15 January 2024

Girish Mathrubootham from Freshworks: Going public wasn’t about money, but being India’s first SaaS IPO

By Ronald Smith

It’s me, Girish Mathrubootham from Freshworks. I want to share something important with you. When Freshworks went public, we had a pretty unique goal in mind. It wasn’t just about making money. Nope, not at all. Our main aim was to become the very first Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Initial Public Offering (IPO) from India!

You might be wondering, why was this so important to us? Well, let me explain. Being the first SaaS IPO from India meant that we would be leading the way for other Indian software companies. We wanted to show the world what Indian talent and innovation could achieve in the tech industry.

Now, going public can be a bit of a puzzle. It’s not an easy decision to make, but we didn’t let that stop us. We were determined to challenge the status quo and blaze a trail in the SaaS world. We were bursting with excitement to take this leap and showcase our hard work to the world.

Of course, money is important too, but that wasn’t our main motivation. We believed that by going public, we could not only raise funds to fuel our growth but also inspire other Indian startups to dream big and reach for the stars.

So, when you think about Freshworks going public, I want you to remember that it’s not just about money. It’s about breaking barriers, setting new records, and proving that Indian companies have what it takes to shine on the global stage.

Girish Mathrubootham from Freshworks: Going public wasn't about money, but being India's first SaaS IPO

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I met Girish “G” Mathrubootham for the first time about nine years ago at CRM Magazine’s yearly event called Evolution. He is the founder and CEO of Freshworks, a platform that helps businesses connect with their customers. After meeting him, I invited him to be a guest on this show. We talked about why he believed it was important for CEOs to spend time on customer support calls, so they could understand what their customers needed. At that time, Freshworks had only been around for a couple of years and was a small business with only a few employees.

So, the last time I chatted with G was before all this pandemic stuff went down. We were at Freshwork’s user conference, Refresh, and boy, oh boy, a whole lot has happened since then! Freshwork has seriously blown up, with thousands of employees now and even being listed on NASDAQ last fall. It’s been quite the ride for them.

Anyway, I recently got the chance to have a LinkedIn Live chat with G, and let me tell you, it was pretty awesome. I wanted to know how things have changed for him and the company now that they’ve been public for over six months. So, without further ado, here’s a juicy snippet from our conversation. You can click on the nifty SoundCloud player down below to listen to the entire thing.

Brent Leary: Back when we first talked, like, nine whole years ago, you were all about trying to get CEOs to dip their toes into the customer support pool…

Girish: Even though I have a big team supporting me, I still take the time to read and respond to customer support. Just recently, we had a customer who was having trouble with their credit card and there was a problem with their billing. They didn’t directly reach out to me, but I found out and was able to pass the issue along to our billing team. However, I still wanted to personally apologize to the customer for the trouble they experienced.

The Significance of Going Public

Brent Leary: What impact did the Freshworks IPO have on you personally, as well as on India’s technology community?

Girish: It was like I was an athlete from India who had won a gold medal at the Olympics. I was filled with happiness. Not only that, I felt a sense of fulfillment because, in the end, I had created something valuable for the people who had believed in me all these years. They could finally see the positive results of their hard work. So, I felt a strong sense of fulfillment towards my responsibilities to those early investors and employees.

People told me not to make the IPO a big deal. They said it was just a milestone and that I should keep moving forward because the journey itself is more important. But we decided to make it a grand celebration, a moment of joy for India. It turned out to be a huge event where our employees received countless congratulations from their friends and family. And we also brought great wealth to our employees.

Wow, everyone was so pumped up about our employees! It was like a party on Instagram and other social networks, with memes and jokes galore. People were even saying stuff like, Man, I should’ve swiped left on that guy from Freshworks on Tinder…

Smashing barriers for India’s SaaS industry

Girish: In the past, there weren’t many success stories in India’s business scene. But then came the Flipkart buyout by Walmart, a huge breakthrough for investments in the country. Around the same time, both our IPO and Zomato’s IPO took the Indian markets by storm. These two major events showed that investors could actually make money here. It was a game-changer. And you know what? Every founder celebrated our IPO as if it was their own. It felt so rewarding to witness that. I truly believe that we’ve ignited a fire in the hearts of countless entrepreneurs across the nation.

Let me tell you about the Roger Bannister moment – when he ran the first mile in less than four minutes. It was a game-changer, and after that, people started believing that they could do it too. That’s what’s happening now.

How I’m Adjusting to Being CEO of a Publicly Traded Company

Brent Leary: What’s been the biggest change for you since going public?

Girish: Well, I have to be more careful about what I say and do. I used to speak from my heart, believing that speaking the truth is always the right thing to do. But now I have to be aware that some people have access to information that others don’t.

When I first started, it took me a while to adjust because it was quite different from who I was. I used to just go out in front of my team, share information, and have a good time doing it. I believed that was the right way to do things. But now, things are different. I have to be cautious about what I say and what I don’t say. Being in the public eye means I have to ensure that everyone has equal access to information. It’s a skill that I’ve had to practice and develop over time.

It’s a challenge to balance long-term goals with short-term needs. On one hand, I have to think about the big picture and how my actions today will impact the future. But on the other hand, I also have to address immediate needs and concerns. It requires finding a middle ground, where I can make progress towards long-term goals while still meeting the demands of the present.

Being accountable in the public eye

Girish: It’s really challenging to juggle the immediate and future goals. As a founder, I’m always focused on the long-term vision because everyone involved is committed to a lengthy journey. But how can I strike a balance between addressing short-term concerns and reporting on our progress? You see, the short-term aspects, like our financial situation, may not fluctuate much. It’s the long-term outcomes that truly matter. However, for our employees and shareholders, things can change dramatically. The numbers could be quite different by the time we have our earnings call, and that tends to stir up a lot of emotions.

I’m going through this transition from being the founder of a privately funded company to becoming a CEO of a public company. It’s a process of learning, and I’m actually enjoying it. That’s why I decided to go public. As a privately funded CEO, I’ve been fairly successful, and I could have continued doing that. We didn’t even need money when we were going public. But we saw this as an opportunity to become the first SAAS IPO from India, and that was really exciting. Plus, personally, I wanted to embark on a new journey and learn how to be a CEO of a public company.

Conversations are happening everywhere

Girish: One of the biggest changes we’re experiencing right now, which has been sped up by COVID, is that every business wants to connect with their customers using digital channels. Now, when I say digital, it depends on where you are in the world. In India and Asia, a lot of businesses communicate with their customers using WhatsApp. They send order notifications, answer customer questions, and even send marketing offers, all on WhatsApp.

If you buy something, you’ll get a notification about your order on WhatsApp. If you have any questions, you can chat with the customer service team on WhatsApp, and they will reply to you. And if the business wants to give you a special offer, they’ll send it to you through WhatsApp. This is how things work in India and Asia. But in the U.S., something similar is starting to happen, but through text messaging.

Do you know that all businesses these days heavily rely on email? It’s true! Just imagine, you might often receive annoying marketing emails from people who ask, Hey, do you want a home loan? or Do you want a car loan? It can be quite frustrating, right? Well, it turns out that financial institutions are also responsible for sending out those marketing emails.

But you know what’s interesting? Nowadays, it feels like everything is targeting you on Instagram or through text messages. Let’s say you decide to visit Wells Fargo Bank in Atlanta to inquire about a home loan. Guess what? You might actually receive a personalized marketing message and a text saying, Hey, chat with an Atlanta home loan advisor and here are some properties that you might be interested in! Isn’t that cool? It seems like everything has become personalized. And guess where it’s all happening? That’s right, on digital platforms! Businesses now have to constantly find ways to connect with customers on those channels.

I want to talk about a really interesting change that’s happening right now. It’s all about how sales, marketing, and support are starting to overlap and become less distinct. This is especially true between support and sales. Let me give you an example.

Have you heard of Allbirds? They make amazing shoes and they only sell them on their website, not in any stores. So let’s say you’re on their website, looking at a pair of shoes. You might add them to your cart but then decide not to buy them. Well, here’s where the magic happens.

Allbirds’ marketing team will actually send you a special offer to try and convince you to come back and buy those awesome red shoes. That’s a marketing conversation, right? But let’s say you have a question about how the shoes fit. Now it’s a sales thing, even though you’re not officially a customer yet. And here’s the really cool part – you can have this whole conversation through text messaging. You can ask if the shoes fit like Nike or Adidas, and a product specialist will be there to help you out. They’ll even help you with the final step of making your purchase.

So you see, the lines between sales, marketing, and support are blurring, and it’s changing the way we buy things. It’s all about offering personalized help and making sure you have a great experience, whether you’re just browsing or ready to make a purchase.

The Changing Landscape of CRM

Girish: Have you noticed how CRM has evolved? The boundaries between sales, marketing, and support are becoming more blurred. It used to be that businesses would have separate interactions with customers, but now they have to find ways to integrate these conversations internally and ensure the right person is providing support to the customer. It’s no longer a one-way street; customers are actively engaging with businesses.

This shift is the most significant change happening in CRM. It presents an opportunity for companies to break down the barriers that existed between sales, marketing, and support departments. That’s why you see many large companies today investing in customer data platforms (CDPs) to consolidate data from different sources like sales, marketing, and support. The goal is to equip the person interacting with the customer, whether it’s through a call or meeting, with all the relevant information.

Understanding the Relationship Between CX and EX

Brent Leary: I’ve been talking a lot lately about how employee experience and customer experience are connected. Some people believe that if you improve the experience for employees, it automatically leads to a better experience for customers. But there are others who disagree. They think there’s no direct connection between the two. Giving employees a higher salary, for example, doesn’t necessarily mean customers will have a better experience.

What do you think about the connection between a positive employee experience and a positive customer experience? Do you believe that one impacts the other?

I’m Girish: I firmly stand with Camp one. I believe that happy employees are the key to happy customers. And I truly think that happiness is contagious. Even over the phone, that energy and excitement are palpable. It’s impossible to have satisfied customers if our employees aren’t happy. This belief is at the core of who I am.

Empowering our team

I’m Brent Leary: When I first started talking about this concept, many people were really intrigued. One of our Freshworks employees even said, Working with a leader who prioritizes empowering others is a pleasure. I’m thrilled about what the future holds.

How does it make you feel when you hear one of your employees express such enthusiasm and admiration for you?

Girish: The most important thing for me is feeling happy. I have a strong belief that I shouldn’t forget where I started. When I was an employee and worked my way up, what I loved the most was having the power and freedom to make my own choices. If that’s what made me happy, then as a leader, I should know that it’s the same for my employees.

When my employees feel respected, valued, and empowered, they can do what they think is best for the company.

Maintaining the company culture after going public

Brent Leary: So, how do you keep that excitement alive? Are there any specific changes you’ve made since going public to ensure that your employees stay happy and motivated? I mean, it’s not just about their jobs, but also about their feelings towards the company and the people they work with. How challenging is it to maintain that going forward, now that you’re a public company and things may need to be done differently?

Girish: Honestly, I believe it all comes down to ownership and pride. I’ve said this many times before, and I still say it today: I’m not just building this company for myself. We’re building a truly remarkable company together.

When someone leaves Freshworks after six years, they often become very emotional and express their gratitude. They say thank you for everything and express their appreciation. But, in all honesty, I feel like I should be the one thanking them. We have built this company together, and without the hard work, sweat, tears, and dedication of countless employees, Freshworks wouldn’t be what it is today.

I believe the key to this lies in ownership and pride. When a significant number of people feel that Freshworks is their company and they take pride in being associated with it, my job becomes much easier. My main responsibility is to ensure that we never lose that sense of ownership and pride. It is something that we, as a company, need to constantly prioritize and work on.