[The Turning Point] How a comment in Hacker News led Girish Mathrubootham to create Freshworks, one of India’s biggest SaaS startup

The Turning Point is a series of short articles that focuses on the moment when an entrepreneur hit upon their winning idea. Today, we take a look at Girish Mathrubootham’s Freshworks, the SaaS unicorn that began its journey in 2010.

9th Nov 2019
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SaaS startup Freshworks and its Founder Girish Mathrubootham are renowned in the startup world. The startup’s home base, Chennai, is now being called “India’s SaaS capital”, while the founder is often termed “SaaS God”. 


But how did the Freshworks journey begin?


Girish, who worked at Zoho Corporation, was happy at his well-paying job for nine long years. In his blog, he says: “I had a great team and the satisfaction of having built several successful products under the ManageEngine brand.”


But in 2010, he happened to read an article on Hacker News while going about his work. The article on the rise in Zendesk’s pricing by 60 to 300 percent revealed how disgruntled users were.  


His eyes then scanned a comment by a user. “Whenever I read something like this I can’t help but think - here’s a potential customer to whomever can get this right and at the right price. It seems like there still is a huge opening in this market for someone to come in and take all of Zendesk and eSupport’s customers.”


Freshworks

Girish Mathrubootham, Co-founder Freshworks




And that was Girish’s eureka moment. 


He joined hands with Shan Krishnasamy, his colleague at Zoho Corp, to build a prototype in October 2010. 


The product was ready eight months later. Among other things, the cloud-based product converted a customer phone call, email, or social media message into a “ticket” that the customer care team has to respond to. 


Set up in Chennai first as Freshdesk, and later renamed as Freshworks, the company is now headquartered in San Bruno, California, and has more than 2,000 employees and 1.5 lakh clients. 


It has global offices in India, the UK, Australia, and Germany, with 35,000 paying customers across the globe, and a total of 200,000 businesses signed up on its platform. 


Freshworks is backed by venture capital firms such as Accel Partners, Tiger Global Management, CapitalG, and Sequoia Capital India. In July 2018, it raised $100 million in funding, taking its total funding to $250 million, and its valuation beyond $1 billion. 


The company now offers a 360-degree suite of products to enable digital transformation of enterprises. The user-friendly business solutions include cloud-based customer support, IT service management solution, CRM, call centre software, internal collaboration tools, and marketing automation solutions for enterprises of all sizes. These solutions are used by fast-growing companies in the region across the automobile, hospitality, ecommerce, consulting, and IT sectors. 


Girish did not look at Freshworks beginning as a struggle, but as a challenge. He equates building a startup with scaling a mountain. 


“Being the CEO of a startup is no easy task. There is no fallback; no administrative team, facilities department, finance, accounting section, or HR for payroll processing. You have to jump in and do it all – from recruiting and paying the internet bill to running payroll and making sure there is coffee for employees. You have to take care of everything and – yes – build the product as well.” 


He added that a startup CEO required “a certain degree of mental toughness”. “There are a thousand things on your plate at all times. You cannot eat or sleep properly with your mind constantly thinking about work,” Girish said. 


(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)



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