On Nov 13, 2009, I wrote an article in my Forbes column titled India’s Next Celebrities. It was a year after the financial crisis.
Never mind the recession. In India, entrepreneurial energy has continued to grow. It still exists only in small pockets. And the sophistication of the entrepreneurial ecosystem has a long way to go before it can resemble anything like Silicon Valley–or even Israel. In this evolution, the Indian media has an important role to play.
At the time, I was busy trying to turn Sridhar Vembu, CEO of Zoho, into a celebrity. Hardly anyone had heard of HIM until my 2007 profile.
I had not yet launched 1Mby1M.
Girish Mathrubootham, avid fan of celebrity Tamil film star Rajnikant, had not yet launched Freshdesk (now Freshworks). He was still working at Zoho, under Sridhar’s tutelage.
Both of those events happened in 2010.
Fast forward to September 2021.
I am thrilled to see Freshworks go public this week in a $10 billion IPO on Nasdaq, the first Indian SaaS product company to do so. Freshworks is a proud flag bearer of India’s presence in the global cloud CRM space alongside Zoho. It was incubated at 1Mby1M (2011-2013) and is one of the early crop of companies that engineered India’s shift from a services-based IT industry to a product-based one.
Freshworks’ Early Journey
Freshworks, originally called Freshdesk, was founded in 2010 as an affordable, fresh alternative to Zendesk by CEO Girish Mathrubootham and CTO Shan Krishnasamy. The idea for Freshdesk came from the indignant reaction to an exponential price rise by Zendesk, a major player in the space. Mathrubootham sensed a market for a company that could provide good quality customer support solutions at reasonable prices. Deciding to take advantage of the opportunity, he founded Freshdesk in 2010, funding it with his own savings and also raised funds from friends.
I met Girish in Chennai in April 2011 when he pitched me at a TiE Chennai event. I immediately saw the potential for building a Zoho-style company.
Within a week of the launch in June 2011, Freshdesk had five paying customers and 100 in almost exactly their first 100 days. Over 500 small/medium businesses signed up after reading their launch story on Hacker News. In June 2011, it won the Microsoft BizSpark Startup Challenge grant for $40K in the Cloud category, validating their idea and business model, and setting the stage for further investment rounds. We deliberately waited until the paying customer milestone before raising Series A.
Read my December 2011 post Indian Product Entrepreneurs: Your Time Has Come for the industrial backdrop that made the success of Freshworks possible.
Photo Credit: Economic Times