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The Freshdesk way to do business

Girish, who started his career as trainer, says that he is continuously learning. Photo: R. Ravindran

Girish, who started his career as trainer, says that he is continuously learning. Photo: R. Ravindran  

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Girish Mathrubootham, the founder and CEO, talks to Apoorva Sripathi on why their workplace conventions are quite unconventional

When Girish Mathrubootham started Freshdesk in 2010 with Shan Krishnasamy, he didn’t realise it’d grow big, let alone venture capital funded. Former colleagues at Zoho, their plan was to give it a try, and if they failed, apply to other jobs. “We had the same conversation with the first three to four employees who were taking a big risk and huge paycuts,” Girish says.



What is Freshdesk?
Offering software-as-a-service (SaaS), the cloud-based company helps customer support representatives by companies of all sizes, to respond to queries through online and offline services. Freshdesk has also launched Freshservice, an internal helpdesk.
In 2011, they entered the Microsoft BizSpark competition along with 438 competitors and were among the 15 shortlisted for the $40,000 prize, which they later won. “Our product was two weeks old and we had six customers from four different continents. And the first validation came from Microsoft; it showed we were onto something,” Girish says. And then their first funding (of $1m) from Accel Partners happened. “On Deepavali day in 2011, we had a really ‘Happy Deepavali’ with money in the bank. We came to this building (in Perungudi). Before that we were in a small space in Kilkattalai, a 700 sq.ft. office, in front of a church. Nobody would actually come and work there, unless they knew you personally. Here there was power back-up, car parking, a food court, so we could actually hire people we didn’t know,” he laughs.

An infamous spat between Zendesk and Freshdesk, with the former calling the latter “a ripoff”, was “a point of transformation” for his company, says Girish. Even as it strives to do some groundbreaking things, the company recently raised $50m from Tiger Global, Accel Partners and Google Capital. Money, therefore, according to Girish, “is no longer a constraint. Our current phase is the global recognition phase. Google investing in a company is great validation; we’ve had lot more people approach us.”

What worked (or still works) for Freshdesk is maybe a combination of factors. “One of the things is that we’ve managed to get the big decisions right,” says Girish, adding that, “Unlike consumer companies that are going through a lot of regulatory hurdles, the problems that we have faced have been really small, but we have succeeded in building a global base and we want to continue capitalising on the momentum that we have built.”

Girish, who started his career as trainer, says that he is continuously learning and one of the biggest lessons he has learnt till date is that, “when you run into a problem, focus on the problem and ignore the people involved”. This, he attributes, to the complexity of human emotions. The work culture at Freshdesk then, is affable and open, similar to corporate giants such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo. It’s something that employees attest to. Revathi, a 24-year-old product developer, who has been with the company since 2012, said she joined Freshdesk, a startup, instead of an established company, because she was looking to prove herself. “I didn’t want to be one among a lakh other employees; I wanted to learn.” Besides, she is the first woman developer at the company, a tag she wears with pride. Girish says their culture acts as a framework for everyday decision making. “Our goal is to create a happy ‘work’ environment. So in every aspect of our culture, we try to find out the core talent of each individual and then map the role that plays to their natural strength.”

The people at Freshdesk seem like a happy lot. On a weekday post-lunch, there’s an apparent lull in activity on the premises. But despite the deceptive hush, groups of employees are actually furiously at work on computers and phones. Not all though. Some others form clusters and walk toward the cafeteria for a bite, and others gather to play foosball. One employee strolls by in shorts, all set for what looks like a long walk.

Girish says there’s a reason his employees look so happy. Fundamentally, he says, it boils down to one thing: do they like the work they are doing? And he believes that Freshdesk encourages them to find work they enjoy. “If they are working on stuff that they enjoy 80 to 90 per cent of the time, because they like doing it and not because the manager asked them to do so, then that is the secret to a happy employee and quality output. You could always do a lousy job or do a great job. The difference between the two is craftsmanship; enjoy doing it and setting a high bar.”

So why are smart youngsters attracted to this company? At Freshdesk, workers are encouraged and given the opportunity to “learn by doing”, according to Girish, and this makes them specialists over a few years. “We believe in creating an environment where people are able to try their ideas. There are two ways to hire people: Everybody goes to IITs and IIMs because they believe in the selection process of the schools to filter out top talent. We believe in identifying that intrinsic talent in every individual and tapping that potential.”

As the startup grows, its allure as an employer also does. Just last month, it appointed former LinkedIn India MD Nishant Rao as its COO. Then there’s a “VP of engineering moving from Seattle, who’s an ex-Microsoft guy and currently at Amazon... so we’re able to attract top talent from around the world,” Girish says. “We had an event in San Francisco, a campus alumni meet with Accel Partners, where we went to Stanford, Harvard and Wharton, talking to all the Indians who want to come back and making them offers. Today, our attractiveness as a brand is globally recognised.”

With offices in London, New South Wales and San Francisco, what’s more exciting is that Freshdesk might have opened doors for other startups in Chennai. “If Freshdesk can be successful from a city like Chennai, there are other possible Freshdesks that venture capitalists want to catch early on,” hopes Girish.  

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Printable version | Jul 20, 2018 8:23:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/what-works-for-chennaibased-freshdesk/article7883802.ece