How a simple comment on Hacker News motivated me to resign from my comfortable well paying job and launch my own startup.

Bio

My name is Girish Mathrubootham and I am the Founder and CEO of Freshworks (previously known as Freshdesk). I am 36 years old, married and live with my wife and two boys in Chennai, India. This is the story of how I quit my comfortable job and launched my own startup. Hope you like it.

My Last Job

For the last 9 years I was fortunate to be an employee of Zoho Corporation (was called AdventNet when I joined in 2001 as a PreSales Engineer) and in my last role I was  VP of Product Management at the ManageEngine division of Zoho Corp.
I had  a great team and the satisfaction of having built several successful products under the ManageEngine brand.

I have been building on-premise helpdesk systems since 2004. In fact I have experience with an ITIL helpdesk, a customer support helpdesk and a facilities helpdesk and know a lot about these markets. In addition to this I had a ringside view to all the action in cloud computing happening in Zoho.

How it All Started

Sometime in the middle of last year I was reading this article on Hacker News. This article was about Zendesk raising their prices 60 – 300% and how their users were unhappy about it.

I was just reading this as a news article and browsing through the comments on HN when a simple comment from user megamark caught my attention.

freshdesk_story

That comment was like a slap on my face. Here was an opportunity sitting right in front of me. I had the domain knowledge and I knew that a massive transition to cloud is happening. The spidey sense in me told me that I should throw in my hat into the ring. That was the exact moment that I decided that I should build something in the customer support market delivered as SAAS.

The next few weeks were actually pretty stressful. I couldn’t sleep because of the excitement and the fear.(school fees, home mortgage etc.) I had not talked to anyone(not even my wife) about the idea but I was researching all the companies in the space.

I actually read everything that was ever written on those companies on Hacker News. The Hacker News Search (yes that tiny little link on the bottom of every HN page) is in my opinion an entrepreneur’s best resource. (If you are the type who prefers reading printed articles you should consider the Hacker Monthly)

I zeroed in on some potential domain names and found that freshdesk.com was actually expiring in a couple of weeks. So I backordered it on Godaddy and waited and waited. It was almost a month before the domain was officially transferred to me.

The Team

The time had come when I needed a co-founder. I talked to my good friend and colleague of several years, Shan – who is a great techie and he immediately agreed.

For a few weeks we tried working weekends and nights but since both of us had families and kids it was obvious pretty soon that we had to do this full time if we were serious. We both resigned in October 2010. Now we have a team of six people – (3 developers, 1 UI/UX designer, 1 QA / Customer support engineer and me as – the Product Manager / CEO).

US Company or India Company

We are based in India and I couldn’t find any payment gateway provider offering recurring payment solutions in India. The best payment processors that we wanted to work with worked only with US bank accounts.  We decided to incorporate Freshdesk in the US.  You can read the entire story of how we incorporated a US company from India here. We used FeeFighters to search for an affordable card processor and almost settled on Co-Card, but instead went ahead with the more expensive Braintree as they had everything we needed and also had excellent reviews on Hacker News. We also ended up registering a company in India as we were going to have employees, hire an office space etc.

Logo and Website

We wanted a logo and a website and we did not have a designer in our team at that time. I looked at several outsourcing options and again Hacker News gave me 3 excellent choices – 99Designs, ThemeForest and SortFolio. We liked the idea of 99Designs very much but we wanted a website design and a logo and we found an Indian company on Sortfolio called Getmefast.com who agreed to do everything for around $450.

Marketing

We put up the website with standard helpdesk features and we wanted to know if customers would buy what we were going to build.So we created a Wufoo form for beta signup and started advertising on Google Adwords, Facebook and LinkedIn with $10 and $25 and $50 budgets. We also wrote some blog posts which got some decent views. In all we spent around $350-400 in advertising and we got more than 150 valid signups.

We started looking for patterns in our customer profiles and identified that most of our leads were from a few niche market segments that we could market to easily.

Product /Market Fit

We started engaging with our prospects on what they were currently using and what problems they were facing. In many cases people were telling us clearly what they really wanted to see in their customer support software.

We were surprised to see that a lot of what customers wanted were their core problems solved and not some fancy features like supporting customers from their Facebook wall or converting tweets into customer support tickets. While we understand that these are definitely the way of the future, many many customers do not need this today.

Another important learning for us was that customers did not want to be dealing with separate invoices for their helpdesk, their contact management software, for their customer feedback forums and customer satisfaction surveys. The SMB customer wants one invoice and as much functionality as possible in the customer relationship management solution.

We also identified underserved market segments (companies with multi-brand support requirements) and segments which were getting priced out because the current solutions were expensive.

So we re-prioritized our feature set to what we thought is the ideal product/market fit for us. This means that things like Twitter and Facebook integration can wait. But things like multiple support emails or support for SLAs and Business hours are in.

Funding

We have had no outside funding till date and have not applied to any VCs or angels. Our burn rate is quite small currently – around $5K for a six member team and our entire team is working for around 30-50% of their market salary.(I don’t take a salary and we all have generous stock options). We moved in to a swanky new office for a rent of around $160 per month! We may look for some angel / VC funding in the near future and I read up a lot on Venture Hacks on how to get funded.

They have an excellent article on preparing a Business plan using a 10 slide deck at “What should I send investors?“, which I used to create a Business plan. I also created a profile for Freshdesk at AngelList which I think is one of the best things to have happened to startup entrepreneurs. We have not made our Angel List profile visible to any investor because we want to wait till our launch – because we know that traction is the most important metric for any investor. (thanks to Venture Hacks for the excellent advice)

Launch

We are now in private beta and hosted on Engine Yard. We are sending invites to small groups at a time to beta test Freshdesk and plan to open up the public beta in the coming weeks.

How You Can Help Us

If you have actually read this far, thanks for reading our story and if you are looking for an awesome SAAS customer support helpdesk be sure to sign up for a free trial.

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108 thoughts on “How a simple comment on Hacker News motivated me to resign from my comfortable well paying job and launch my own startup.

  1. Thanks for sharing your story with us, clearly shows that the market is in its growth phase and you are there at the right time…

  2. Thanks for the inspiring story. I wish you the best of luck, but something tells me you wont need it.

  3. Thank you for speaking honestly and openly about your work.I find your report applicable to my own work, though some would think that literary journal design and fine art printing in Virginia, USA are in no way connected to what you are trying to accomplish. May your successes & failures serve you well.One critique on your 4-sentence “about FreshDesk” that starts: “FreshDesk is a web 2.0…”.This is language that answers questions that your new or potential team members likely have – it speaks to them. But it may not speak to potential customers. They want to know if you have something that is useful to them. Whether it does that by cloud or dirt is not so important to them.

  4. Really nice article…inspirational! you truly are setting a great example of how people in india can successfully establish a startup and follow their dreams :)Friendvestment: Connecting Ideas to Capital

  5. Wonderful post and wil help a lot of startups around on how to get going when they have an idea. Moreover, most of them have innovative ideas but never think whether it’s market fit. A must read for all those budding IT entrepreneurs

  6. Hi Girish,This is some great story. Thanks for sharing! It seems that your feedback from getmefast.com is pretty positive. Did they do the back-end or simply the design? Could you talk more about what you guys are using for the backend to deal with this actual processing of the information? Thanks and best of luck in your endeavor!-Marco

  7. Hi! GirishYour story is inspiring for sure. But it goes well beyond making its readers dream of doing the same in their lives because of your inclusion of specific details and resources. Whom you used for incorporating your company in the US and in India, how you settled on a payment provider, logo creation, and at what price is what will motivate folks to believe that it’s do-able even with limited resources.Regardless of whether Freshdesk becomes what you have envisioned for it, just by coming this far you’ve come further than most people who have a brilliant idea but are unable to chalk out a plan of action.Thank you for sharing your story the way that you did.

  8. Thanks for sharing your experience boot strapping your startup. I bet you got a wonderful team out there, kudos guys. I wish you all success.

  9. Good story, I think you’re the only entrant of the Lean Startup Challenge from India!Looks like a viable business, I wish you guys luck!Brad

  10. Awesome read … please also write a post on :- How you registered you company in India with all the bureaucracy and corruption? – Did you find a good startup lawyer in India? Who and How?- Just like Zoho do you believe in building team by hiring high-school dropouts and then train them? – Taxes would be paid by your Indian company or US company? etc. Because you’ve raised the bar of highly informative blog , you writing on the above topics would be great !!! —- thanks

  11. Girish – Thank you for telling your story. I’m assuming (since it hosted on EngineYard) Freshdesk is a Rails app, . I am also launching a web startup built on RoR. We’re currently halfway through our development sprints and following a modified agile / 37signals “Getting Real” development process. We’re working with a designer and an outside Rails shop. So far, we’ve managed to stay quite lean (development being our biggest cost). I’m curious to know more about what you learned and how you managed the programming process of the launch of your startup.

  12. Great Move Girish..Knowing you for long , I always guessed you would venture into building your own enterprise one fine day !!Really inspiring and keep us posted on the leaps and sucess on your journeyAll the best !!CheersKIRAN

  13. I am a third time entrepreneur but I learned a lot from this article. This is the way to do it folks!

  14. This is really inspiring. I’m looking living in Chennai and working on a side project. Your story gave me lots of helpful information. Thanks.

  15. I’ve gone down a similar but slightly unrelated road over a decade ago and found that the biggest problem is having to do all the work yourself. You’re fortunate enough that you happen to associate with ambitious people who want to partner up. I had to go everything entirely alone. Wrote all the software. Built the hardware. Built the website. Built the engine the site ran on. Maintained everything. Did all the marketing. Did all the customer support. Did all the community management. Granted, this was all for a project I didn’t want or expect to make money on — but even if I made money at it, I don’t think it would have been worth all that effort. You really need other ambitious people to shoulder the load with you and they’re both hard to find and hard to trust.

  16. Girish Mathrubootham, thanks for sharing. I was linked to this from appsumo and this is by far the best post!

  17. Good work Girish. Very inspiring indeed. My best wishes for your hard work to quickly bear results.

  18. Hey Girish, Thank you for the informative article. I have just started my own entrepreneurial venture and this should help to a great extent.

  19. Very well done. I wish I had met you earlier. Happy to know Zoho produces such aspiring talents. I assure you by networking deeper we can take this product smartly to different segments…..keep in touch…let me pass on my 2 cents

  20. Its not about the money, definitely not about the lifestyle.. it is all about pushing your limits.Of proving to none but youself. Kudos to you and your team.

  21. Hi Girish, I can literally relate my story with yours, so much of similarity…we are a start-up based in India offering e-commerce platform. , I would love to catch-up with you some day…wish you all the very best. I

  22. Your story is truly moving. It really excites me when I see Indians initiating a web based startup.

  23. maybe this isn’t his call..maybe something else is waiting for him. that is why he decide to quit his job.

  24. Your story is inspiring. You show the rest of us who toil in foreign countries, how with a good idea, you can make it big globally from India. I am an aspiring entrepreneur, who wants to come back to India and do something. Do you have any suggestions for me?.

  25. Super Article by girish, helps startups to plan better. Thanks for sharing your experiences.Wish Freshdesk a great success ! will try it out soon for our new startup 🙂

  26. Very nicely said. Pretty inspiring & I am sure it will help a lot of potential entrepreneurs take that final step to starting their ventures. All the best.

  27. Great story – the only bit I don’t get is the sentence that states “. In fact I have experience with an ITIL helpdesk”.How can you think of developing an online helpdesk tool and not have the option to change SLA levels to your requirements? The other thing missing is also assigning assets to a user or company!I can’t wait until you add these features!…

  28. hi girish i am amaze read your successfull path ,like that i am also very enthusastic guy ,my name is karthick completed(MCA-2011) seeking job now ,if my profile match your company recuriment ,kindly reply  to kptkarthik@gmail.com

  29. Hello Girish, this is Saulo from Pinpoint (former DHC)… I am glad to see you have taken my steps as an entrepreneur, and I hope that, if someday you  look to expand you business to Brazil, you consider us as your local partner 🙂 

    All the best

      1. Great Girish! 
        saulo  at  pinpoint.com.br
        +55-11-2359-0440

        Thanks, look forward to talk to you again

        1. Hey Man… I am testing Freshdesk and it rocks! Call me when you have a chance, I want definitely to help you in Brazilian market.

          Cheers
          Saulo

  30. I did not realized we did your website when you started off 😉 Glad to be part of your growing and much talked about start-up. Hope you are doing well!

  31. Hi Girish,

    Read about your site on Tech crunch and I feel its relevant to our requirements. I was not able to locate the contact us tab on the site (am myopic you know). Can you or someone from your team reach me at +91 98733 70493 or drop a line at spande28@gmail.com.

  32. Pingback: this site
  33. An inspiring story… and would love to catch you up for my startup’s helpdesk in a couple of months. Thank you,

  34. Hi Girish,
    Great Inspiration, Thanks for sharing your steps, I’m dreaming of staring a SAAS company soon, this boosts my confidence. Wish you and your team all the very best. 

  35. I agree that Hacker News could bring wonders just like how I was pointed here. The post makes me more inspire to pursue and continue my dreams in my chosen path, thank you for sharing your story.

  36. I agree that Hacker News could bring wonders just like how I was pointed here. The post makes me more inspire to pursue and continue my dreams in my chosen path, thank you for sharing your story.

  37. Thanks for this great and inspiring story Girish.  Freshdesk is positioned in a market that is, in my opinion, sure to explode in the next few years as more companies make deep cuts to their administrative and support overhead.  My suggestion is to create a white-label option and license it to service providers and consulting companies.  This could give you a strong foothold in the market in a very short period of time.  Best wishes to you and your team!

  38. Nice post.  It is truly the thought that bring wonders to the world where we, ourselves, has to provide the capital for the basic start-up.  I am actually working on starting one within the first week of returning to school, and hopefully launch by September 2012. 

    I don’t have a background in coding, so I am using other various methods of per-designed templates and turnkey it.  As I get more cash-flow, I can then customize the site and be more relatively unique but keeps the features people love and enjoy.

    Funding is always bootstrapped and I plan on keeping it as low as possible.  I see no reason, like what you guys had done, to spend mass amounts of money without a definitive, realistic goal.

    I am, initially, and will be inspired by Hacker News and stories like yours.  Please contact me so we can talk.

    Huynhhai23@gmail.com

  39. Your story is very inspiring, you actually did take a big risk in operating Freshdesk.  I must say you and your team really did a good job because of the things that you’ve achieve now.  Kudos!

  40. Great work Girish!
    It takes guts and belief in your own ability to quit a job and start your own company….

  41. Nice Information you have shared. I read it fully and enjoy.

    I am also represent management consultant which is based in DUBAI, EMEA Management & Consultancy Services Ltd was incorporated to provide a complete consultancy solution to the modern and fast moving business of today. These consulting services cover all aspects of the business including Management, Strategic Planning, Viability Analysis, restructuring and Project Management fields.

  42. wow!!! It’s amazing how your company has grow today. Congratulation. This is a great post and I can see a few other interesting post in this blog. Hope you continue updating it with.

  43. Inspiring Article by Girish,
    This is good inspiring article to who are all going to startup. Congratulation 🙂

  44. HI Girish, Cheers for the wonderful start-up and all the best. I am a budding entrepreneur and I was referred to read this blog by Vijay. Very impressed and I am looking out for problems outside.
    Hope I find one too.

  45. Hi Girish.
    Reading you post now is too late… I guess… because I read your success story first and then came to read this article…
    Wat a visionary thinker you are… whatever you said in this article is achieved by you and your team…

  46. I definitely enjoying every little bit of it. It is a great website and nice share.
    I want to thank you. Good job! You guys do a great blog, and have some great contents.
    Keep up the good work.
    Zoho partners

  47. Useful article, thanks! You may also want to visit our site http://www.coffeechatsasia.com. It aims to deliver the latest happenings relating to startups in Asia Pacific. You will find exciting news about new startups, inspiring lectures, and most importantly, the pathway for your successful startup.

  48. Great stuff! One thing I’ve struggled with is keeping up company culture and onboarding new employees the right way as we grow. I came across OrgLynx (orglynx.com), which has helped immensely.