Freshworks’ Engineering & Technology

Keeping Customer Engagement Fresh:

Behind the scenes of the leading Saas customer engagement solutions

With a vision to make India a leading SaaS products nation, Freshworks has been spearheading innovation and engineering in the industry. With a wide range of incredibly successful customer engagement products, Freshworks has become one of the top SaaS companies, not just in India but beyond. That is why it simply made sense to kick off our second edition of CTOtalk with STS Prasad, Senior Vice President of Engineering at Freshworks, and get an insight into their journey of steady, exponential growth.

STS Prasad’s impressive background, immense expertise, and experience working with industry leaders like HCL, Junglee, and Amazon, are few of the reasons that we knew we had to have him on CTOtalk. Graciously accepting our invitation, despite being in a different timezone, STS Prasad (hereby referred to as STS) gave us an incredible episode 1 with deep insights into Freshworks’ Technology and Engineering. Here’s a recap of our immensely informative season 2 premiere, in its new virtual format.

How it began and how it’s going: the Freshworks journey

STS started at the beginning, by sharing the decade-long timeline of Freshworks;  from when it was a single-product company called Freshdesk, to the expansions, acquisitions, and consolidations it has gone through to become the multi-product organization it is now. The inspiring evolution from a cloud-based customer service software to the dynamic range of cutting-edge SaaS products including top AI/ML capabilities is owed largely to the team identifying the prospects and opportunities in the business model they first employed. They saw potential in expanding their services and extending them to multiple business domains instead of focusing solely on building one product. Relying on this insight and taking the leap has skyrocketed their progress, evidently.

Now in 2020, Freshworks has 10+ SaaS products on the shared Freshworks platform and a Marketplace where third-party developers can build capabilities for the available products themselves. From  100,000 customers and 387 engineers to 300,000+ customers and 1000+ engineers, Freshworks’ growth is nothing short of incredible.

The way we’re built: a quick look into the product architecture:

The first preview into what’s behind the scenes at Freshworks’ technology began with a high-level overview of Freshdesk’s architecture, which is predominantly used among the products on the Freshworks platform.

Freshdesk uses Ruby on Rails as the backend server technology and Ember is the framework used to develop web applications. Freshworks has recently been investing in Java-based microservices to extend Freshdesk’s functionalities and it has proven to be cost-effective and impactful. They use MySQL as the primary transactional database and Redis for caching. “There are multiple persistent data stores and other databases that we use, but these remain the predominant elements within the Freshdesk architecture”, he pointed out.

Taking the insight into the tech further, STS shared the production architecture for Freshdesk that charted how they overlay the overall technical components of the Freshdesk architecture into their AWS infrastructure. What stands out is the shell architecture that they worked on and launched a few years ago. It has allowed Freshworks’ products to have dedicated compute capacity for specific customer segments and has proven valuable in terms of being able to isolate customers from each other.

“A unified platform just made sense”: the rationale behind Freshworks platform

“Our initial rationale for starting the Freshworks platform was engineering efficiency. As Freshworks embarked upon its multi-product journey, there were different engineers working on reports, search, email interface, and channels for the different products; “Our initial driver to build a platform was the question of why do we need to have people with the shared level of expertise working independently?” And so, the team unified the skills and services for a shared platform instead of for every individual product.

“We also started noticing that our customers use multiple Freshworks products and that’s when the business justification for a shared platform was born – driving customer value across adjacent products and features.”  With a shared platform, Freshworks capitalized upon the opportunity to deliver offerings across multiple products, and over time this became the primary driver for the Freshworks platform.

Another rationale that came into play as Freshworks scaled was infrastructure cost optimization, which allowed them to replace third-party vendors with their own internal platform. Investing in the platform has not only brought down costs at Freshworks’ scale but increased their quality of service.

“These three rationales have been the three drivers in building out the Freshworks platform, what we call Neo today. One element that we are beginning to invest more into, is the product platform itself – where we are looking to separate the underlying platform from the product’s functionality that we deliver to the end-users, through microservices, component frameworks and such.” Developing a product-specific platform with a rich set of APIs will give mid-market and enterprise customers the ability to extend the product without the hassle of engineering APIs on top of a UI-oriented product.

“This concept has to be an important consideration for your venture, even if you’re a single-product company”.

Making AI/ML work for you: the challenges in AI-first thinking

While speaking about Freshworks’ venture into incorporating AI capabilities with the launch of Freddy, STS highlighted a few challenges that a lot of companies might face while making the move to AI/ML.

“When dealing with customer problems and solutions without AI capabilities, the approach tends to be largely functional. While embedding Freddy into our products, one of the principal challenges was approaching customer requirements with an AI mindset”.   Automating the workflow by leveraging the large amounts of customer data that was available to ultimately reduce the human input in that workflow has become one of Freshworks’ areas of expertise and STS says they’re still learning.

Another challenge that Freshworks tackled when integrating Freddy was helping the technical experts who came onboard understand the various customer domains. Aligning their expertise with the domain-specific needs of the customers though initially time-consuming, has paid off and continues to do so, with Freddy’s capabilities evolving consistently.

Seen, learned, and shared: STS’ engineering observations

Having illuminated CTOtalk’s audience about the technology and engineering at Freshworks, STS moved to enlighten the people with his personal observations in his career as an engineer.

  • He shared insights into what the optimal specialization ratio in a team should be – 1:1:6 across product management, UX design, and Engineering respectively he said. An organization needs to maintain a healthy balance across the functions to avoid ‘overspecialization’ and orient its employees with a range of specialties, which will benefit both the company and the employee.
  • “My aim is to make Freshworks always seem like a startup for my engineers”. Aiming for an eternal startup environment inculcates a strong sense of ownership and brings an intense focus to the customers, he observed. How Freshworks maintains this startup culture is through its adaptation of the agile methodology that allows employees to see the bigger picture and work towards it.
  • Evolving your Quality Assurance is pivotal to growth and expansion. “At Freshworks, the goal is to ensure that QA as a function owns the customer experience of the product”. When the Quality Assurance team has the overall customer experience at every step, it ripples out as exponential progress for the product and organization.

STS’s talk was followed by a lively discussion with lots of questions pouring in from the audience. Overall, it was an incredibly informative session and provided a deep insight into Freshworks’ engineering prowess and tech stack.

Did you miss out on this exciting and brilliant session? You can catch another industry leader on episode 2, coming in Jan. Follow CTOtalk on LinkedIn to stay updated.

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