The Outliers 7: Girish Mathrubootham says investors are owners too

Pankaj Mishra February 22, 2017

For Girish Mathrubootham, founder and CEO of Freshdesk, entrepreneurship is not a one-off fling, but more like a habit, or “a sport he dearly loves.”

“Being an entrepreneur gives an opportunity to dream and go after it. It’s about doing what I like doing,” he told me in this episode of The Outliers Podcast.

Nobody wins when a founder loses

After almost two years of a funding frenzy, and more money chasing fewer, scalable startup ideas, some entrepreneurs are now worried about investor activism. “India’s biggest startup has just seen founders move out of top executive roles, and an executive from their top investor is now at the helm — many of us are worried,” a startup founder struggling to make it big in the internet business told me recently.

With some of the top names including Sequoia, Accel and Google Capital backing Freshdesk, is Mathrubootham worried?

“A lot of us think that if Girish started this company, it’s his. And while that’s true, let’s not forget one thing — the moment you take investment and sell your share, somebody is part owner of the company. It’s as much as (the) investors’ company as it’s ours,” says Mathrubootham.

“For most of us who aren’t Mark Zuckerberg, it’s prudent to understand that when we take money from external investors, we should be mature enough to understand that they are owners too. Now, the investors want founders to run the company because that’s the best bet. “

Don’t mix passion with emotions

“You shouldn’t mix the two. And it comes with maturity. Being passionate is a must, but not being emotionally involved is a great trait to practice,” says the founder-CEO. “My pet peeve has been that many founders in India aren’t building great customer experience and are taking shortcuts. They see demand going through the roof.”

Should founders aspire for financial freedom early?

“It’s important to understand that if you want to dream bigger, and go for the big swing, entrepreneurs need freedom in their mind and risk-taking ability,” says Mathrubootham. “So we started Freshdesk in October 2010 — if all I had was a home loan and salary and absolutely no liquidity, it would be very hard to keep going on, managing financial needs.” Early liquidity frees you from emotional burdens and take bigger risks. “If not, your natural tendency will be to protect and not take risks,” he says.

Will you sell if Google makes an offer?

I couldn’t resist asking Mathrubootham this question because of the stage Freshdesk is in.

“Obviously, we would take it to the board. It also depends on what’s the right thing to do,” he says.

“Let’s assume we spend the next five years working towards the liquidity goal and maybe, we reach $500 million or more in revenue. And that puts us in $4-5 billion (valuation) range.”

“Dreams can be continued, I don’t see acquisition as an end to the journey. And I’m talking as someone who’s acquired seven companies.”

Listen to Mathrubootham’s refreshing ideas on entrepreneurship in this podcast.

To listen to the previous episodes and subscribe to the Outliers podcast on SoundCloud click here. iTunes users can also click here to subscribe.


Podcast produced by Anand Murali  
Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.