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What your startup needs to connect with more customers

What your startup needs to connect with more customers | Soumitra Deshpande - Freshworks for Startup

What is Freshworks?

Soumitra: Freshworks is a B2B SaaS product company. We broadly play under two domains – one is customer experience, and the second is employee experience. Freshworks is a company that operates in sales, marketing, customer support, and employee experience side. We have several products, including Freshdesk, Freschat, Freshsales, Freshmarketer, Freshservice, Freshteam, and more.

A little backstory of how the company started, Freshworks was born in 2010. Freshworks was born in the southern part of India, a city named Chennai. That’s when Garish and the core team of six members started this company. Since then, we have not looked back, and the company has been global since day one. Even though we were born in a specific part of the world, our customers were always global. Right now, we serve 60,000 plus customers across 150 plus countries. We have around 19 offices across the globe, including our headquarters in San Mateo, California, Berlin, Amsterdam, Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore, Dubai, and London, where I’m based now.

What is Freshworks for Startups?

Soumitra: Freshworks was also a startup at one point, and we were a small company where you know, we were not born in Silicon Valley, or we were not born in London or in some of the other places where maybe it is comparatively easier to build out a company and serve a global audience. It was all possible because we got a lot of support, mentorship, resources, motivation, and direction from different stakeholders in the ecosystem.

Freshworks for Startups is an initiative where we want to help founders with three things. The first is access to products, and we provide $10,000 credits across the Freshworks suite. The second is access to engagement, where we provide mentorship, resources, and content in different formats. The whole intention is to help them solve zero-to-one, one-to-ten, or even scale-up challenges. And the final pieces are about access to the ecosystem, where we intend to create real-world opportunities for startups. We do activities and initiatives as VC connects and founder connects. We do a lot of co-marketing and co-selling with startups, so that’s the holistic program. The program is entirely partner-driven. We work with close to 2000 partners across the globe. This includes all the top VCs, accelerators, and operators of the likes of Accel, Sequoia, YCombinator, Techstars, and so on; through them, we are working with a couple of thousand startups across the globe.

Freshworks for Startups price

Soumitra: The whole intention is that we want to be paying it forward and want to be part of the journey as they’re growing. There’s no monetary aspect involved for startups or even for partners. We don’t charge startups anything, and we don’t charge partners anything. If you are coming through a specific partner I’m working with, you’re welcome to join the program and benefit along the way.

Do startups have to be part of an organization?

Soumitra: That’s an interesting question, and we get that a lot. We want to work with genuine companies that are in for the long haul. It’s all right if companies fail, and we understand that. It’s not a must you have raised venture money, but if you’re associated with any of our authorized entrepreneurial organizations, that is also enough to give you an example. We also work with Startup India. We also work with startup Columbia, Startup Portugal, and so forth. VCs probably do not fund the companies here, but they have been categorized as startups by our entrepreneurial organization. They are more than welcome if they’re coming through that.

Head of the Freshworks for Startups

Soumitra: My passion is startups and working with founders and operators equally. That’s what I’ve been doing for a while. Being employee number one for Freshworks for Startups gave me an understanding of what goes behind building such a program when the intention is to work with the companies as they’re growing, right? My day-to-day work involves a lot of internal aspects we are working on. It’s a very cross-collaboration program where we work with different stakeholders, sales, marketing program management, of course, our leadership, while at the same time, every single opportunity that I get, I’m either talking to founders, or I’m either working with our partners and finding out ways how we can support the ecosystem.

I love my job, and the exciting fact is that because it’s a global program, it’s quite a learning for me to understand different nuances of each regional ecosystem, right? What kind of challenges a startup working out of Brazil might be facing is very different from someone based out of Croatia, let’s say. Managing that global team and getting that context is the key to how we are growing.

What do you think startups should focus on in 2023?

Soumitra: First, let’s acknowledge that these are challenging times. This is not easy, let alone startups, but even for larger companies to sustain when the sentiment in itself is not very positive in terms of growth, and everybody’s moving towards saving cost and profit; profit is the focus, and people want to be cash positive as early as possible. I think faith is the number one aspect or pillar that would make or break a founder. You need to believe in what you are building, you need to believe you are on this journey because if this is not the way, you can pivot. Listen to everybody, but at the end of the day, you must listen to yourself and take a leap of faith.

The second aspect I feel is vital in the current time is that you have to look at growth differently. The other day, I read that one of the partners from McKenzie had published how companies grow in recession times. One interesting aspect that comes out is that I’ve seen many larger companies also looking at it as you have to ring-fence your territory, right? Growth doesn’t mean that you always have to get new customers.

Considering the current situation, you need to trust those already with you, right? It is essential that rather than winning new customers, retaining existing customers should be the mantra. You have specific customers, even if they are having a tough time. What will be the ways you can support them so that they are not leaving you? If you are helping them in difficult times, they will be with you. A lot of companies are thinking of ways how they can continue working with the existing pool. Upselling and cross-selling to existing customers could be one way to look at it. Still, you also need to look at how you’re offering or pricing your products or services and make it very lucrative or flexible enough for companies to adopt you. I think the times call for sustaining rather than growing. That’s how I would look at it.

How can founders build a customer-centric startup?

Soumitra: I think that’s important in existing times. As I mentioned, you need to focus more on your current customers and how we looked at Freshworks when growing, small, and launching multiple products. We were always a customer in and technology out. What happens is that many startups or founders tend to be obsessed with their idea, a particular technology, or a particular trend that they are trying to enforce, even the business model or even their customers into that specific frame. Rather than that, I think companies must put customers in the driving seat and build out everything.

What it means to be customer-centric is that you don’t need to build anything your customers don’t need, or you don’t need to miss out on anything your customers are looking for. When you go to Amazon and when you do shopping, let’s say you’ve been shopping on Amazon for a while. They know all your history and everything about you. Now, next time when you go to Amazon, and you have a complaint or say – hey, where is this refund? Where is this order? They know the exact context of what you are coming from. They have that single entity with them where either perspective of whether you are talking to their sales team, marketing, customer support, or operations team, right? It doesn’t matter, but they know you as one entity, as a customer, and they can effectively serve you with the proper context within no time. I think that’s the real power of Customer-centricity.

It’s all the more critical for startups to do it from day one as they build their company. Because if you are further in your journey, and if you’re trying to solve. Solving those problems or challenges will be difficult, as trying to break silos between different teams. Your sales, marketing support, and different teams must be talking to each other, and there is one single kind of entity for your customers in the company, right? That’s what I feel is customer centricity and how a company or a founder should look at it.

Three things you should pay attention to

Soumitra: I would put it under three levels on when the company starts and how they grow. Number one is customer acquisition. If your customer acquisition cost is higher than the customer’s lifetime value, then something is wrong. You need to re-look at your business model and get the right thing in place to acquire customers. That’s the first step where what you try to sell or offer has a market. Either you are creating a new category or trying to win an existing one, right?

Number two is product market fit. I’ve seen many founders and startups tend to believe that once you start getting customers, you have found your product-market fit. You have hit that momentum, and you’re getting customers, but I firmly believe that is the point when it continues. If tomorrow you are not there or your brand doesn’t exist, is there anyone who will miss you? That is what will define your product market fit. It also involves all the other factors like your NPS, the feedback from customers working with you for a long time, the dollar value from each customer you’re getting, and so on.

The final piece when it comes to customer centricity, in my opinion, is scaling. Imagine you have got customer acquisition in place, you have got the product market fit, and you are growing effectively. Now, that is when the scale comes into play because, as you move beyond, let’s say, Series A and all, it’s all about effectively. How do you do that repeatably? You will have different departments and teams in your company, and how do they all share the same vision that you have for your company? Your employee also becomes your customer. It’s always why people say that it has to be employed first, right? Because then they are the face of your company. And if all of them are aligned, then you should be able to grow effectively. I think that’s customer-centricity. If you can solve these pieces and then break the silos from day one and choose the right technology and tool to manage all your functions, I think you should be customer-centric.

Why should companies choose Freshworks for Startups?

Soumitra: If you are a company looking to solve all the aspects of your business, the core pillars of your growth, which are sales, marketing, and customer support, I think Freshworks fits that problem statement, and we serve you well. Freshworks was born with startups, and we helped SMBs and long-tail customers there. We understand what it means to be a smaller company and then still do business. I have seen interestingly in Silicon Valley companies that it’s always been top-down, right? I greatly respect Valley companies in terms of how they serve the larger enterprise customer. They do that well, and then kind you try to go more bottom of the funnel, mid-size customers, smaller customers, and so on. It has its own merits for that model.

We were not born in, let’s say, Silicon Valley or anywhere else where you know, I will have someone, one of my sales guys, sit in front of the Fortune 500 company making sales. That’s why we were born with SMBs, and we did that segment well. Our products were built for end users, and they were happy with that, and that’s why we grew fast. But of course, now we are upmarket, and 50% of our businesses come from enterprises and larger companies. At the core of it, we understand how smaller businesses function and what it means for companies to have sales teams, which are small.

Apart from getting a very lucrative offer on the Freshworks startup program, you get a lot of value beyond the products we believe in. It’s not just about giving a particular offer and helping with that trend. We believe in the power of community and those aspects that can help companies solve other challenges. Freshworks for Startups is a highly founder-first program where we intend to work with partners and startups equally and help them in different aspects. That’s why Freshworks for startups stands out regarding how startups can benefit from us.

What is your story, Soumitra?

Soumitra: I have been in and out of the startup space for a while. I am an engineer and studied engineering, metallurgical and material science at the National Institute of Technology in India. And then, I worked in the manufacturing space in more of a techno-commercial role. I was working with larger automobile companies. That went on for two years. But I had more inclination towards the business side. That’s when I did my master’s in business and continued on that.

My first stint was with the Helsinki-based startup, where I was a co-team member. They’re doing well right now, the company name is Klevu, and I was with them. I was a core team member for one and a half years and did almost everything, the first emails, the first customer reach outs, and all of those things. And then, I was with a company named Tracxn, which is, again, a public company. Now, I’m very proud that that also went ahead and became a public company in India. I was heading the Europe business division. We were a company where we used to work with VCs and accelerators. Anyone investing in startups and researching the space, we worked with them, and then Freshworks happened. But along the side, I’ve been working with many startups in my capacity, mentoring them and helping them in different ways.

Any piece of advice for starting founders?

Soumitra: There’s no best time to start a startup now. It’s always now. It is always said that to fail is all right, but I would say fail, but fail fast. Don’t hesitate if you have an idea because ideas don’t survive, and execution takes you places. Don’t take too much stress. If the time is right, things will just fall into place. Take it easy. That’s the only piece of advice.

What’s your favorite software?

Soumitra: I would say Freshworks, but I really like Slack, which is impressive. They have nailed it down for the whole collaboration piece. I love how it’s very one-on-one at the same time as one too many, and there are so many possibilities that you can do with Slack, I think they’re just amazing.

Podcast Host & Guest(s)

Cristian Dina


Cristian Dina

Managing Partner & SaaS Podcast Host @ Tekpon
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Managing Partner & SaaS Podcast Host @ Tekpon

As one of the founding members of Tekpon, Cristian has worn many hats within the company, but perhaps none shines brighter than his role as the charismatic host of the Tekpon SaaS Podcast. With over 200 SaaS industry leaders gracing his episodes, Cristian's insatiable curiosity ensures he always has one more question. Cristian is a community builder at heart, being the Bucharest city leader for SaaStock Local and the author of the best-selling book King of Networking.

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