Russ: [00:00:00] Thanks for downloading the 25th in our series of episodes of the csuite podcast that we’re recording in partnership with the European PR Agency, Tyto and their Without Borders podcast, where we are interviewing leaders of unicorn companies to find out about the key issues, pain points and challenges that start-ups face and how they can address them with a strategic approach to marketing and communications. My name is Russell Goldsmith, and my co-host for this episode is Tyto’s senior partner Holly Justice. And today we’re thrilled to be joined online from Amsterdam by Krish Subramanian, co-founder and CEO of Chargebee, a subscription management platform that automates the operations of over 4000 high-growth subscription-based businesses. Founded in 2011, Chargebee reached Unicorn status in April 2021 and has now raised a total of $470 million in funding with a valuation of $3.5bn. Welcome to the show, Krish. It’ll be great if we can start by you telling us a little bit more about Chargebee.
Krish: [00:00:57] Thanks for having me. As you mentioned, Chargebee is a subscription management and billing platform, powering over 4500 subscription businesses globally. We serve the majority of the customers in North America and Europe, and we work with customers from very early stage, which is pre-product market fit companies that start with our freemium plan all the way through. And these early-stage companies look at billing as a simple solution to enable them to launch and get to product-market fit to pre-IPO companies through the high growth stage. We work with them where it becomes an integral part of their growth, infrastructure, and compliance. So, we work with companies across the spectrum, is what we do, focused on subscription and billing.
Russ: [00:01:37] What actually led you to launch the company then.
Krish: [00:01:40] This was an 8–9-year dream from the very early stage. I’m a software engineer by training. My co-founder was my classmate from engineering days, one of the co-founders and four of us started Chargebee. But for over 8-9 years, we used to follow a lot of companies out there in the world, including Basecamp, this particular blog, we all know Slack, Workflow and Trello, but the makers of that company used to write this popular blog called Joelonsoftware.com and as a developer, we used to read these diligently almost every week. And so, over eight, nine years, we saved up and said at some point we want to quit and start a company. We just did not know when. But we wanted to earn our financial independence by saving up 20-30% of our salaries almost every month so that at some point we’ll give ourselves a chance to start, so it was a team-first company, not an idea-first company. So, we said, okay, you want to start a product company by 2011 it was clear that it has to be SaaS. And then we said we picked a problem to solve, for us, the problem itself was a means to build the organisation.
Russ: [00:02:37] Has the vision changed at all since that initial start?
Krish: [00:02:40] The idea of learning to build a good company, I don’t think it ever stops, so that has been, that still continues to be the mission. The mission of actually solving subscription management and building, that one, I think we are boring people in some sense, we’d like to fall in love with some good boring problems, and this is one of those problems, that is growing in complexity and its infrastructure. It’s almost behind the scenes when it comes to how we solve it and it grows in relevance, right? We did not imagine or foresee that so many businesses will embrace subscriptions the way they are embracing today. We couldn’t have foreseen that in 2011 and I think very fortunate from that perspective, so, the mission continues to be the same, to say, hey, let’s build a good organisation and solve this problem really well just continues to grow in significance.
Holly: [00:03:27] And that shift in how many companies are using a subscription model. What do you think is causing that surge in demand?
Krish: [00:03:34] I think clear alignment of customer’s interests and the business interest. The second one is predictability of revenue, which reduces the uncertainty of building a long-term profit-generating business, I think that is one. The second one is definitely the consumer behaviour, you can almost tailor-make it for consumer behaviour. We live in a Uber world, where the personal experience and the business experience, like the software that you use in business, you don’t expect that to be too far off with respect to the level of personalisation you expect, right? And I think that one and then, of course, I think the most important one in my mind is the alignment of customer interest to say ‘I don’t want to pay for something that I don’t use’ and the business interests to say ‘I want to capture more value if I’m actually delivering more value’. It’s very clearly aligned, and that is what pay as you go, or a subscription or usage-based billing model, makes possible.
Holly: [00:04:27] And of the 10 years that Chargebee has been around, what else has evolved within your industry over that time?
Krish: [00:04:34] This is the fundamental shift that happens in almost every industry. Which is, what is considered as okay, I need to build it myself, like CRM as a category. Now everybody knows that you don’t build it yourself, you, of course, buy a CRM system, you buy a content system. But the digital marketing automation, the pieces of what HubSpot, the likes of HubSpot is, this used to be pieces that people used to do themselves, a lot of pieces of that. And then it becomes an established category from the build, versus buy. And for us, this is one of those things that continues to evolve where a lot of code related to what we today offer as out of the box integration, out of the box product, used to be a build versus buy problem, a lot of people used to think that’s super simple. I can build it myself, and it’s drastically in the last five years shifting to I don’t want to deal with this because I thought this was simple, but it’s again and again, people are actually disturbing me, asking me to build one more thing related to this, I don’t want to do it. And that massive shift where the relevance of your problem is seen as just a necessary feature, which is like, I want to launch a website, I want to launch my product, I just have to three price plans, I want to launch it, to you know what, there is so much business model in revenue model innovation happening. The VP of sales is disturbing me every day to say, Hey, when are we going to launch three new currencies, I want to launch in this country and all of that. This business model innovation is just accelerating and that hits what you thought was an internal system. And today that becomes the choke point for growth, and this massive shift, I think has happened over a period of time and it is now accelerated, especially in the last 3 to 5 years is the massive shift that we see in our industry.
Holly: [00:06:11] And we’ve just talked a little bit about what’s changed in the last decade. I suppose looking ahead, what do you think will be the most important trends for your industry in the coming months?
Krish: [00:06:22] The important part, the very interesting part that I find, is the evolution of software and subscriptions especially has been pretty recent, right? Today, the people who live in the subscription bubble or SaaS industry, we are many of us are born in this industry. Many companies are born in the industry. We don’t even know the old way of actually doing things, how archaic things were. So that is a big shift, and within that, within subscriptions, the last ten years, one of the focus areas was acquisition, acquisition, acquisition. But now people are realising how important retention is. It’s much better to retain a customer, retaining a single customer is better than acquiring seven more new customers. And the importance of the nuance, the metrics, that you are able to trace it back to acquiring the right customers, is something that maturity is actually coming through. So, which means that as the business model evolves, we are seeing the maturity of businesses which are thinking about investing in retention and customer success from day one. Like for Chargebee itself, we invested in customer success after five years after starting the company, most of our peers were like that. All of us were six months, one year later, when we set up customer success as a separate function from customer support. But today, most businesses are starting with customer success as a function, which means that retention is a focus. Second is multichannel experiences, whether it’s online or offline to customers, whether it’s a B2B business or B2C business, you’re thinking about your customer experience across all channels. How are they buying? And that has become so diverse compared to how it was previously. And there is increased appreciation in the context of B2B, right? Now, developer as a key stakeholder in the buying process is something that has increased, which means that there is a strong emphasis on treating documentation and APA as a first-class citizen in the product building process, not as an afterthought where you just publish the document later. It is part of an integral part of the product experience. The same context in B2C is, every channel experience, like whether you buy through App Store or you browse, just like Netflix, you can actually see the movie on a TV, but you should be able to renew the subscription on a mobile device and your kids could be watching that on another device. And you know that there are multiple users and personas, and you want a unified experience. You don’t want to be left behind. I think the personalisation at scale and deriving lessons from B2C to B2B and then some of the B2B lessons actually going into B2B and the business model revenue model transformation are all like fascinating things that are just accelerating with more and more people understanding the levers of the subscription businesses.
Russ: [00:08:48] Krish, I mentioned at the top of the show in my intro about you guys becoming a unicorn back in April last year. Well, 12 months ago now, I guess as we’re recording this. How did reaching that milestone change the perception of the company at all? Did it change in any way?
Krish: [00:09:03] Yes and no. I hope not internally. There is a reason I say that. I’ll come to that. Yes, from the outside. Because one, there is increased confidence from customers that we have the resources to continue to invest in the product and the commitment to build something long term, which is good, that’s one. Second is, it also brings in a calibre of talent that we did not have access to previously, who are now part of the business, and it helps you build a much better product, a much better service level for the customers. I think those are two external things that definitely helps from that change. Internally, the reason I say I hope a lot of things have not changed is something that we consciously talk about is don’t let any of these numbers and these things get into our head. Because ultimately, even if that one customer has a not-so-great experience, it’s important that we are able to fix that for that person, that’s 100% of their truth. If something is broken and it doesn’t matter whether it works for 99% of the other customers. So, which means that we need to stay grounded to the reality of that one customer is extremely important inside out. Something we insist on is let’s not change a lot of things internally, simply because we become a unicorn, we didn’t get smarter because of that.
Russ: [00:10:11] And you mentioned about, building the product and better products. I mean, that’s your latest valuation. So, the $3.5bn I mentioned earlier that was achieved with the latest funding round of $250 million. Where is that investment going to be used within the business? And how is that going to help your growth and development?
Krish: [00:10:32] The market is driven by mostly by market opportunity as well, and the moment, of course, the company and the product and also the market opportunity. I think there are millions of businesses out there where the market we serve today are in North America, Europe, we’re just launching in India and also APAC as a market. And these are just the core markets that we are now operating in, and there is so much more to expand, whether it’s LATAM, all of our partners, including whether it’s Salesforce or FreshBooks or Stripe, PayPal, they all operate in a lot of other markets that we don’t operate in yet, like LATAM and Japan and others. So, when we look at a 3-to-5-year horizon, we want to be powering thousands and thousands of subscription businesses, not just 5000, but how do you go from the 5000 businesses to 100,000 businesses? That’s one. The second is supporting the scale of operations of our customers, where many of our customers are all the way from the early tens of millions of dollars, through 500 million kind of stage. And some of them are post IPO companies, where they have a vision to say, how do I build billions of dollars in revenue? The disruption is happening across industries and our job is to build that infrastructure that remains behind the scenes and powering these businesses, thousands of such businesses, and that’s what we are trying to do. So, we are hoping that we’ll be the next 3 to 5 years, one is powering 100,000 subscription businesses and hopefully taking so many of our customers through an IPO journey and delivering that promise of product roadmap to enable them to get there. And also, it’s a very interesting space, right, which is our customers are in the forefront of defining how the business model is supposed to work. Like many of our customers are going through the transformation of inside out transformation of going from subscription model to a pay-as-you-go slash usage-based billing model, which means that we are supporting them to go through the transition. It’s not just changing your pricing on your website, but it’s actually internally changing your sales incentives, changing your data fluidity to know how to predict your revenue for the rest of the year, which is not based on annual contracts but usage of customers. So, the demand is there. We are seeing a huge transformation of earlier, what we saw previously was a transformation from old school one-time revenue to subscription revenue. But what we are going to see in the next 3 to 5 years is a transformation of the nuance of subscription revenue, to shift more towards a user-centric, pay as you go model, is where we are going to see that, and we are excited about transforming ourselves and keeping up with the growth of our customers and enabling them.
Russ: [00:12:59] Picking up on what you were saying there about changes in subscription models, I was just wondering whether or not any particular industry leads the way, you know, listening to what you were saying about Netflix, for example. So, do you find that as certain companies or certain industries change the way that their subscription models work, does that drive other industries and other companies to follow suit?
Krish: [00:13:19] Absolutely. Yes. I’ll give a particular example. Like anytime it actually touches the customer, and it creates a delight moment for the customers, I think everybody else pays attention to it. A case in point is if you take the B2B example, it’s actually Slack. Slack says, they actually have a page they publish as per billing and they say that you know what, every time if you don’t use it for a month, if there are users who are, let’s say, on vacation and you purchase ten licenses, but three of your users are on vacation, they actually give you credit for those three users and make sure that you don’t get charged for those. Do they have to do it? Yes and no. Like, will the customers actually ask for it? Probably not. But it’s the right thing to do and they do it, and when they do it, it actually becomes a benchmark in customer experience and expectations, and then others start following it. And the same thing that actually happens in sometimes it also becomes a competitive differentiation. Imagine you only sell annual contracts, but your competitor actually comes to the market and says, you know what? Yes, it’s an annual contract, but that’s just for a mutual commitment to say, I will continue to serve you. That’s paper, but I’m going to charge you no platform fees. I’m going to charge you only based on usage model. Suddenly you have a competitor who is actually innovating on your revenue model with a similar product and completely doing better than you, simply because they can win more customers by removing one of the biggest friction points, which is price negotiation. If that happens, then what do you do? So sometimes it’s driven by competition, sometimes by market trends, and but many times driven by customer expectation of what is the right thing. And that standard continues to raise when it comes to customer experiences. I think that’s the way I look at it.
Holly: [00:14:54] And reflecting a little bit more on the journey that you’ve had so far at Chargebee, what would you say has been the most critical kind of foundational step for you in building a company that’s kind of enduring and long-lasting?
Krish: [00:15:09] We talk about this a lot, right? So as a company that said, okay, we have software skills, you can understand a problem, break it down and solve. We strongly lean on listening to customers and taking feedback very seriously to build and solve the right problems. That’s something we are very proud of and not because you are smarter than your customers to say, okay, I know how to solve this. That’s not where it comes from. So, which means that I think for us it goes back to this idea of caring about solving a customer problem. When I say customer is actually the business problem and enable them, I think that’s where we are anchored and that’s our biggest strength is how we look at our DNA. And I can talk about a particular example. A customer, Bought by Many, which is disrupting insurance space, is actually saying it’s actually a company born in Europe but going global and building a phenomenal customer experience and insurance tech space. It’s for Pet insurance, interestingly and when you think about what makes them successful, right, they put their customer experience at the heart of their business all the way from the way somebody can buy insurance to redeeming going through the entire lifecycle. And for them, something like payment method is a key friction point. Allowing the customers to pay the way they want to pay every month is important. Trying to apply, let’s say credit card-based payments is more convenient for me. Doesn’t work, which means that now Chargebee has to play a very important part of the role in a customer who will buy it through web, mobile or through mobile or through App Store and might want to pay through credit card or alternate payment so if it’s Germany, then so forth. If it’s Netherlands, it has to be iDEAL, and enabling them to actually do that as a recurring transaction is an integral part of their growth story. And for us, most of our long-term success is anchored around enabling that for the customers. So, understanding what makes them successful and then tying it back to our product roadmap and continuously trying to unblock them and enabling them for their growth, I think has been almost like it should be an obsession is something we try to drive inside the team, so that every engineer learns to think about it from that perspective.
Russ: [00:17:12] Do you have any one particular industry that you see more success in? Just out of interest?
Krish: [00:17:17] SaaS and SaaS-like businesses is how we define it internally. The interesting thing about this whole transformation, there is this whole subscription as a revenue model that’s actually changing. But the underlying thing that we are actually seeing is SaaSification of various industries that’s happening. So, what I mean by that is 90% of our customers consume the API and we call this SaaS and SaaS-like, because 70% of the customers are pure play and look like SAS businesses. And then there is a 20% of the businesses which actually are services that are getting SaaSified, like a case in point is a translation business like imagine Friends, which is a sitcom very popular and you want to show that in almost every language in Europe and around the world. Then you need to translate audio, you need to do the recording, you need closed captions, and everything needs to be translated. Imagine that natural language processing in AI is evolved so much that it can actually spit out all the translation and then actually do a great job than, let’s say, manually doing it in the previous era. And which means that a service business, which is $1bn, is actually productising the services and transforming a services business into a product of services business while there is still voiceover business to be done, they are actually leveraging the productization to actually do this faster, better. And our job in the SaaSifitcation is and the reason I say SaaSificaiton is, it’s not just slapping a product on top of services, it’s actually an inside out transformation of thinking about your revenue model where you don’t try to charge them, let’s say $1m to translate so many episodes. Instead, you say the pay as you go model. You are actually starting with a revenue model that changes from ‘how do I have a recurring stable revenue stream’ that goes with the growth through the customer based on what I am delivering to them, having customer success embedded into this revenue model who is incentivised on what all of that is inside of transformation of a business and not just like just a plastic change at the top. And it’s a fantastic seed from which we are a vantage point from which we are able to see these transformations happening. So, Russell, to answer your question, most SaaS and SaaS like businesses, which are high growth and going through this SaaSifcation of their industries powered mostly by SaaS services, e-learning and e-commerce. These are the businesses that we primarily serve and then but with 5000 customers. I can always quote like 50 or 100 customers almost in many industries, simply because there is a long tail of different types of industry leaders emerging in almost every industry imaginable.
Russ: [00:19:43] And how are you differentiating yourself then, when it comes to communicating the business and raising awareness to all those other businesses out there that you want to reach?
Krish: [00:19:52] We think of this as staying true to our DNA, which is our strength is in understanding a depth of a problem and solving that really well. So, it’s APA first product and we don’t want to come in with the arrogance to say, you know what, I solved everything for you. Instead, we have really well solved some problems, some really well up to 90% in the core of the product and then the rest, we have actually built a flexible way in which you can solve it yourself wherever we are not actually addressing the gaps. So, the interoperability of the product is something we are extremely proud of and we deliberately try to do that to deliver it, which is APA first, as well as an integrated solution from a CRM accounting system, payment processors or a host of other solutions, that’s one. The second one is every industry that we are operating in where we say we have a deep solution; we want to make sure that we are going really deep into it. A case in point is if it is a B2B company, and the ability to override price when I’m negotiating a contract is super important for me. The customers don’t come in and then always buy only from the website. That’s product in motion to try the product. But in B2B context, they always try before they buy. So, the buying process actually happens where there is a human many times where even product led growth has human-assisted sales, many times, which means that you should be able to override the price and still factor in some of these things. So, for us, the strength is in going deeper into the use cases that serves a particular industry is how we differentiate.
Holly: [00:21:17] Thinking about company culture for a minute, I suppose you’ve kind of operated in a high growth, fast-moving environment. How have you gone about building the culture at Chargebee?
Krish: [00:21:30] Pretty interesting topic because hard to define, and hard to practice. So, first time founder, the first 6-7 years, we had this thing where I said, “Hey, who are we to actually say this is the right behaviour?” So, we actually did not document it for 6-7 years, but we realised that when we were actually crossing this 200 plus people, people want to know what is celebrated, what’s frowned upon, and how do I know I belong here? So, we said, okay, how do we organically document? Then we actually did a bunch of workshops to actually survey what people like here and all of that. And then we identified four values that we said, okay, we should celebrate more of this and want more of this behaviour. And that led to us saying, okay, customer-centricity is one of the core values, not customer first, but customer-centricity, deliberately and empathy as one of the core values simply because, and then in hindsight, I’m happy that we picked empathy because in a distributed world, COVID affected the world, it has never been true then like necessary, right? Then it’s about to your own peers and customers and then the bias to action in some sense, I’ll actually admit that this is almost aspirational as well for us, which is just being the DNA of the team is being extremely thoughtful and we want to do the right thing. But the counterbalance to that is you need to act and fast even though you may not full information. So, we picked some of those values like bias to action and then of course curiosity to want to know deeper about a problem. Whatever you picked, like how do you have the genuine curiosity as things that we deliberately documented? I think the process of documenting the operating principles and values of the company was just one pillar, and then we look at two other pillars that we are now trying to raise awareness of as a company because culture is just, one is values, the second is rituals, and third is a habit. How do we ensure we are actually we are not leaning on just the values, but we have certain rituals about how we will build a product, how we will care about knowing the details of what problem are we solving? Same way, when it comes to habits, what we mean is simple things that will actually raise the standard of what we do really well, and those are three pillars that we look at is how we think about culture internally.
Holly: [00:23:37] Such a great way to look at it. So a big part of building a company culture is obviously all about internal communications and engaging with your with your team. You’ve now got a workforce of 1,200 people spread geographically across the world, as you mentioned, during COVID, lots of people have been working remotely and there’s been that big shift. How have you navigated that balance between communicating individually or on a team level within comms and when it needs to be addressing the entire team?
Krish: [00:24:13] Some of the things we spoke about, the values if they are not practised on a day-to-day basis, especially if it doesn’t pass that moment of truth, then it becomes hyperbole. So deliberately trying to figure out how to tie them together is where it’s one of the things we have been trying to do. Like when I’ll give an example of this when it comes to internal comms, as well as the demonstration of this, which is for the last four years plus, we have been doing this internal podcast listening session to celebrate curiosity as a value. And within that, we have hired and so when Covid hit every Friday, Now, in two times earlier, it used to be in one time zone, now we do it in two time zones. We just sit down in a room and then now we join in a zoom call, and we listen to podcasts. It could be on any random topic. Sometimes it’s about product, it’s about product marketing. Sometimes it’s about like somebody said, hey, we should understand more about let’s say when BLM was actually a huge thing in the US where the Black Lives Matter as a movement was taking off. Somebody said, hey, I think we should have increased appreciation for this, so it’s not a token to say, put some labels and stickers to support. Instead, why don’t we build more awareness about how to create an inclusive culture? So, we listened to topics from experts to say, how do you build an inclusive culture? And that led to some initiatives where for 12 months we brought external experts to come and talk about like once a month we had somebody coming in and talking about how to have awareness about diversity, equity and inclusion. What is the difference between equity and equality, things like that. So deliberately when you actually build a, demonstrate within the organisation, then, it’s first the growth mindset is necessary. Second is everybody, including us, should get very comfortable with saying, I don’t know enough about this topic, but you know what, we are going to sit down and learn. It actually creates a particular type of comfort within the organisation to get comfortable with the idea of just learning new things and not have to feel like, okay, I’m a manager, I’m supposed to be an expert in everything. No. Even if you are a CEO, you surely are good at certain things, but you are really bad at a lot of things. So, get comfortable with the idea and then do this. Then it actually permeates the organisation and that’s what we are hoping will continue to happen. And then you can build on that to cascade that through a series of communications, whether it’s in Slack or the tone of a message when it comes to all hands, meetings and everything, it actually cascades and when we bring in new leaders into the organisation, they will naturally follow this because this alliance did the behaviour that celebrated and looked upon, in the organisation. I think this is just one of the many ways we have tried to solve it, but happy to go into anything that you think is interesting here.
Holly: [00:26:43] And Krish, what about your role as an external spokesperson and representative of the business? How comfortable are you as an external spokesperson and what have you learned doing that along the way?
Krish: [00:26:56] I call myself a trained extrovert. To some extent, engineers. My safe space is okay going into the details and looking at problems and solving it. But it’s a role play and I’m enjoying this to learn on the job and which is good. But I think as I learn, as a company continues to scale and then when I look around at the talent around the table and the calibre of people who are able to own certain problems completely, my job is continuously changing almost on a 6-to-9-month basis. That’s not the job I have to do. Like three years back, I used to take full responsibility for like overall revenue, VP used to take full responsibility for the new sales, but then my commitment to the rest of the organisation when it comes to the board, internally was, okay, so overall revenue used to be my responsibility. Then we hired a CRO and now the CRO is in charge of revenue and thinking about the quarter and the year and what am I supposed to do in that one? So, you let go of the job and then you have to be firing yourself from that, but you focus on something else. So today I look at my job as primarily two or three things, which is one is the relationship and making sure that we have aligned execution about long term in terms of where we are heading, defining the box like a CRM is very clearly defined box, but subscription management is still not a defined box. So, I spend more and more of my time trying to understand this from the lens of the customer and where we need to go to build a differentiated long term category. And a product is one of the areas where I try to spend my time. The second is hiring and communication, I think you’ll be surprised by the number of times I actually hear from potential candidates who actually say, I listened to that podcast, this was interesting, or sometimes the customers listen to it, and say, okay, now that is interesting that I want to learn more and pay it forward, also happens where some people just reach out for help. So, most of my time is mainly focused on making sure that we are able to bring the right talent into the organisation and then communicating more often about what we are doing, and bringing that consistency internally and externally, are things that I mainly focus on. And of course just get the chats out of the way so people can just go solve their problems is the third one.
Russ: [00:29:03] I think you’re so right, though, about potential recruits listening to the podcast. Another client of ours that we produce content for said that you can’t get across the passion that they have for their business as much as when you obviously if you’ve got the ability to hear to when you’re listening to the podcast and hearing him or his team talking about it. But it was interesting you saying that you’re kind of learning on the job. Would you say you’ve always been a natural communicator or have you had to formulate a plan as the business has grown?
Krish: [00:29:34] I think just that is also another one where I just listen to a lot more people talking like Brian Halligan, I’m a fan, huge fan of Brian Halligan, founder and now chairman of HubSpot. Listen to him talk, and then you realise that actually, you know what? I can relate to him a lot more about him being that geek and introvert and a lot of things, and then he talks about taking a nap in the afternoon. So, you can be somebody who operates and built a company to a $1bn revenue can be that authentic, then there is no reason for me to be some fake to be somebody else. So, it gives you that increased confidence to feel like, yeah, you can be yourself and still build a good company, right? And so, I just try to listen to a lot more people and am very grateful for the number of people who actually put themselves out there in a very authentic way without actually looking different, trying to sound different. Instead, they are themselves and just listening to them, watching them are ways in which I’ve been learning on the job.
Russ: [00:30:28] We’ve certainly enjoyed, I mean, in this series, as I said at the top of the show, you’re our 25th unicorn Leader guest on the show and getting to hear the person you know like you said, the real person behind what you see on the website and all the corporate responses is, is great to have these chats. But in terms of those communications, then, what’s been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced since launching Chargebee and how did you overcome it?
Krish: [00:30:56] One of the things that I have, I’m still learning this, is how not to be taken out of context, because that’s one of my biggest fears by being misquoted or taken out of context because there is so much nuance to communication that how do you say something in a way that it’s actually understood with the context? It’s one of my biggest fears because if you want a depth of a nuance of a topic, then you have to go deeper. But in a world that is actually so distracted, it’s actually hard to actually have room for nuance. That’s just one of my fears. I do not know how to actually solve it, but I’m just I try to make sure that I give as much context as possible while trying to do it and becoming very comfortable with giving more context simply because I don’t want to give quick one-liners because that’s not my thing, but I’m more comfortable giving contextual answers. So, this is one of my biggest fears and challenges.
Holly: [00:31:48] And what about in general? So, kind of outside of comms, what would you say is the biggest challenge the CEO of a unicorn company faces?
Krish: [00:31:56] So the biggest challenge that I have faced, as the company continues to grow, is learning to hire people who are extremely way better than you, who have been executives in other companies, learning to hire them and manage them well, is something most of us have not been through. Especially as first-time founders, I have never been an exec, I’ve been a developer all my life before starting Chargebee, and now, when Chargebee was small, it didn’t matter because we were still figuring things out on the floor and all of that. And then there is a certain point when you actually start hiring executives who have been part of executive teams of largish companies, and you suddenly realise that there is a big gap in actually learning to completely delegate the problem and trusting them to actually solve it from being a hands-on person. I think this is one of the biggest challenges that our transformations because our job then completely changes to getting chairs out of the way, helping people make decisions and allowing them to execute, allowing them to make mistakes, because ultimately all of us learn faster with mistakes. But which ones do you actually have the right chokepoints and checkpoints to say this is important to me, but learning to know what to let go of that you would rather have the exec actually build to their style. But what do you actually allow for changes? Because the culture of a company doesn’t have to be the same. The ones that actually don’t evolve will die. So, the company’s culture is also very similar, it has to evolve with the relevance of the customers you serve, the market you serve, and of course, your own talent pool, the organisation itself. Or it’s just people and product and customers. Those are the three ingredients to build a great company. Which means that leaving room for all of these three things is one of the biggest learnings to figure out what to preserve, what to let go, and how to actually stay. Hands off.
Russ: [00:33:34] How much do you hire ahead?
Krish: [00:33:35] You always feel like you’re behind. But it’s a tricky balance.
Russ: [00:33:44] I’m thinking with a company that’s growing so quickly, that must be a huge challenge for you.
Krish: [00:33:48] Correct. I think more than hiring ahead, the way I think about this is how do you sequence the hires, when it comes to. There is always a feeling that you are upgrading one part of the organisation first because you cannot go and hire up the entire organisation at the same time. You leave room for people to actually grow into certain roles, and all of that continues to happen, and some people will actually scale beautifully because the individual’s ability to scale, right? Like it’s a cliche now, the company scales faster than the individuals and it’s very true. But at the same time, leaving room versus like at what point do you actually hire, is always a tricky problem. For me, the way I think about this is actually about sequencing the hires. For example, we deliberately hired our product director before we hired another revenue leader. The reason being we wanted to make sure that we got our segmentation right. We went deeper into who actually gets the most value out of our product to narrow the focus and then deliberately go slow and make it smooth so we can go faster. To be able to do that, we said we want the product leader who’s obsessed about it, who can actually help put us on that path to execute and take the product upmarket with our customers. So, we sequence. Otherwise, you bring in, let’s say, a great revenue lead at first, that person will do the right job of actually trying to scale revenue, but it might come at the cost of the product because you are likely to be everywhere if you have not done the homework of knowing who are your best customers, who do I want to sell? Who do I want to sell more to? So sequencing the hire, I think is more important than the stage of the hire, and when we actually do this sequencing right, I feel like we will get the stage very quickly because naturally, the organisation pulls itself where the product leader then needs a revenue partner, then the revenue partner needs a marketing partner, and then you will know whether your organisation is actually scaling or is it time for you to already hire the right person next.
Russ: [00:42:46] Excellent. Krish, we’ve got one final question for you. We’ve asked all our unicorn leaders pretty much the same thing. If you could go back in time and give your younger self some guidance on how to excel in communications, what would it be and why?
Krish: [00:35:47] Invest more time in deliberately watching more podcasts, listen to others talk or watch others talk is one of those things that I would actually give myself as a lesson, simply because I think there is no better way to actually then watch and learn. There is so much that you end up picking up by just watching other stuff and especially peer group or people who are just further ahead of you. There is so much to learn, so I think that’s one piece of advice I would give myself.
Russ: [00:36:15] Krish Subramanian, thank you so much for taking the time to join us online and record this today. Really appreciate it.
Krish: [00:36:21] Thank you for having me. This was fun. Thank you.
Russ: [00:36:25] Holly, what a lovely guy Krish was, really enjoyed that. Any thoughts on what he had to say?
Holly: [00:36:29] What a great chat, I guess there’s probably three things from that discussion. Firstly, I loved how in terms of building their company culture, they’re not just focused on aspirational values, but they’ve then gone that one step further and defined what their rituals and habits as an organisation would be. I like the fact that something that you can really get your hands around as an employee. But secondly, the point he made about, as a communicator, how it’s more important to be authentic than try to be fake or someone you’re not. That’s clearly a real strength of his as we kind of took away from that chat, kind of what a great guy and a really likeable, personable, discussion that we just had with him. And lastly, I think it’s super brave, but a huge challenge as you’re building a company, the point he made around not being afraid to hire people that are smarter or have better experience than you do. That’s a real shift, I think, for a lot of these unicorn CEOs that we’re talking to that you have to go through that process where you realise that as the founder and owner of a company, you don’t know it all and you’ve got to hire the right people that can answer questions you can’t.
Russ: [00:37:44] Excellent summary. Thanks for that. I really, really enjoyed the chat with him. That is actually it though, for this latest episode with our special series with Tyto. If you want to find out more about Chargebee, their website is very simply Chargebee.com. We’d love to hear your comments on today’s chat, you can do that by sharing them on our Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter feeds, and you can also do it in the comments of the YouTube version of this podcast. Those are all linked from the top of our website at csuitepodcast.com, where you’ll also find all our previous shows and supporting show notes, plus links to where you can follow us for automatic downloads of each episode via the likes of Spotify and Apple. And if you’ve liked what you’ve heard, please do give us a positive rating and review. We’re of course, available on all podcast apps. Just search for the csuite podcast hit, follow or subscribe, and don’t forget, you can also subscribe to the Without Borders podcast from our partners at Tyto. All the details for that are on their website. Just head to Tytopr.com, click on the podcast link in the top nav bar. And then also while you’re there, you can also download a copy of Growing Without Borders, the Unicorn CEO Guide to Communication and Culture. That’s an overview of the first 15 of our unicorn interviews. If you are a unicorn leader yourself and you’d like to be part of this series, please do get in touch via the contact form on the website at csuitepodcast.com, and of course, anyone can get in touch with any feedback you may have. And then finally you can also reach me via Twitter using @RussGoldsmith or you can find me on LinkedIn. But for now, thanks for listening and goodbye.