We caught up with Freshworks’ General Manager UK&I, Simon Johnson, to find out what makes him tick…
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
My most memorable achievements are split between my professional and my personal life.
Professionally, my greatest achievement is establishing the Freshworks London office. We’ve been able to take it from a zero to a multi-million-dollar region within a few years. Today, we have 45+ amazing people operating from our London home, doubling our revenue year-on-year.
On a personal level, I have completed the London marathon multiple times, pulling my time down to 3:30hrs. I’ve also trained to become an FA Level 1 qualified football coach, giving me the opportunity to coach my son’s village team, both of which I’m very proud of. This gives me more time to spend with my two passions, my family and football. As a youth, I played a great deal of football, including U18 England Trials.
What first made you think of a career in technology?
I started my career in technology as a pre-sales engineer at a video editing hardware company based in Cambridge. Most of my time there was spent installing and supporting render farms for post-production companies in Soho. It was an extremely interesting job due to the emergence of programmes like ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ and the experience gave me a great understanding of computer architecture and operating systems. After spending a year travelling around Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia, I took up an Enterprise Sales role in a software company in Cambridge called Redgate Software. I grew into a leadership position and the role gave me the opportunity to travel the world, and ultimately set up sales teams in Cambridge, Los Angeles and Singapore. I haven’t looked back since.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
Any good leader must be fluid. In my early days at Freshworks, I was very hands-on, doing all the hiring, planning and setting the strategy personally. The focus was on how we scale up and keep increasing revenue. Now I focus more on how to keep my team happy and driving towards clear OKRs for the region. I like to practice situational leadership which allows me to reflect on where people are in their development cycle and adjust my management style to help them perform at their best, both for the benefit of the people in my team and the wider business.
What do you think will emerge as the technology trend of 2020 and why?
In 2020 we will see continued and substantial growth around conversational UIs. Consumers are increasingly wanting real-time answers from beautifully simple software. They have a preference for Chat software, and are happy dealing with Chatbot and AI platforms. However, consumers now have more choice than ever and brand loyalty is low, therefore organisations need to balance technology with service delivery to improve the customer experience and enhance loyalty to a brand. We will also see greater use of messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram for businesses.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
Freshworks is seeing more and more of its competitors talking about the Master Customer Record – the basic unit of information regarding any customer that resides across the multiple communication channels that you engage with your customers on. Today, companies can augment customer record information with new forms of data, including blog post data or profile information from social media platforms. It really is a game-changer when it comes to delivering the next level of customer experience and insights. Fortunately, Freshworks has an advantage in this regard as it’s something that we have been doing from day one. With our early focus on the customer record, we can provide our customers with a single view of their end-users, enabling them to deliver greater customer satisfaction scores.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside of the office?
First and foremost, I spend as much time as possible with my family. I have two boys who are 10 and eight so they keep me very busy. Working out is also important when it comes to dealing with stress and unwinding and I have set myself the challenge of completing a sub 40-minute 10k and a sub 7-minute 2K row this year. As previously mentioned, I am also a qualified FA Football Coach and run the local U10 football team, which combines my passions for family, football, and fitness.
If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?
There is nothing in particular that I would do differently. I have thoroughly enjoyed my career and there certainly isn’t anything I regret. My time travelling has given me the ambition to work abroad in my career and face the challenge of running and growing teams in different areas of the globe. This is something that I would be keen to continue doing.
What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in Europe?
Thankfully most of the software deployment and application usage in Europe is relatively similar across countries. The challenges are presented in the different cultural ways of working and how customers like to receive their support. Thankfully at Freshworks, we have a diverse team across a number of regions in Europe, so we are able to tailor our approaches to support the needs of local customers.
What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?
Freshworks is an extremely fast-moving organisation and growing incredibly quickly. As a result, change has been constant and I fully expect this to continue in 2020. One of the main challenges of such exciting growth is keeping the company culture aligned as we transition into a larger, more multinational organisation and this will be one of my key objectives as Manager. We are having fewer dealings with our head offices in Chennai and San Mateo and our matrix organisation is functioning on its own European level, which is one of the main changes our team here is embracing.
What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain a C-level position in your industry?
Firstly, you must be able to adapt to work in any environment across the many different teams, whether it be in an emerging market or San Francisco. Secondly, you must be able to keep up with the pace of changing technologies and competitors. If you don’t, you will be left behind. Finally, you must have a passion for delivering WOW moments to clients, prospective clients and of course, your colleagues. This is how we differentiate ourselves in the market. If you can combine these areas successfully, you have a great chance!