Abinash Tripathy, Co-Founder and CEO, Helpshift

Anil Mascarenhas, Editor, IIFL | Mumbai | October 17, 2016 14:41 IST

"...what used to be considered “Customer Relationship Management” has really turned into “Customer Record Management.” Since we launched, Helpshift is bringing the RELATIONSHIP back into CRM.”

Abinash Tripathy, Co-Founder and CEO, Helpshift
Abinash Tripathy, Co-Founder and CEO, Helpshift, is utilizing his 20 years of experience with technology and CRM to re-imagine CRM for the post-PC era. Prior to founding Helpshift, Abinash created and ran a number of early and growth stage companies where he was responsible for conceptualizing and delivering the world’s first IP-based Voicemail/Unified communications, Mobile Photo Messaging (in Japan) and MMS products to the market. He started his career at Oracle where he wrote the first in-house CRM solution. 
Helpshift is revolutionizing the customer support experience on mobile. Through an intuitive user interface, Helpshift makes it easy for businesses large and small to proactively support and engage their customers. Their support platform includes native functionality such as in-app FAQs, in-app chat, a full CRM ticketing system, in-app campaigns, and in-app surveys, making it easy for companies to provide a best-in-class customer support experience on any device. Companies such as Zynga, Virgin Media, Microsoft, Western Union, Flipboard, Shyp, WordPress, and thousands of other industry-leading brands, startups, and developers use the Helpshift platform to provide in-app support. To date, Helpshift has raised $36.2 million and is backed by Intel Capital, Microsoft Ventures, Nexus Venture Partners, Salesforce Ventures, True Ventures, and Visionnaire Ventures.
Replying to Anil Mascarenhas of IIFL, Abinash Tripathy says, “…what used to be considered “Customer Relationship Management” has really turned into “Customer Record Management.” Since we launched, Helpshift is bringing the RELATIONSHIP back into CRM.”
You wrote the first in-house CRM solution for Oracle. Walk us through how your journey has been and what significant changes have you seen in CRM over the decades.
One of my favorite college professors wanted me to get a PhD in Artificial Intelligence, but I decided to pursue a career in databases and software engineering.  I started my career at Oracle and created their first in-house Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system in 1995 (before the CRM industry was born).
In 2011, I predicted that mobile was the way to go, with regards to customer support. I knew it was time for a new kind of customer support experience – one powered within company’s apps. It was then Helpshift created an in-app helpdesk modelled around mobile messaging like SMS, Whatsapp etc that could be embedded in apps making it friction free for users to engage with companies that built these apps.
Through legacy CRM providers, what used to be considered “Customer Relationship Management” has really turned into “Customer Record Management.” Since we launched, Helpshift is bringing the RELATIONSHIP back into CRM.
Were you tech-inclined since your young days? Tell us a little about your ambitions early in life and how did the idea of Helpshift come about?
Yes, I started working on computers as early as 12. They provided a creative outlet to me where I could create anything that I could imagine.   As a child the natural inclination was towards games.  I started creating small games on my Sinclair PC.  This fascination with being able to command a machine to do things I wanted, led me to go deeper in this field.  I studied computer science in high school, college and went to the US for a Masters in CS on a scholarship funded by Oracle.  This led to me working at Oracle in the early part of my career as a technologist. Post -Oracle, I worked as an early employee at Openwave Systems Inc., the pioneers of the Mobile Internet 1.0 (WAP). At Openwave, I helped in conceptualizing and delivering the world’s first IP based Voicemail/Unified communications, Mobile Photo Messaging (in Japan) and MMS products to the market. 
I helped set up the Indian division of Zimbra, Inc and watched it grow to 40 employees. Every place I worked, I saw myself as more like an ‘intrapreneur’ than an employee. You could say I got my entrepreneurial experience with each position I was at so I had the confidence I could start a successful company and identify great talent to be on my team. After Zimbra is when I got together with my co-founder Baishampayan Ghose to start Helpshift.
What are the trends being seen in the Mobile CRM industry?
According to a Gartner report, 40 percent of all CRM activities are SaaS or cloud-based CRM solutions.
Findings by a recent survey conducted by NASSCOM revealed that the SMB market is expected to grow at a rate of 15% annually. With such growth, IT spends of such companies are expected to grow further with CRM platforms as their top priority.
We have studied the market and noticed that at least one in every five mobile users actively seeks help within the apps they use. Our user base revealed that of the 2B+ billion mobile devices polled, 20% percent actively sought help.
Additionally, an estimated 95% of mobile apps in the app store lack an in-app channel for customers to get immediate support.
Of the 284 million users who actively sought help in-app, only seven percent proceeded to file a support ticket after utilizing a specific self-service FAQ provided in-app, thus proving the efficacy of proactive in-app support.
In a world said to lack common sense, Artificial Intelligence is gaining traction. How are you viewing the situation and what are some exciting sightings here?
There have been some exciting developments in the field of AI and machine learning in the past few years, and that has opened up a lot of new possibilities. Microsoft, Google, Amazon are all betting on AI in a big way. AI algorithms are on the verge of being commoditised; it’s the data that’s going to matter more. Companies that already have a lot of user data are using it to drive better customer experiences via their AI. One can predict that large customer service platforms will only get better with more data and that might give them a formidable edge.
Explain to us your business model. How is Helpshift proactively supporting and engaging its customers? What role do you see for messaging?
Helpshift is a customer support platform that helps businesses better engage and retain their customers in a mobile environment. Our goal is to bring Customer Relationship Management (CRM) into the post-PC era where mobile customers can receive help at the point of need and in their preferred channel - mobile. We believe tailoring the customer’s support experience to mobile’s unique characteristics is crucial to increase retention, drive higher ratings, and improve the overall mobile experience. We designed the in-app help experience to quickly assist users when searching for answers to their problems via a searchable native FAQ -- localized in over 34 languages. If users are unable to resolve their issues, they can then start an in-app chat with the support team. We also built a dashboard specifically to help customer support teams efficiently collaborate to solve customer issues at scale.
Do you find traditional solutions adequately optimised for mobile? Give us an idea about your support platform. By when do you see a post-PC era?
We at Helpshift are built around providing a very high quality experience inside an app (whether it is on a mobile device, a desktop PC or the web), and that’s what sets us apart. We aim at making the in-app support experience as convenient and effective as possible.
We believe the reason CRM software has underperformed for customers is because all the data entry into CRM is manual. Since we are a mobile SDK (Software Development Kit) that gets embedded into apps, we are able to collect information about the customer automatically in very large scale in the order of billions per day. We are investing heavily in applying machine learning and AI to make sense of this data to help our clients become efficient by augmenting their workflows. We invest heavily in making our product self-service and easy to consume like any best in class SaaS product.
What would be the count of devices on which Helpshift is installed? How many customers do you service annually?
Helpshift, today, has been installed on more than 2+ Billion devices worldwide, and serves 400+ Million mobile customers monthly. Post its product launch in 2013, it has been clocking a year on year growth rate of 300%.
You raised some money recently. What are the funds being utilized for? What are your expansion plans?
We have raised total funding of $36.2M so far, with the recent Series B round of $23 M from Microsoft Ventures, Salesforce Ventures and our existing investors - Intel Capital, Nexus Venture Partners, True Ventures and Visionnaire Ventures. We have been using the funding judiciously allowing us to chart a good growth plan.
The funding will be used to move the product towards our vision of autonomous customer support where machine learning technology will be used to automate large parts of the customer support workflow driving efficiencies for both companies and their customers.
Brief us about your financials. What is the outlook?
We’ve had two consecutive years of over 300% revenue growth.
We monetise in two ways – on the basis of the monthly active user of the app, or for every agent on the brand’s backend who use our system.
Any impact with the US Presidential elections considering that much of your revenue comes from US?
It is a historic election that could impact a lot of countries and industries. The high tech industry has traditionally relied on knowledge workers from all over the world and the free flow and trade of these resources.  It is to be seen how policy like closing immigration or dis-incentivizing US businesses from offshoring would affect the industry.  
How do you manage the currency fluctuations?
Since we are headquartered in the US and all our revenue and investment is in the US, we have benefitted from the weakness in INR.  We keep our treasury in the US and move small amounts of funds needed to operate our India entity to take advantage of the fluctuations.
Give us a shareholding pattern of your company? Any plans to dilute stake? Do you plan to get listed?
The company is privately held by major Investors:
  • Nexus Venture Partners
  • True Ventures
  • Intel Capital
  • Visionnaire Ventures
  • Salesforce Ventures
  • Microsoft Ventures
  • Founders
  • Employees
We just recently raised a B round and are well capitalized with no immediate plans to raise any additional round of funding.
Name some of your prominent clients? How is the revenue mix among your top 10 clients?
Companies such as Zynga, Virgin Media, Microsoft, Western Union, Flipboard, WordPress, Honeywell, AMC Networks, Viacom, Turner Communications and thousands of other industry-leading brands, start-ups, and developers use the Helpshift platform to provide in-app support. In India, we work with the Times Group, Redbus and Common Floor.
You spoke about the need for developers of enterprise apps to focus on in-app care. Tell us more about it.
Customer Support has been one of the most difficult aspects to deal with- for companies and consumers. It’s a sore issue with all of us as customers. In an effort to make it more convenient and easier, companies spend huge sums of money on contact centres ($350B annually to be precise) and customer relationship management platforms and technologies ($30B annually).
For mobile applications, a common problem noticed is that taking the customer outside the app to address an issue poses a good risk of losing the customer. A problem must be dealt within the app in a quick and easy manner leading to a far more enjoyable experience for the user. This helps the company build customer loyalty.
When businesses were pushed online, they lost the one-to-one relationships customers valued. Buyers today interact with “web/mobile-fronts,” and have trouble reaching real people in moments of need. The personal touch has been lost. In a world which is losing touch with ‘real’ people and interacting more on the tech-powered replies, how do you propose to make it easy for businesses to care for their customers?
Companies are seeing that mobile can be a hugely strategic customer channel. It helps them maintain a healthy communication medium with the customer. They then invest top dollar to build a storefront (an app) and acquire these mobile users.
Helpshift sits inside of their app to ensure those new expensive customers remain engaged (through targeted push campaigns), and proactively avoid any in-app frustration through native FAQs and In-App Messaging. Customers are happy if brands solve their problems effectively with the least amount of time and effort.
Happy, engaged users spend more money in-app, and are more loyal to the app, in an age where many brands’ services are commoditized in a crowded app store environment.
Is the domestic market big enough for CRM-based products? Comment on the size and opportunities here and abroad?
The global market for SaaS is very mature in comparison with India. The buyer is a lot more educated, discerning and has a lot of choice (so many me too companies). They are not as price sensitive and are willing to pay a premium for products that have depth and solve problems elegantly.
The Indian buyer is less sophisticated and obsessed on low price and not value in terms of how adopting tools will reduce their human costs. We have run into well-funded startups operating their CRM from excel spreadsheets in India which is unheard off in the western, more mature markets.
What are the challenges?
The biggest challenge in gaining traction was in educating customers on why they needed to do this when there were established models in the web era (email support, phone etc.) which our larger competitors like Salesforce and Zendesk were selling already. The strategy we adopted was to go after the largest apps in most categories in the app store and win them which would make others take notice of what we had to offer and this payed off. When Helpshift started working with Supercell, it was embedded in games like Clash of Clan (100s of millions of people play every month) then two things became clear:
  • Helpshift’s in-app experience was powerful and compelling for their customers and was indeed better than the email and web support model for mobile app
  • Helpshift’s platform could scale for very large publishers like Supercell and was ready for enterprise customers.

What is your team size? How do you retain talent?
Currently, our team comprises of roughly 120 people - majority are engineers based out of our Pune office. Our sales and marketing team is largely in US.
We, at Helpshift, understand the importance of each and every individual employee working with us. Our aim has always been to create a friendly and stress- free environment for them. Flexible work hours, indoor games, regular team building activities etc are a few employee friendly policies are followed in our workplace.
Your message to entrepreneurs and engineers?
Helpshift is a very unique environment where we get to work on tech that affects billions. Our SDK is installed on over 2+B devices and we serve over 4B requests per day with our infrastructure for apps like Clash of Clan and MicrosoftOutlook. 

My message to engineers is - Be a part of a really awesome team of engineers, learn a lot and work on really hard problems that make the life of billions of users better. And for entrepreneurs  - its important to focus on creating world class technology, on innovating and building great products.


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