As part of #BigAugust campaign*, NextBigWhat brings to you, an UnPluggd view of some of India’s high-growth product companies. The bigger agenda is to showcase company culture, hear from the founders, employees and answer ‘how does it feel to work with you’.
Today, we are super excited to share an interview with Girish, founder and CEO of Freshdesk. Chennai based Freshdesk recently raised $31mn from Tiger, Accel and Google Capital, making it the first India startup to raise funding from Google Capital. The company provides support solution over SAAS and has been on a roll.
How do you define ‘Company Culture’?
Girish: Company Culture for us means how most of us (if not all of us) react to everyday situations in the workplace. For example we believe in genuinely being nice to people, in doing things without being told, in doing what is right for the customer and learning new stuff and constantly setting the bar high in anything that we do.
When we started the company, we had about six people in the team. A little over a year ago, we were around a hundred employees. Today, more than 275 people work from our Chennai office.
With Google Capital participating in our most recent funding round, we became the first company in India to be backed by the VC arm (and their only foreign investment so far). Freshdesk now has customers in more than 120 countries, we’ve more than doubled our customer count since we announced our 10,000 milestone last September. We also launched Freshservice, an ITIL service desk in January this year.
Do you have a stated set of cultural values? What is the grounded purpose behind it?
Girish: We try to create a happy work environment for everybody where relationships take precedence, and work comes next. We hire smart people, try and match them to the right roles and let them learn by doing when they get to work. That way, they get to have fun at work, and make a lot of difference to the company at the same time.
Thanks to this whole idea, there are a lot of young people at Freshdesk and a lot of them are home grown into specific roles in different teams. For instance, until we hired our 69th employee, we hadn’t hired a single programmer who already knew Ruby on Rails (which is the core language we use at Freshdesk)
I spend a lot of time talking to different teams and telling us how we are trying to build a world class product company from Chennai. I understand that we are in it together, working towards the same goal, irrespective of our position or what we are working on.
Can you describe the environment in the company?
Girish: We provide everyone with operational freedom and a fun work environment where they can learn everything they need for the job at the job. At Freshdesk, we collaborate, discuss ideas and build stuff together without sitting through formal meetings. Today, people walk around and talk to people to get things done.
We have hackathons every now and then, there is a club which takes care of organising internal parties and events. There’s also foosball and table tennis for anyone who wants to take a quick break from work and relax.
How often does the staff meet?
Girish: We’re about 270 people now but we’re still a small company and we try to make sure that we don’t get in anybody’s way with meetings. Instead, we let the team managers take care of things themselves and have biweekly standup meetings where they bring everybody else up to speed on what’s going on.
What does it take for someone to be successful here?
Girish: Ownership and Initiative.
We look for people who are passionate and can get things done. We don’t focus on academic credentials and we have a relatively flat hierarchy, so the more they go out of the way and show what they’re capable of, the better credibility they earn.
What are your expectations from your employees?
Girish: We don’t micromanage people at Freshdesk. We have always believed that hiring passionate people and giving them big things to do is a great way to go forward when you are building a team. It helps employees set their expectations themselves and watch and learn from people around them.
At the end of the day, if you do what’s good for you and what’s good for the company, we don’t mind letting people work the way they want.
How do you reward your employees?
Girish: We reward our employees with competitive pay, a fun work environment, Freshdesk Stock options (in high demand in the VC world!) and cash bonuses for spectacular efforts. Team managers also celebrate releases and revenue milestones with team outings.
What do you look for in a potential employee? How do you evaluate the softskills?
Girish: When we try to hire people, we look for passion and ownership in candidates. We also look for a high level of emotional intelligence. We like people who get shit done without burning bridges.
How do you onboard new employees?
Girish: We do not have a formal onboarding process or entry level training programs. We have a friendly environment and the teams usually take care of onboarding the new employee. We also have an acclimatization champions team who take care of ensuring that newcomers to Chennai settle down comfortably.
Are there special activities you do to promote teamwork? Are they voluntary?
We have a Freshclub and there are cricket and football teams, we conduct regular quizzes and meetups to discuss books. There’s even a series for inspiring talks by employees where we people get to talk about things they’ve done and their adventures. We sometimes go together on weekends to watch movies.
— Girish Mathrubootham (@mrgirish) February 6, 2014
What policies does the company have on day today activities (e.g., dress code, work hours)?
Girish: We don’t really have dress codes or working hours. Apart from a few customer facing roles, pretty much everybody at Freshdesk work on their own time, and there are no strict policies on a day today basis. We give employees all the flexibility they need, and we trust them to use it wisely.
Do supervisors have an open door policy or the employees need prior appointment for a meeting with the seniors?
Girish: We really pride ourselves in having a flat hierarchy, and everyone is just a few steps away. Top management sits in open cubicles and are accessible. I sit in a room (with open doors of course) only because there are too many meetings and many times with external people.
Is there a HR team to help the employees? Or is it driven by founders?
Girish: Yes, we have a HR team in place for talent acquisition and retention, and other administrative functions.
Srividya Sriram, exGoogler. Now UX Designer at Freshdesk.
“I had always assumed that the best and the most interesting work in tech happens in the Valley. In fact, even when I left Google, I had set my mind on NOT working for an Indian company. Because come on, I could never live a Silicon Valley life in Chennai, right? But this notion was pretty much shattered when I came to Freshdesk.
It feels amazing to be part of a company from Chennai that is sharing the stage with world class companies as an influencer, not only in terms of the quality of work but also from a culture perspective.The people here are supersmart.
There is literally no hierarchy. I have a great work-life balance. I actually think I’m producing my best work till date right now at Freshdesk.”
“I belong to a team that develops cutting edge products. We look at the latest design trends and see how we can best use them in our app. We learn everyday from our customers, and from our peers. Everytime we see our code getting implemented and watch our product being used by thousands of people, I feel gratified. And the fact that I’m contributing to build a world class product is a dream come true.” Girish Koundinya, Mobile Developer at Freshdesk
What has been the biggest learning that you’d want to share with fellow entrepreneurs?
Girish: I used to think that people are either aggressive or submissive. I was very aggressive always pushing hard to get the things I wanted to get done. My ex-boss (Mr. Kumar Vembu currently Founder & CEO of GoFrugal Technologies) told me you can be aggressive externally in pursuing your sales or marketing targets etc. but when it comes to people (especially team mates) he said that I was being abrasive.
He told me that while I was getting stuff done, I was breaking the gentle fabric of relationships which is irreversible. From that day onwards I realized the importance of people relationships and I have taken care to treat everyone fairly and focus on building relationships. The lesson has proved extremely valuable as many of Freshdesk’s early employees are people who have worked with me before, who came and joined a startup because they valued the relationship.
How do you resolve team conflict? Could you share an example?
Girish: Focus on the issue, ignore the person. We let people talk to themselves as mature individuals.
What tools do you use to enhance productivity?
Girish: Most Google Apps, Trello, 1Password, Dropbox.
Freshdesk is currently hiring for its Chennai office. Here are the freshest openings. You can apply using your LinkedIn profile.
» Mobile developer – iOS
Overall 2+ Years of Experience in developing iOS platform.
-Experience in iOS SDK Development.
Strong in Object Oriented concepts, SOA experience is required.
» DevOps Lead
5 years of work experience in operations. Responsibilities include :
– Setting up our NOC team and manage them
– Automating the Operation tasks
– Working with engineering team to make informed decisions
If you are a company hiring/and willing to talk about your culture code, talk to us.