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A passion for startups drives my business software strategy

By Girish Mathrubootham

The needs of startups are never far from my mind. Even though the company I founded 11 years ago is now publicly traded, I haven’t forgotten the energy and excitement of running a garage-stage company. 

Which is why recently, I was thinking about tools essential to virtually every startup: CRM. Research shows that one of the most expensive apps a pre-seed or seeded startup purchases is software for handling customer relationships. It makes sense. Inside a thriving startup, its customer base should scale with the company. 

Yet, the flip side of this are the cost and headaches of many software-as-a-service products, including CRM. The promise of cloud software when it first hit the scene two decades ago was flexibility and low cost. However, legacy CRM and other SaaS products now typically require even small companies to sign contracts of three or more years — and these tools often need considerable staffing resources and time to integrate and manage them.

In other words, too often startup companies are babysitting their CRM stack when they should be laser-focused on building their core business.

Since founding Freshworks in 2010, I have been obsessed with offering simpler, more flexible, and affordable alternatives to the first generation of CRM — along with other cloud software solutions that every company needs in today’s hypercompetitive business environment. We’re about delighting customers, as we like to say around the Freshworks offices, with easy-to-use, scalable products that can be deployed and managed without also hiring a huge IT team to make it all work. Users can test our products at no cost and then pay-as-they-go on a credit card and without signing a contract.

We continued to advance on this proposition when, in November, we unveiled Freshstack, a software solution we built based on the special needs of any fast-growing startup. It includes Freshdesk, our omnichannel customer support product that unifies support, sales, and marketing teams so they resolve issues faster — whether they arrive via email, chat, social media, or a phone call. Also included are (1) Freshsales for sales intelligence, context-driven forecasting, and the management of leads in the pipeline; (2) Freshmarketer, automation software that enables AI-driven lead generation, email personalization, and other features; and (3) access to Marketplace, where users have access to hundreds of apps to better customize our offering. Freshstack provides all the tools startups need to build their business quickly.

Startups from the start

If creating affordable and easy-to-use SaaS tools has been my obsession for the past decade, startups have been my passion. Like most founders, I have my own version of the classic origin tale. In fact, a terrible customer experience prompted me to create Freshdesk, our flagship customer support product. It was then I saw that an opportunity existed to build a “fresh” take on the failed customer helpdesk to better serve companies and their customers. Hence, the initial product name Freshdesk.

Since starting Freshworks, I’ve invested in more than 60 startups and served as a guide and mentor to as many as I can. I’m a member of SaaSBOOMi, an informal group of SaaS founders who first came together in 2015 to network and help grow India’s SaaS market. 

Earlier this year, four of us came together to create the Together Fund, a founder-first VC firm that hopes to partner with India’s best entrepreneurs. With an initial raise of $85 million, we aim to be a long-term partner, from seed to scale.  We’ve assembled a network of more than 150 founders and operators both in India and Silicon Valley to actively mentor the fund’s portfolio of startups. 

And one of my favorite contributions to startups has been the Freshworks for Startups program we launched in 2019, which was born of a desire to be more proactive in supporting startups in the zero-to-200 employee range. We reached out to incubators, accelerators, and VCs. We recruited mentors and created a network to link companies with customers, potential investors, and other resources. Employees were assigned the task of helping startups figure out the right tools they needed and where they could find advice and support. Our Freshworks Academy offers classes in everything from customer service training to the latest VC trends. 

For too long, India has been seen as a nation the world turns to for services. But when Freshworks was listed on the NASDAQ in September, we proved there is much more to the Indian technology community than big consulting firms and rooms of “outsourced” programmers. Look no further than the 10 Indian-based SaaS startups that, according to a recent McKinsey report, generated as much as $3 billion in annual subscription revenue. Together, we all are proving that India is capable of producing world-class software. In September, when I had the honor of ringing the opening bell at NASDAQ, it represented a victory for all of us who built Freshworks, and it heralded a new era for India’s startup ecosystem. 

Despite my humble background, I’ve been fortunate to work with great investors, leaders, and employees who have helped me realize my ambitions. Because of this, I believe in paying it forward and helping the next generation of founders. Few things in life are as exhilarating and rewarding as mentoring and supporting promising founders — to see them grow and reach their full potential.

Now with Freshstack, we’re bringing it all together for startups. Having started with six people in a garage in Chennai, I know what startups need, and I’m thrilled to provide tools for them to thrive. Our message to startups is simple: grow with us. Together, we’ll change the world!