Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

We have the potential to nurture champions: Girish Mathrubootham

In 2021, Girish Mathrubootham made it to the cover of Forbes India after he took Freshworks from a small Chennai-based outfit to a $400 million revenue Nasdaq-listed Silicon Valley company. Almost two years and a football academy later, the CEO of Freshworks writes about how making things possible takes just a few people to take the bets no one else dares to

Published: Jun 1, 2023 02:32:26 PM IST
Updated: Jun 2, 2023 11:41:45 AM IST

We have the potential to nurture champions: Girish MathruboothamGirish Mathrubootham, CEO and Founder, Freshworks

With a heart brimming with pride, I watched the young Flying Squirrels of FC Madras football team take command of their newly inaugurated field, on the outskirts of Chennai. The growing crowd, bubbling with palpable excitement, eagerly anticipated the clash against Bengaluru FC.

Their presence reminded me of the sceptics who doubted my investment in Indian football, convinced it stood no chance against the European and Latin American titans. Yet, looking into the sea of hopeful faces, I found a thriving ember of faith, challenging the naysayers, flickering in each pair of eager eyes.

My journey in constructing the academy was not a solitary endeavour. Friends and experts from diverse backgrounds shared my dream of finding the next Messi from Madras. In many ways, the match unfolding that night was not just a game; it was the beginning of a grand odyssey. A journey to illustrate that we don’t have to choose between education and sport, but rather focus on education AND sport, and create champions for life.

Against the monumental odds, where do we find the courage to hope? I believe the answer holds the key to India’s potential to emerge as a global hub of world-class products. Our nation thrives on aspiration, a powerful force sparked by those daring to dream and gamble on possibilities that others are too timid to grasp.

Let’s take badminton as an illustration of Indian aspiration triumphing over daunting odds. Today, PV Sindhu, an Olympic champion, shines as one of the luminous stars in our nation’s sporting universe. However, as a child, her journey was met with criticism from neighbours who believed in books over games.

Also read: Girish Mathrubootham on how to stay hungry amid a carnage

Undeterred, Sindhu’s father undertook a daily 60 km commute to ensure her training was never compromised. Her mother retired early, dedicating her life to her daughter’s dream. Sindhu’s journey was further bolstered by coaching from the legend, Pulella Gopichand, who dared to mortgage his house to build an academy, despite scepticism surrounding badminton’s international prospects in India. They all held onto hope, long before millions of others who cheer for Sindhu and swear by Indian badminton now.

We have the potential to nurture champions: Girish MathruboothamThis fiery aspiration also ignites our economic propulsion. In 2010, when I dared to start a global software product company from Chennai, I was met with resistance. India was mainly recognised for IT and IT-enabled services. However, I was stubborn in my belief that we had the potential, the talent and the learning mindset to win. 

Today, a decade later, we are seeing record VC fundraising with colossal India-focussed funds like Sequoia’s $2 billion India Fund VIII, Lightspeed India’s $500m India and SE Asia Fund, Accel India Fund and Together Fund.

The common investment thesis for all of these funds is the massive opportunity of building global B2B SaaS products from India, fuelling the hope of seeing India as a product nation.

When opportunity dwindles, hope withers and dreams fade. While it is true that hope alone cannot fuel survival, and India still has battles to fight to manifest its grandest dreams, our history is a testament to our spirit of resilience. We have the potential to nurture champions across diverse fields. All we need is a few people to have hope and belief before everyone else, to take the bets that no one else dares to. Then we can turn IMPossible to India Makes it Possible.

(This story appears in the 16 June, 2023 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)