With technology budgets tightening for companies of all sizes, having not just the right tools, but also the right people for the job, has never been more important.
To take a look at the current situation, and examine some possible solutions, we recently spoke with Dennis Woodside, President of Freshworks.
Where do you see the direction of the technology market today, and how business can address problems along the way?
The greatest changes we’re seeing are driven as always by customers’ appetite to improve their lives, the power of technology to solve their problems and broader economic influences.
I’m excited by what I can see AI doing for business customers, employees, marketers and so many others. We’re on the cusp of an era in which intelligent automation will create seamless handoffs between bots and agents. That’s going to accelerate resolution times and free up agents to do their most satisfying work.
For those of us leading companies in the SaaS industry there’s another real inflection point happening. Some legacy players are arguing that customers have to spend more to innovate, even as the same customers tell them they have to do more with less. I believe you can spend smarter to innovate, and pay just for what you need.
We’ve seen it happen before, in the television business. When cable first came out, it provided more choice than over the air TV and leveraged that to sign up lots of customers. But when those cable pioneers hit their growth ceiling they started trying to lock in customers with expensive bundles, and onerous get out clauses.
Ironically a third wave of companies used the internet, a key part of those bundles, to disrupt the cable companies, by offering more segmented choices online at lower cost, with zero exit fees.
Something like this will happen again, almost certainly powered by AI. We know that the hunger for personalized experiences is going to drive adoption of solutions delivering exactly what you want to pay for. Solutions which you can scale up or down according to your own needs and financial realities that may be impacted by recession or other problems.
How do you personally evaluate new opportunities and build trust with founders?
Whenever I’ve joined a company, it’s because I’m hungry to see what we could do with the business on the other side of transforming it. With that in mind, I look for founders like G at Freshworks, who challenge the rest of us to push the business beyond what we all think is possible.
G is a great proponent of looking at challenges through other people’s eyes, as a path to building products to solve their problems. I try to emulate this in my approach to working with founders. Once you understand the things that stand in the way of their success, you can figure out how you can add value to them, and that’s a key way to build trust.
I love that founders from Pat Brown at Impossible Foods, to Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google and G, have really thought about how we’re going to solve the problem they’ve identified. What I am is the person deep down who can help them scale to that vision.
Why is hiring the right people the first step to success?
It’s the first step to success, but a step you never really stop having to take. Look at it from both sides. At whatever stage you are in your career, switching jobs is always a bet. A bet you’re taking that you have what it takes to push the new business forward. A bet by your employer in the same belief.
Both of you also have to bet on the success of the company owed to factors beyond your control. And at some point, you’ll both make mistakes, and one of you will have to make that ‘first step’ again.
Longer term success happens, in my experience, because you learn from every mistake.
How much does tech growth depend on hiring ambitious team-members?
The first question I tend to ask people who are up for leadership roles is where they see themselves in five years. I like it when they tell me “I want your job”. It’s one way they can crystallize their ambition for me.
I’m competitive myself, I want to win, and I’m intensely driven to get there. But ambition isn’t enough to drive growth. You have to be intellectually curious too. Personally, I’ve learned so much in this industry, in the last nine months, and I’m always going to be learning more.
Growing a company also depends on assembling teams who take extraordinary bets, based on thinking about what will happen if things go really well. If you think that way rather than what you’ll do if it all fails, you make really different decisions.
Why is customer consultation the most important metric for evaluating a new opportunity?
You have to start with the customer! Put another way, I can’t think of an instance where someone has created a business and then gone looking for a problem, without talking to a customer, and been successful.
In the business I’m in now, the same rule applies. We have to be continually listening to each of our customers’ needs to understand how to build for them. That’s one reason I was so excited to attend our Freshworks User Network meeting in London, and meet with representatives from travel companies, football clubs, car builders, fashion retailers, government and more.
What struck me as I talked to these marquee British brands, is how our technology is enabling even the smaller companies to compete with larger organizations, because we're digitally enabling them to do so, levelling the playing field for all.