A New World, Built by Entrepreneurs

By Dilawar Syed WG’02, President of Freshdesk

The rise of entrepreneurial capital and startups in tech hubs across the planet has spurred an economic revolution in communities, regions, and countries around the world and is having a profound socio-economic impact.

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Why is entrepreneurship flourishing? 

For the first time in modern history, we have broad and substantive access to shared knowledge and innovation from across the globe. Value creation in a global context is no longer limited to the strictures and barriers that affect the trade of goods and services across geographical borders; no longer is value tied to labor arbitrage and migration alone.

In the high-tech sector in particular, the emergence of the (now ubiquitous) Cloud and the rise of channels such as Google has helped level the playing field for entrepreneurs to conceive, launch, and build global businesses from any place in the world.

From dorm rooms in Paris to shared work spaces in Hyderabad to industrial parks in Jakarta and Istanbul, we are bearing witness to the democratization of high-growth entrepreneurship. And my company is a poster child for that movement.

Freshdesk’s own story illustrates the effect of this revolution. Backed by leading investors, our company has become a pioneer in customer service software, with more than 80,000 customers in 145 countries. That success was possible because of how technology enabled access to knowledge, customers, and even infrastructure.

Freshdesk had the advantage of hosting our business in the cloud, freeing us from huge infrastructure expense and effort. Services like Amazon Web Services and Google meant we could build a global software business quickly and affordably. For a product-centric business, being cloud-based has enabled us to scale in a way that we could not have done in earlier times — forging trade routes powered by data and fiber optics.

We were also able to take advantage of new distribution channels like Google to sell in any market — without setting foot in the country. Our first customer, for example, was in Australia. We had access to a wealth of knowledge and the dynamic exchange of ideas with the potential to become a powerhouse from any point on the globe — in our case Chennai, India (formerly known as Madras, which, ironically served as a gateway to the East India Company, a 17th-century trading company, which was a precursor to the British Empire’s colonization of the Indian sub-continent).

What We’ve Learned

These are the lessons that we’ve learned, and wish to pass on:

  • Aim high above the horizon.We’re building products with value for any business, not for businesses in a country or a region, or a specific vertical market. We’re focusing on world-class quality — products with a truly global demand, solutions that suit any company in the world marketplace at the stage where their brand needs customer service.
  • Follow those who inform demand and lead progress.We focus on tracking and quickly leveraging innovation and trends, ensuring that we have front-row seats in the arenas where technology leaders are spurring change. To this end, we moved to set up our global headquarters and North America go-to-market operation in Silicon Valley a couple of years after the founding of the company.
  • Extend your culture, don’t abandon it. We are a team of over 700 people organized in integrated and distributed teams across the globe. Sometimes we all work together toward a corporate goal; sometimes we are laser focused in smaller collaborations. This is a different model from traditional business hierarchies, and important because it prepares our brand for both geographical and intellectual growth.

This flexible workforce approach allows for prudent geo-expansion. You’ll start small and rely on a core group in the early years but take care to expand your reach without losing the values that shaped you. Keep the focus on the empowerment, trust, and passion for quality that affirm your founding spirit.

It matters that we’re evolving without weakening our culture. I find it heartening and inspiring that Freshdesk is able to maintain this focus and that our cultural tenets remain strong as our teams grow in Berlin, Chennai, London, the San Francisco Bay Area and Sydney.

Formative Times: An Entrepreneur’s Worldview

Aspiring entrepreneurs at Plan9 Incubator in Lahore, Pakistan
Aspiring entrepreneurs at Plan9 Incubator in Lahore, Pakistan

Born and raised in Pakistan, I immigrated to the United States on a student visa for an undergraduate education. Today, I have had the opportunity to run companies — from Silicon Valley to Istanbul, Turkey—and the privilege of engaging with hundreds of small and medium businesses in diaspora communities across the U.S. as President Obama’s Commissioner for the Asian-American community.

At Freshdesk, as we build a global brand from Silicon Valley and Chennai, India, and as I spend time with our teams and local entrepreneurs across South Asia, I have a front line view of how startups are having a profound influence and impact. Entrepreneurs are reaching out across borders, and a new wave of young leaders is emerging — ready to come together for value-creation, leaving behind old conflicts.

Give as You Go

Take a look at the list of countries that have held GES events — Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Morocco, Malaysia, and the U.S. We are distributed, yet united with a shared purpose, working on innovative solutions to some of the world’s toughest challenges.

Vice President Joe Biden greeting Turkish entrepreneurs at GES Istanbul — 2010.
Vice President Joe Biden greeting Turkish entrepreneurs at GES Istanbul — 2010.

It’s within our power to continue to work toward the goal President Obama identified in Cairo in 2009 as he announced the global entrepreneurship initiative aimed at “harmony between tradition and progress.” It’s within our power to change the world by continuing to support the most disruptive influence in business—entrepreneurs. We have an opportunity few receive: to bring about socio-economic impact in communities, to reduce conflict in the world, to bridge across ways of life and ways of thinking, to move us closer to the ideal—a place where our common goals can have a significant impact on humanity.

We have a role—and a responsibility—to unleash innate talent irrespective of physical borders, to work toward turning instability to security, to help heal old wounds, to lessen the tensions that drive us apart as people. These goals are far more consequential for the world than what goes on here in a single valley, in a single region, in one state, in one country. I can’t think of anything more crucial than shared prosperity as a way to be the change we wish to see in the world.

And that’s something we can all aspire to. As entrepreneurs and people.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Medium.

Bio: An entrepreneur with experience in building and scaling businesses globally, Dilawar Syed WG’02, president at Freshdesk, has a track record of leadership in consumer web, SaaS and enterprise software with Silicon Valley’s top names including Yahoo!, Siebel Systems/Oracle and SAP; as well as in entrepreneurial efforts in emerging markets as CEO of Yonja Media Group, a social media company backed by Tiger Global. Dilawar is active in civic efforts and served on President Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans.