June 2011.

I first saw Girish Mathrubootham* in June 2011 at a pitch competition in Bengaluru.

Mathrubootham’s startup, Freshdesk, an online customer support service, was a fledgling entity with just six small customers, and at first glance, seemed unremarkable in every way.

But Mathrubootham himself was remarkable—a master storyteller.

Mathrubootham started his presentation by saying how he left his well-paying corporate job at Zoho and plunged into entrepreneurship despite having a family with two small kids to support. He spoke about how a casual comment on HackerNews had sparked off an urge to do something of his own. He didn’t speak about any “grand vision” to change the world and simply narrated a compelling personal story.

There were two facets of his story that I still remember fondly.

He quoted a famous punchline from Superstar Rajinikanth that had both the audience and the judges in splits and nodding in appreciation.

He also spoke about how he had to sell his family sedan and trade it in for a small hatchback as he moved from a cushy corporate job to a gruelling startup stint. The image of this hulk of a man driving a Maruti 800, with his wife and two children in tow, threw up an incongruous but evocative visual.

The judges of that contest named him as the winner of the $40,000 prize.

June 2019.

Mathrubootham no longer drives a Maruti.

He is the owner of a fleet of luxury cars. The crowning glory, a top-end Maybach. One of those formidable beasts that you can’t resist unabashedly gawking at as it passes you by.

Even so, two things haven’t changed.

One, the Maybach’s licence plate bears the number 8055—a numeric representation for the word BOSS—a moniker for Rajinikanth used by his fans.

And two, Mathrubootham still continues to be a master storyteller. A skill that he has leveraged to take his company on a transformational journey that mirrors his own from a Maruti to a Maybach.

Freshdesk is now called Freshworks, expanding from a single help-desk product to a full suite of enterprise solutions. From six customers in 2011, the company now services a clientele of over 150,000 businesses across more than 120 countries. From a team strength of four, Freshworks now has over two thousand employees. With a total funding of $250 million and a valuation of $1.5 billion, Freshworks became India’s first SaaS unicorn in August 2018.

Impressively, Freshworks has grown from $1 million in ARR (annual recurring revenue) to $100 million ARR in just five years and two months. As the graph below demonstrates, this is a rate of growth that matches those of the best SaaS startups globally.


Sumanth Raghavendra

Sumanth is a serial entrepreneur with more than eighteen years experience in running startups. He is currently the founder of Deck App Technologies, a Bangalore-based startup attempting to re-imagine productivity software for the Post-PC era. Sumanth’s columns appear regularly in leading publications. He holds MBA degrees from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and Thunderbird, The American Graduate School of International Management, USA.

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