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Google always knew Indian unicorn Freshworks would be successful

·3 min read
Girish & Shan
Girish & Shan

When CapitalG—then Google Capital—invested in Freshworks—then Freshdesk—back in 2014, it knew the tech startup from Chennai would make it big. Yesterday (Sept. 22), Freshworks raised over $1 billion via its IPO on Nasdaq.

CapitalG owns around 8.2%, or $1 billion, of the firm’s post-IPO market cap.

Why did CapitalG back Freshworks?

CapitalG typically invests in only one company in one market. For instance, it backs Lyft so it will not back Uber. When it was looking at the software-as-a-service for small and medium businesses as a category, Freshworks was “top of the list,” said Gene Frantz, general partner who has been at CapitalG since its inception in 2013.

When Frantz and his colleagues met with founder-CEO Girish Mathrubootham in 2014, they were immediately taken by his “bold product and company vision, and his passion for the product and customer needs,” says Frantz. Mathrubootham also came across as “someone scrappy…a great company builder.”

The private equity fund’s long-term commitment to Freshworks began shortly after that first meeting. Since then, it has pumped in funds over four rounds.

The Google Factor

While financial support is a big asset, CapitalG has more than money to offer. There is immense hands-on growth support from the firm’s in-house team, as well as access to Google and Alphabet experts, including CEO Sundar Pichai. From sales and marketing to AI and security, CapitalG helps startups to simplify all aspects of business.

In the case of Freshworks, CapitalG played a “big part in its go-to-market,” helping with digital customer acquisition, an area where Google had tremendous insights and knowledge, Frantz says.

Over the years, more than 2,500 Googlers have helped trained nearly 1,200 portfolio company employees on machine learning, engineering leadership, and other topics. Several Freshworks engineers, too, were enrolled in such programs.

Freshworks and Nasdaq…

The investment firm has been with Freshworks through its years in Chennai and its subsequent move to San Mateo, California, in 2019. As a result, it understands the company’s vision and evolution.

For instance, on paper, Freshworks is still a loss-making firm. But these losses are not a red flag. For one, net loss shrank to $9.8 million from $57 million from a year ago, suggesting austerity on the firm’s part. Secondly, loss-making at startups is often by design.

“It just needs to be clear that you could be profitable if you wanted to but many companies, Freshworks included, invest for growth,” said Frantz. “The investors want to know it [loss-making] is a choice, and not because there’s something systemic in the business that won’t let them be profitable.”

…and US IPOs for other Indian startups

Freshworks has managed a blockbuster public debut in America. But it did have all the ingredients: Its business is global with a presence in over 120 countries. A chunk of is management team are seasoned Silicon Valley veterans. Bigwigs like Tiger Global and Sequoia back the firm. And its revenue and growth numbers have been consistently impressive.

The quarter-to-quarter predictability and long-term growth story needed to go public is “a very hard thing to achieve,” says Frantz. Additionally, “it is critical to have systems and processes to operate a company in place, for which there is a high bar in the US.”

But that doesn’t mean other Indian companies don’t stand a chance. In fact, Frantz views Freshworks as a “torchbearer” for Indian SaaS companies and expects the trend to continue. Another SaaS firm, Druva, is already eyeing a US IPO.

Perhaps these companies look west because the US market is “more developed than the Indian market,” says Frantz. “There’s more liquidity and the statement it makes to customers is a little bit more powerful.”

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