Scale like Silicon Valley, build like India
The setting was the Freshworks office in Chennai, sometime in the early months of 2018.
From the window, one could see the $100M ARR milestone receding and the next frontier growing in size by the minute. It was a key inflection point in the SaaS world. We were firing on all cylinders as the newer products upped their game and older ones kept their pace. In the middle of the blitzscaling, an important decision was made.
G (Girish Mathrubootham, CEO) was moving to the US.
The town hall was just getting started, and soon enough, the murmur turned into a slew of questions about his relocation. Like many of his kind, Girish had made Chennai his home—taking, giving and paying it forward to the city where he, and his core team, built Freshworks. He was also an ardent defender of it when the debate seemed to favor the perennially overcast Bengaluru over the port city as “the cool place” for founders to look for talent.
In this context, the question of his move out of the city was raised with some amazement: “What? G is checking out of Chennai?”
The horizons—for him and for Freshworks—were just getting wider. To see it all, he had to fly. It had been nearly eight years of solid growth with clear visibility as to where Freshworks was headed. During trips to the US, watching entrepreneurs build and scale their companies, G was struck by both the range and velocity of scaling up. He realized that there was a science behind the term “Silicon Valley-scaling”. Could he combine that with the craftspersonship and cultural awareness of India? Could a winning—and, in its own way, unique—model be forged? It was indeed a glimmer of hope, from the land of opportunities. That’s why G wanted to move to the US, and that’s what he conveyed to the team in Chennai.
When he put it across to them, he said it rather simply:
I want to do it for me, for you, and for India…
In a chat with best-selling author and Forbes writer Micah Solomon, as part of the Freshworks series, Fresh Insights, Girish unpacks the thought process behind his move, what his early days as a trainer taught him about customer experience with software, how he remains a product manager at heart even today, and why he will never tire of thinking up another way to delight people using business software.
What are some highlights from your career up to this point?
I have really enjoyed building products that customers love. Early on in my career I was a trainer, and through that I’d observed how painful it was for customers to work with clunky and complicated software. After that, I made it almost my mission in life to build products that are easy to use. Building a company is really similar to building a product, where culture is the UX for employees, and customer service is the UX for customers.
You founded this company in Chennai, but personally moved here a few years ago. What was the reason for your move?
We have done a great job at making Freshworks a global product company that came out of India, and I’m very proud of that. Something happened in 2018, when I realized how big this opportunity could become. We were being celebrated as a successful start-up and I started observing what could be next. I realized we had one shot to take this company from where we are to where it could be. When you create a big or successful company, you are creating impact for employees. When my employees asked me back in 2018 why I was moving, I told them that I was doing it for me, doing it for you, and doing it for India. I did it for me because I wanted to learn more, and moving would help me do that. I said I was doing it for my employees because I wanted to create an outsized impact in their lives. The only way to touch every employee, the frontline employee, and create meaningful work for them is to make the company massive, so that everyone can enjoy the results or the rewards. I said I was doing it for India because India needs more product companies and that’s a personal dream for me, so it all goes toward India as a product nation.
Why is culture so important? In this new world we are living in, is it challenging to maintain a culture?
Culture is what differentiates any company and defines who you are. At the end of the day, a good culture means you are creating happiness during the journey, and it’s not just about the destination. Two things are important to maintain a culture. One is what you see; the other is what you do. Employees are observing what you do, and if you say you are an employee-first company, now is a great time to demonstrate it. During the pandemic, we implemented a no-one-left-behind strategy, where we said no layoffs—not only for employees, but also the employees of our vendors. These people’s lives depended on Freshworks, so we did not leave them behind. This actually created a more positive experience for employees because they saw that the company was demonstrating its values.
Would you define ‘Kudumba’ for us and talk about its importance within Freshworks?
Kudumbam means family in Tamil, which is the language we speak in Chennai, where Freshworks was founded. I thought it was a great way to remind everyone that we are proud of our heritage and roots as an Indian company. I also wanted to help people understand what brings us together, that we are family, and we take care of each other. Family comes first, and we are an employee-first company.
Check out the Fresh Insights page for the complete video interview of G, as well as keen perspectives from senior Freshworks executives on culture, product development, go-to-market strategies, and customer experience.
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