Secrets to scaling up globally from hot Indian startup Freshdesk, which just raised $50M
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Photo Credit: Freshdesk

Girish Mathrubootham, founder and CEO of Freshdesk, shares with Tech in Asia just what it took to succeed globally: Here’s what you can learn from the Freshdesk experience

Tech in Asia

Indian customer support software maker Freshdesk is rated on par with global leaders in its space. It has customers in 145 countries and its number one market is the U.S., which is also the home of its biggest competitor, Zendesk. How it cracked the U.S. market holds the key to its scaling up success. This attracted $50 million in fresh funding from Tiger Global, Accel Partners, and Google Capital, the company announced on Monday.

It’s not easy for an Indian company to make it big in a mature, competitive market like the U.S., and Freshdesk had to figure out the nuances of adapting to different markets.

Girish Mathrubootham, founder and CEO of Freshdesk, shares with Tech in Asia just what it took to succeed globally in the course of a chat about its latest series E round of funding. Here’s what you can learn from the Freshdesk experience.

Think global, act local

Initially, Freshdesk was doing everything – from generating sales leads to closing deals – from Chennai. It got many early adopters among technology startups and was receiving enough inbound requests from larger companies in the U.S. and UK. But many of these larger deals didn’t materialize because they expected a Freshdesk team to meet them to close it.

“If we ever lose a potential customer we try to find out why we lost. We lost a few big leads in the UK; that’s when we figured out that they need to meet someone personally to find out more. It was hurting us a bit that we were not present in the local market. That is why we opened an office in San Francisco, and then another one in the UK and later, Sydney,” Mathrubootham says, adding that the decision helped Freshdesk bag many big ticket accounts.

Over the last two years, his team also built a strong reseller network of over 100 across its big markets. This helped it beat the language barrier in the non-English-speaking markets where it couldn’t sell remotely from India. For example, in Brazil and France, Freshdesk partnered with very good local resellers. “For the resellers in the non-English-speaking markets, we generate the sales lead and pass it on to them. They would speak to the customers in the local language and close the deal.” In the English-speaking markets like Australia or the UK, Freshdesk again has resellers but they generate their own leads and close them.

Treat the small guys well

Most businesses who offer customer support to their clients ignore the smaller clients, even if they are paying customers. This is something Freshdesk noted early on. “Right from the beginning, we said we have to set the gold standard in customer support because we are a customer support company. So we gave all our customers, including those who were on a free plan with us, full support.” Mathrubootham says it gave Freshdesk a boost. “I would say it was a big reason for our popularity. We have had so many instances where our free customers were so amazed by our customer support that they didn’t want it for free and opted for our paid plans.”

Indian entrepreneurs often sound irked when they talk about how the developed markets perceive products from India. Many say buyers from the U.S., Japan, and other mature markets are skeptical about the quality. But Mathrubootham begs to differ.

“I have heard stories about this from other Indians but never faced any skepticism from prospective customers. In the business-to-business (B2B) space, buyers are only interested in doing a fair trial of product A versus product B. They don’t care where the product comes from. We have never lost a customer because we are Indian and we have never been perceived as a low quality product because we are an Indian company.” According to him, the problem is that though a lot of Indian companies are great at engineering, they are not that good at marketing.

In late 2013, Freshdesk tried out an outbound sales experiment. It wanted to connect with potential customers but didn’t want its people to make cold calls or send spammy emails. Whether or not the engagement led to sales, it wanted to build a positive feel around its brand.

Until then, like most businesses, Freshdesk too focused on getting more leads, touching base with a lot of people to do so. But during this experiment, it put together a smaller list of people for the sales team to reach out to. The team spent time to find out more about each of them, and as a result every email sent was highly personalized for the receiver. It worked fantastically for Freshdesk. “Even if someone wasn’t interested in our product, we wanted to at least put a smile on their faces. Even if they don’t buy from us, by connecting with them we knew we will be making them aware of our brand. That is valuable. We wanted them to think of Freshdesk as a cool product. And we succeeded,” Mathrubootham recalls.

Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, work on personalizing. Be it a cold email, a sales call, or a demo, personalize whenever possible. Do some research to make the whole experience customized for the customer.

Another growth hack that helped Freshdesk was to have pre-built demos for different client verticals. Earlier, its team would spend a lot of time working on one-on-one demos for each customer. With pre-built demos for verticals like technology, e-commerce, and education, the team got more productive.

Pick up signals from customers to innovate

Last year, Freshdesk came up with a new product called Freshfone. Freshfone integrates phone support into its helpdesk software. The startup had seen that a lot of people are much more comfortable talking to support personnel over the phone than getting help online or through social media. This was a cloud telephony tool and other companies too have such tools.

The customer support personnel of companies aren’t always at their desks but they do not want to miss a call. So most software makers offer a feature to forward the customer call to the mobile phone of the staff. But for this, they charge their clients in two legs: one, for the call to the help desk, and second, for the call to the mobile phone. Freshdesk noticed this and decided to do away with the two-legged process when it built Freshfone.

“We were the first company in the customer support space to have the facility to take customer calls on the mobile apps directly without charging the client for the two legs of the call. We integrated mobile and desktop interfaces for Freshfone so that, at the end of the call, the log gets automatically updated,” Mathrubootham says.

According to this technologist, a transformation is underway in how businesses think of customer support. Even now, the majority thinks of it as a reactive process. That is, if a customer has a problem, she will have to reach out, and the company will respond to it. But the perception is changing gradually. “The early adopters are realizing that customer support is also about engaging with the community, building your brand, going social, and so on,” he says, pointing out the need for an image makeover for customer support as an active engagement tool.

That is the future and Freshdesk is prepared for it.

Editing by Paul Bischoff

This post was originally published on Tech in Asia

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