding since it was founded in 2011 from backers including Index Ventures, ICONIQ Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, and the Social + Capital Partnership. Its latest round in April also included money from Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, and the co-founders of digital payments upstart Stripe Patrick and John Collison.