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Untold Seed Stories: First 500 Days of Freshworks
Freshworks - A fresh approach to customer engagement
Podcasts have been one of the ways we try to bring out untold stories of startup founders. Continuing with this tradition, we at Accel are excited to introduce our new podcast mini-series: Untold Seed Stories. This new show aims to unravel the first 500 days of our founders’ startup journey — ranging from how they first conceived the idea and met their co-founders, to details of how they secured their first funding and challenges along the way.
For the fourth podcast of our Untold Seed Stories, we chat with Girish Matrhubootham, Co-founder and CEO of Freshworks. Founded in October 2010 in Chennai, Girish and his CTO Shan Krishnaswamy grew the company to a Series-H stage, after its latest fundraise of $150 million.
4:00 - Qualities that make Girish standout as a founder
9:00 - Developing customer empathy
15:40 - Ability to find the right talent
29:00 - What shaped his diamond in the rough philosophy
32:00 - Making the right decisions
44:00 - The ability to learn
56:30 - Rapid fire round
Freshworks is a name that is often synonymous with the subjects of customer empathy and compelling story-telling. Sometimes, it’s also the founder Girish Mathrubootham who intersects with customer empathy and story-telling more than his company does.
The Founder and CEO started his early career in training customers, at HCL-Cisco ODC.
At this time, he understood the importance of User Interface, how the labels should read, how obvious the call-to-action buttons should be, without having the customers to think much before navigating through their screens.
When customer trainers talk about products, it is largely around features but all that goes in a customer’s mind is his/her own problems. It is an important gap to bridge.
“Thinking of features specifically took a backseat but thinking about customer problems took top priority. The ability to think like a user on a fundamental level is what makes great product managers. As a founder or product manager, you should be willing to work harder to make the life of a customer easier.”
During the early days of building any startup, a founder cannot afford to hire someone from an Ivy League school or a great company.
“There are two ways to go about it. One is to hire an existing candidate that comes from an Ivy League background, or pick out a talented candidate and help mould him/her into a shining diamond eventually. There is a great level of joy in doing the latter, though it is harder work than the former.”
Those who have had excellent schooling with English, who are natural readers and creative writers would do very well in Marketing. To check for customer empathy, Freshworks would ask its potential candidates to write a customer reply in case of a failed transaction, and the customer is stuck.
The company sees that a candidate has a certain scale of detail orientation, showing promise towards customer empathy and how much they are willing to own the customer’s problems.
With criteria like, how well the Sales people can talk naturally, and how well the pre-Sales people can think on their feet, and so on, Freshworks got around to building its own framework to hire the right set of talent and mould them over the years.
Being an average student who had to pick up his learnings on-the-go, while a lot of things went right for him, Girish says that is how his belief was shaped around finding the rough diamonds in the market that he could possibly shape into shine.
The decision-making model
As a founder, you are supposed to make decisions day-in and day-out, some less impact and more impact. More importantly, these are the decisions that the founders are going to have to stick with, much later.
Many of Girish’s best friends often tell him that he is someone who keeps doing whatever makes him happy. He agrees with a certain comment made by a friend’s father that Girish constantly lives in the moment and doesn’t look too ahead to the future.
“I follow my heart rather than listening to my mind all the time.”
Though he was stubborn enough to not listen to anyone’s advice in the early days of his career, Girish is now a matured listener who keeps everything in context before making any decision.
But the key element has always been around optimising for happiness and enjoying what he does, over the years. He says this approach has largely influenced his decision-making framework.
“When it comes to building a company, business is all about a repeated mechanism of doing something that really works. For Freshworks, it was the inbound playbook model for building in the B2B SaaS industry. It was very repeatable.”
Girish and Shan decided early-on that this playbook is going to be a constant over the years. The company was really strong on the inbound playbook, and Girish’s understanding of the buyer who comes online was really high. As a result, the aspects of product marketing, demand generation, optimising for speed and velocity, redirection to sign-up, overall web design, how intuitive the UI should be, were very organised.
However, being adamant on proving his hypothesis that his inbound playbook model was a success formula, he wanted to try it out again. Girish replicated the same inbound playbook in Helpdesk for internal employee support, and it was also working out for his users.
This was an experiment to prove that his hypothesis really shows results and it works, with the new marketing products generating $1.5 million ARR in the first year and $6.5 million ARR in the second.
Towards the end, Shekhar Kirani, Accel Partner and board member ended up asking Girish a plan around all the SaaS apps he could build with the inbound playbook framework he replicated for Helpdesk.
“More and more people only learn during the first 20 years of education in school and college. But my real learning started only after I turned 20. Making up for all the learning I did not have in the first 20 years of my life, I think I am now learning with a vengeance.”
The music used in the podcast is Ragabop - composed by Prasanna. We thank Prasanna and team for providing the necessary permissions to use their track.
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