For Freshworks’ founder Girish Mathrubootham, a NASDAQ listing isn’t the peak — the hard work starts now

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Coming off a high isn’t an easy feat for most mere mortals, but for Freshworks CEO Girish Mathrubootham, it’s just another opportunity to keep making more strategic moves, learning something new, and fulfilling his obligations.

When Girish rang the opening bell at NASDAQ last month with his family, children and pet dog in tow, the Indian startup ecosystem back home cheered and congratulated each other, because, when it came down to brass tacks, Freshworks’ victory wasn’t just its own. It signalled a new dawn for homegrown startups and heralded a new era for the Indian startup ecosystem.

To be precise, it signalled that Indian startups had truly arrived.

For the down-to-earth entrepreneur who had spent a decade up until the NASDAQ opening bell building Freshworks and convincing people to move to the coconut trees-dotted city of Chennai, the IPO was a turning point too. Not just because it put the burgeoning SaaS startup ecosystem on the map or ensured wealth creation for the Freshworks kudumba, but because it also means new learning opportunities.

“For me, personally, if you look at the last, let’s say, five to six years or the next 10 years, it’s always the same thing, which is, Freshworks is the best learning journey of my life. And really, for me, (the opportunity to be) learning how to run a successful public company is really, really quite motivating.”

And yet, along with the sense of gratitude for the new learning opportunities, Girish also feels a sense of fulfilment after the IPO for having been able to deliver on promises to Freshworks’ stakeholders and a renewed sense of responsibility.

“I know that we have fulfilled one set of responsibilities to our shareholders and our employees, so there is a sense of fulfilment (there). But I’ve taken on the responsibility of a new set of public shareholders, and this is a learning journey for me to really see how life as a public company will be,” Girish said at TechSparks, in a conversation with YourStory.

The story Zomato began to write for the Indian ecosystem with its BSE listing back in July, Freshworks brought to a successful conclusion, Girish said, adding any startup that can win in India, can win in the US too.

Borrowing a leaf out of his hero, Jeff Bezos’ playbook after Amazon became a listed entity, Girish now wants to replicate the innovation and growth the ecommerce giant kept pushing for, at Freshworks.

“For us, it’s about keeping our heads down, focusing on execution and continuing to grow,” he said.

As someone who does not believe in resting on his laurels, Girish says he and his team are building new solutions to stay relevant.

“I think every quarter founders have to step back and see where the industry is going and listen to their customers —  what are their problems, can you solve for existing customers or can you replace the tools they are using today…”

He cited the example of YourStory and its successful sister properties such as TamilStory, HerStory and TechSparks, and said that keeping a finger on the pulse of what customers need and where the industry is going is important —  and as a publicly-traded company, it’s one of the job functions he wants to stay in touch with closely as Freshworks grows.

Vision for Indian entrepreneurs and the startup ecosystem

Girish likens his role of CEO at a publicly listed entity to that of an Indian athlete who has won gold at the Olympics:

“I don’t like to collect the Olympic medal and go home and sleep..I want to do what any world-class athlete would do, which is go and train every day, and run in all the races, and keep winning,” he said when he took the stage at YourStory’s TechSparks 2021 on day one.

Girish, who wears many hats, including one as the founder of the Together Fund —  India’s first operator-led VC firm founded by Girish, Manav Garg of Eka Software, Shubham Gupta, who was leading SaaS deals at venture capital firm Matrix Partners India until last year, and Avinash Raghava, Founding Volunteer at SaaSBOOMi and Co-founder of iSPIRT —  said his strategy is to identify context-sensitive startups and put his weight behind them.

The startup said it will look to pick 20-30 teams and startups that seem like “Olympic champions from India”, have a global product, and are mostly focussed on SaaS.

“What we feel we can offer is way more than time with Girish or Manav.. We have built a network of 160 founders and operators who have put their money in the fund and they’re willing to help and have committed time to kind of spend with the startups,” Girish said, adding his hope is that the next time an Indian startup lists on any stock exchange in the world, they’re able to avoid the mistakes Freshworks made, and do it faster.

For a man who, along with iconic food delivery giant Zomato, rewrote the playbook for the Indian startup ecosystem, the IPO is truly just the beginning. As he aptly summed it up in his fireside chat with Shradha, “the hard work starts now”… for Girish and his Freshworks kudumba.


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