revolutionary war

The online customer service software platform war wages on. In one corner, we have the large and well-established Zendesk. In the other, the two-year-old up-and-comer upstart, Freshdesk. And, of course, in a third corner we have a slew of other contenders like Uservoice, h2desk, TenderApp, Desk.com, CharmHQ, to just name a few.

But let’s take the two biggest, the Hertz and Avis of customer service platform companies. Like Avis, Freshdesk implies that it tries harder, and just announced that it has reached 10,000 customers. Given that the company launched its product in mid-2011, this shows steady improvement. The startup will go so far to claim that its the “fastest growing company in the customer support space.” That’s a bit like being the smartest person in Lost Springs, Wyoming, population 4 (as of the 2010 census).

Freshdesk, which offers a virtual customer support software-as-a-service, has a unique genesis. According to its director of marketing, Vikram Bhaskaran, the idea came from a Hacker News thread in 2010 that reported that Zendesk had raised its price 300 percent to all of its customers. The co-founders, Girish Mathrubootham and Shan Krishnasamy, read one reply which went something to the effect of ‘the time is right for a new player to offer a kind of solution with the right price points.’

Do people really talk (type?) like this? I don’t know, but that’s their story.

It got the two thinking, and two days later they quit their jobs to found Freshdesk.

From there the company has gained notoriety for being a scrappy counterpart to other customer service bellwethers like Zendesk. Since then, the Accel and Tiger Global backed startup has launched a freemium package. (Disclosure: Accel Partners is an investor in PandoDaily). In addition, it launched a $10 million fund called Freshdesk Future Fund with the sole purpose of giving the software to 501 startups and early-stage businesses.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by competitors either. Last year there was a public Twitter spat, where a paid Zendesk blogger called Freshdesk unethical trolls. Going even further, the writer, in a tweet, attacked Freshdesk founders’ Indian ethnicity. Not backing down, Zendesk’s CEO then tweeted that its competitor was a “freakin’ rip-off.”

At the time, Freshdesk was still a pretty small operation, with only 100 or so customers. So it’s odd that Zendesk would lash out so publicly. In fact, maybe it helped its rival because the last few years have proven fruitful for Freshdesk.

This 10,000 mark represents to Bhaskaran what the company is doing right: offering a good service at a fair price point. If you speak to him, he’ll wax philosophic about the company’s origins and the many improvements it’s made. To him, this exhibits the kind of culture customer-facing software providers should be endowed with.

“We’ve always believed in being a nice company,” he told me. Not as catchy as “do no evil,” but a friendly sentiment – and don’t we all want customer service operators to be that way?

At the same time, Freshdesk still has a lot of climbing to do. Zendesk announced its 10,000th customer more than two and a half years ago, and was said to have 20,000 enterprise clients last December. It’s been rumored that Zendesk may be lining up its ducks in a row for an IPO.

In contrast, Freshdesk’s 10,000 mark represents all customers — including those who use freemium. The company would not disclose how many paying customers it has. At the same time, it had 5,000 customers in April meaning its user-base doubled in just four months.

Either way, if there’s a customer service battle to be waged, Freshdesk seems up for it. What would it need to catch Hertz, er, Zendesk? Maybe another Twitter spat, although my guess is Zendesk learned its lesson.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia]