Part of our special series of episodes of the csuite podcast that we’re recording in partnership with the European PR Agency Tyto and their own Without Borders podcast, this interview is with Krish Subramaniam, CEO and Co-Founder of Chargebee.
The 25th in our series of episodes that we’re recording in partnership with the European PR agency Tyto and their own Without Borders podcast, where we are interviewing leaders of unicorn companies. This interview is with Krish Subramaniam, CEO and Co-Founder of Chargebee.
The Amsterdam-based subscription management platform automates the operations of over 4000 high-growth subscription-based businesses. It’s CEO Krish Subramanian, “took the leap” into start-up life by co-founding the company in 2011, making a nine-year dream, a reality. Previously a software engineer, he and his co-founder met as classmates in their engineering days.
The business reached Unicorn status in April 2021, raising a total of $470 million leaving its valuation exceeding $3.5bn.
Can you explain why you decided to set up Chargebee?
“Over 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 had 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.”
What was your vision, and has it changed since the start?
“The idea of learning to build a good company, I don’t think it ever stops, so that has been and 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.
We did not imagine or foresee that so many businesses will embrace subscriptions the way they are embracing today.”
How did reaching Unicorn change the perception of the company?
“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.
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.”
“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.”
How have you built company culture at Chargebee?
“When we were crossing 200+ people, people want to know what is celebrated, what’s frowned upon, and how do I know I belong here? So, we said, ‘how do we organically document?’ Then we ran workshops to actually survey what people like here. And then identified four values that said we should celebrate more of this and want more of this behaviour.
We are now trying to raise awareness as a company because culture is just one of the values, the second is rituals, and third is habit. How do we ensure 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 raise the standard of what we do really well, and those are three pillars that we look at.”
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?
“For the last four years plus, we have been doing this internal podcast listening session to celebrate curiosity as a value. 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 marketing. Sometimes it’s about like somebody said, hey, we should understand more about Black Lives Matter when the movement was taking off and we should have increased appreciation for this.
That led to some initiatives where for 12 months we brought external experts to talk monthly. 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.
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 creates a particular type of comfort within the organization 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.”