Freshworks for Startups’s Against All Odds Startup Summit opens up its playbook for India’s startups to win


The inaugural edition of Freshworks for Startups’ Against All Odds Startups Summit saw some intensive action in the startup ecosystem. With 1600+ VC and startup founders’ connects, 1200 1:1 founder connects, 30+ immersive roundtable sessions and four keynote addresses, the event was one-of-a-kind in the ecosystem.

Why technology and product startups are the future of India

In the opening keynote address, Girish Mathrubootham, Founder & CEO, Freshworks, shared the startup’s journey to becoming a $3.5 billion company with 200,000 customers worldwide and how Freshworks for Startups is a pay-it forward initiative to help startups overcome the odds and grow faster.

“When we were a startup, we got help from several companies in the ecosystem. It’s our turn to pay it forward,” said Girish.

To that end, Freshworks has rolled out $10000 in credits across Freshworks products, access to mentors and resources and support to break into new markets through the Freshworks for Startups initiative. He added thatFreshworks is also working with partners like AWS, Microsoft to bring to the startups the technology they need.

“Freshworks for Startups is beyond Freshworks. We want startups to start scaling. Our goal is to help you find customers for life. We want to celebrate startups and help you win,” he said.

In the address, Girish also touched upon key developments in the product ecosystem and the need for startups to align with product-led growth in the end-user era. He advised startups to remove friction between the customer and product, especially in the early days. “We dream of India as a product nation. Freshworks has been fortunate to build a playbook to understand what it takes to win. We now need a lot more product companies in India. We were all the beneficiaries of the IT services boom of the 90s. It’s now time for product companies to take that baton. We need to create technology companies that can create employment for India. For that to happen, startups must win. And, we are playing a very small part in this journey. We believe that technology and product startups are the future of India.”

On why startups need to show up and show up consistently to win

In her talk, Vineeta Singh, Co-Founder and CEO at Sugar Cosmetics drew interesting parallels between her journey as an entrepreneur and that of becoming a triathlete and an ultra-marathoner. She shared her entrepreneurial journey of starting FabBox and pivoting into Sugar Cosmetics and how it grew to become one of India’s fastest-growing premium beauty brands with a distribution network of over 1,700 retail outlets across hundred cities, 3,00,000 direct customers and clocking Rs 100 cr in revenue. "As a startup, we could have never raised money, figured out the supply chain and manufacturing complexities without having the exposure that FabBox brought us. The fact that we showed up, bought us opportunities that led us to where we are today.” The other key element she pointed out was to “show up consistently.”

Vineeta said as a startup they channelised the fear about the pandemic and its impact on business into building growth.

“In early April we didn’t know what April and May would look like. So we set ourselves a target to break even in June. It was a shared mission. In the next couple of weeks, all our retail staff reached out to customers, guided them through their purchase journey and helped to build the sales pipeline. The orders on the website began tripling. Even amidst manpower and logistical challenges, we delivered to our customers.”

This journey she said showed how startups can use fear as a fuel instead of being cowed down by it. “When you convert your fuel into excitement, you get the propulsion to achieve. Otherwise, fear as such can lead to inaction.”

The next 100 unicorns from India

A conversation between Sidharth Malik, CRO, Freshworks and Rajan Anandan, MD, Sequoia Capital and Surge, deep dived into the challenges and opportunities that the pandemic will bring about for the Indian startup ecosystem and why even the country is poised to see the surge of next 100 homegrown unicorns.

“Today, India’s infrastructure to build companies is much stronger. We have the basics in place. We also have strong and large consumers online. The quality of entrepreneurs is getting much better and companies are being built more quickly than ever before.” Rajan said, “A few years ago, analysis showed that by 2020, India will have 20 unicorns. But today, we have 30 unicorns.” He added, “Until Freshworks, we didn’t have a SaaS unicorn. But that changed two years ago. Today, we have a number of SaaS unicorns. Today Byju’s is the world's most valuable EdTech startup. It tops 76 other key EdTech global players. Surely, there’s no reason why India can’t have its next 100 unicorns.”

Sharing insights on the impact of the pandemic,

“In April, we said one of the important things for startups was to keep running. And, that stays even today. Startups need to have a cash runway to last them for another 18 months. Today, if your startup has good unit economics and has been able to drive growth, you are a very special company. Because, you are doing something right in what is one of the hardest times in a century. That’s why we are seeing valuations of deserving companies going up.”

Rajan also advised startups to use the current downturn in the market to focus on the customers, make the product better and lay a strong foundation for the business fundamentals.

In his closing remarks, he asked the startups founders to remind themselves everyday about why they became founders in the first place and sail through the challenging times ahead. “The rest of the world is going through the same thing that you are. So, hang in there. And, if you can make it through, by the end of 2021 you will be a 10x better leader, your company will be 10x better, and your consumers are going to love you 10x more.”

Building for the next billion

In yet another interesting keynote address, Rahul Chari, Founder & CTO, PhonePe, in conversation with Vinod Chandramouli, Head, ASEAN Business, Freshworks, shared his entrepreneurial journey, building and scaling a product for the next billion users and dealing with the new normal. Sharing the impact of the current macroeconomics, Rahul said while they have been on the right side of things with digital payments and digital commerce getting push, nudging the fence-sitters to go digital,

“It has been a cycle of trial by force versus trial by choice. But, this will bring a remarked shift in behaviour given the convenience to transact remotely.” And, as a startup, PhonePe has been able to capitalise on this impact because of the way it operates as a startup within a startup. “Teams pretty much function as virtual companies wherein individuals are mapped to a goal. And, this has helped us be nimble, stay on our toes and compete with the old and new players in the landscape. While we had incorporated this design for a very different reason - to decentralise decision making that is needed in a hyper growth space, it has today helped us today.”

Deep dive roundtables from the industry’s leading entrepreneurs

In addition to the 1:1 meetings with VCs and entrepreneurs, a key highlight of the event were the roundtables that saw industry leaders sharing insights and experiences of their journeys of overcoming the odds and driving growth. This included roundtable discussions on how Chingari became an overnight sensation, how the $12 billion media and entertainment sector will respond to it in the post-COVID world, fundraising in the new normal,best revenue models at different stages, integrating newly-hired leaders remotely, building a trusted brand on the back of customer-centricity, rules for building communities, bootstrapping a company and leading it to growth and the Indian government’s market access initiatives, among others. These sessions were led by industry leaders such as Priya Rajan, Managing Director,Silicon Valley Bank; Nithin Kamath Founder & CEO , Zerodha; Prasanna Krishnamoorthy, Partner-Upekkha; Sumit Ghosh Founder, Chingari; Shanti Mohan, Founder at LetsVenture; Aastha Grover, Head, Startup India Hub at Invest India, among others. Many of the sessions saw Freshworks leaders sharing key insights from their experiences and the strategies.

If there was one message that resonated with entrepreneurs, VCs and leaders in this event it was that India is on its way to become the next big product and technology destination and that there is a strong affirmation to beat the odds and rise up to the challenge.


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