Post Funding Interview with Abinash Tripathy, Founder and CEO, HelpShift CRM

If you were to cater to customer support issues of 0.1% of Google’s customer base, it would take one person about 19 man years to do it.. or about 20,000 people to do it in one day. That, my friend, is the problem of scale

The previous quote was from an engineer at Google who was asked why Google’s customer support was not up to the mark. In the current mobile ecosystem, apps makers hit the scaling problem a lot quicker than before due to effective distribution systems. Instagram, for example, went from 0 to 7 million users in less than a year. This rate of scale is unprecedented and the customer support is very nascent in the mobile apps field. Some very popular apps, with over a million users, have one helpline phone number, which can only take one problem at a time. A very small percentage of an average apps userbase can overwhelm this infrastructure and there is definitely room for CRM solutions in this space.

Abinash Tripathy’s HelpShift has already identified this problem and now has a solution that may very well change the way app users communicate their queries and problems to makers of the app. This CRM for mobile apps will directly put the apps users in touch with the developer of an app, avoiding painstaking interactions with customer support and getting their issues resolved in the most effective manner.

Abinash comes with vast experience in mobile and CRM space. However, his entrepreneurial record is even better. The first company he worked for Openwave, were the inventors of WAP, the first generation of the Mobile Internet (at one point ~50% of the phones in the world ran an Openwave Browser). His second venture, the very popular Zimbra, was acquired by Yahoo! and since 2010, he has invested his thoughts and resources on what could be a paradigm shift in customer support in the mobile space.

The Product

For the user, HelpShift is a chatbox inside the app, to which a query or a complaint can be fed into. This is notified to the developer via a back end dashboard; almost like email notification. The developer can answer back through the back end and the user is notified in the same chat window. And its as simple as that.

Abinash says “the app stores have really solved the distribution problem of software, so if you have a really cool app, a lot of people are going to use it very soon. You will have a scale problem. Rather than the conventional customer support option, HelpShift, embeds itself into an apps code and becomes an integral part of the app itself and personally that’s how it should be; products should have in-built customer support and it shouldn’t be an afterthought. ” Using HelpShift was very intuitive; it was almost like using a chat application.

The Team

From his past ventures Abinash was quick to identify that his core strengths lie in engineering and he focused on building a strong development team “I was quite certain that if we were to build a global product, then we need a team of hackers. Before HelpShift, we used go through the regular route of recruitment agencies and usually ended by with mediocre coders who weren’t in for the long run. This time we built a consumer financial product and embedded a wanted ad in the actual code. Only people who found it contacted us for the posting and basically if they found the ad, they had to be good,” shared Abinash

Currently, HelpShift is a team of 20, of which 13 are engineers, 3 designers and one growth hacker. This team works out of Pune, India and a business team consisting of 3 works in the US.

The Funding

HelpShift had earlier raised seed round a year back from Nexus Ventures worth $500,000. “We didn’t want to announce this because I don’t think funding us a big deal. Making a product that customers want is newsworthy.”

HelpShift was self funded until this seed round. “Naren (Gupta) from Nexus actually met me in Mumbai and basically wrote a check to us saying ‘I want to write you a cheque and I know you will do something good with it’. So we took the money and started building the product.”

HelpShift has also raised money from valley based fund, True Ventures. “If you look at their(True Ventures’) portfolio, they’ve basically invested in so many companies that you can name off the top of your head. The network they have is so vast and that just opens a lot of doors for us which wouldn’t have opened for us otherwise.”

“We’ve got Jishnu from Nexus, who I think is one of the most patient and supportive VC’s I’ve ever worked with and they’re not like other Indian VC’s who are so revenue centric. I still remember Naren getting up in one of our meetings encouraging us to get more users and increase adoption. I think in that sense Nexus is a true Indo-American venture.”

The most recent funding from True Ventures and Nexus Venture Partner was a second round of seed funding worth $3.2 million.

Reception

As a 4th time entrepreneur I was curious to know what keeps him going. His work portfolio includes cutting edge work in technology that is still used today. He said, “I think after a certain point, its not about money anymore. This is my 4th gig and what matters to me is what I’m remembered by. Money is just incidental. I want to make HelpShift a great place to work and bring the best minds to work on solving some very big problems.”

At the end of our conversation Abinash apologized for being media shy, but the reason behind being so was something every entrepreneur should try and emulate. To him, funding wasn’t newsworthy; good products were, and I personally believe, Abinash’s success is only a consequence of his values and ethics.

There will definitely be a lot more to hear from HelpShift in the days to come. Watch this space for more updates!

Visit HelpShift


Raghu Mohan

Raghu Mohan

Raghu is an electronics engineer from Anna University who has a keen interest in mobility and consumer technology.He predominantly works on stories for tech entrepreneurs and startups. He is also an active member of the Bangalore Android User Group, a regular speaker at BarCamp Bangalore and is part of many other technology communities. You can follow him on Twitter @Raghum200