Welcome to Europe: Chennai-based Chargebee chooses Amsterdam for European expansion (interview)

Welcome to Europe: Chennai-based Chargebee chooses Amsterdam for European expansion (interview)

Chargebee is a B2B SaaS subscription management and recurring billing solution for new founders and growing businesses. Originally founded in India in 2011, the company provides a plug-and-play solution that is now used by 1,700 companies in 53 countries. While the company was preparing to raise its latest round of financing, CEO and Co-Founder Krish Subramanian identified a key trend: “Europe represents the fastest growing proportion of our business.”

Chargebee’s team knew they needed to be closer to their European customers. After closing their most recent $18m Series C, the company set their sights on opening a European HQ. This month, Chargebee announced that they have chosen Amsterdam for their European headquarters, and will soon open an office dedicated to marketing, sales and support. I connected with Chargebee's Co-Founder and CEO Krish Subramanian to learn a bit more about their journey and why Amsterdam stood out.

Hi Krish, a warm welcome to you and congratulations on your company’s move to Europe. Thanks for taking the time to sit down with tech.eu. First, could you tell us a little bit about how Chargebee got started? Where did the idea for Chargebee begin, and how did you know that this was a problem you needed to solve?

We are a team-first company rather than an idea-first company. One of my other co-founders was my college classmate, Rajamaran, who started as a Product Developer at Zoho, after graduation. There he met two other engineers, who would go on to help Rajaraman and me, be the four co-founders that started Chargebee. We studied different ideas around three main themes: 1) SaaS and SaaS related solutions, as that was a common background amongst the four of us, 2) solving something that was required by SaaS Products that companies were repetitively building in-house and 3) a solution that would service a global market.

In 2011, when we started the company, I had recently moved back from the US to India. Since Rajaraman and I were friends, we frequently exchange ideas from sites like Hacker News and JoelOnSoftware.com. These conversations had spanned over a decade prior to starting Chargebee along with our planned savings, which would allow us at some point to quit our regular jobs and start a company. By 2011, cloud, SaaS and subscription models were taking off in a huge way, and we felt that the timing was right to start a company. So, Chennai is where we started and continue to remain as our main office, then building out a US office and more recently a European presence.

At the time we investigated along the three themes, we discovered that invoicing was something that people were repetitively building, and the existing systems were not relevant for SaaS products. Many in-house teams were coding on top of their existing invoicing or payment system, and we thought, “That’s an interesting problem.” Zuora, which started in 2007, was already in the enterprise market, but they did not address large portions of the market, specifically high growth, early-stage companies. Our response was, “This is an interesting segment to solve and build with the customers and scale with them.” Furthermore, unpacking the problem allowed us to understand all of the layers and the complexity involved in building the business from the ground up.

What makes Chargebee’s solution unique compared to other offerings on the market?

We are purpose-built for high growth SaaS and SaaS-like businesses. In the past, invoicing software, typically has been created to support customers in specific verticals or focused online shopping with catalogs, shopping carts and checkout mechanisms. There are few companies today who have purpose-built a recurring billing and subscription management platform which have the flexibility to support an “out-of-the-box” configuration as well as APIs to build highly integrated and customer workflows.

In addition, we built with the philosophy that businesses would want best-in-class products for each problem. Apart from 25+ native integrations that we support we also integrate with hundreds of other SaaS products via other means.  This allows our customers to pick which additional software components (CRM, Accounting, MarTech, SaaS) to integrate with to create workflows they can benefit from the most and scale their business. 

Last, we support complete data portability of customer and payment data, agnostic of payment gateways. This flexibility provides more choices to customers as they grow their business.

How did you know it was time to scale operations to Europe? How did you decide on Amsterdam for your European HQ, and what makes Amsterdam the perfect location for Chargebee?

As they say, constraints bring out the best in us. By building a global product out of Chennai, we naturally built a globally relevant product from the beginning. And in that, Europe has been one of our fastest growing markets. As we traditionally have been an inbound focused company, we have been steadily growing our customer base across the region. After closing our latest round of financing last year led by Insight Venture Partners along with Accel and Tiger Global Management, one of our goals was to continue scaling the company, as well as be present and closer to where our customers are, which includes a permanent presence in Europe.

Amsterdam was selected because of the talent pool, multilingual population and a great technology hub. In addition, we received a lot of support and services through the City of Amsterdam’s Startup Amsterdam program to expedite our ability to get set up, registered and start operations in Europe. And we were able to do this remotely from Chennai.

You’ve successfully scaled Chargebee’s operations from India, to the US and now to Europe. When it comes to scaling the company internationally, what are some of the challenges that founders and executives at this stage face? How did you work to overcome them?

We have been fortunate to have focused an inbound sales-driven business model and an open product that allows for customers to explore before they engage and buy from us. As we have grown the company, we needed to provide support for all different time zones, as well as building outbound focused teams in sales and marketing. Some of the challenges that we face are finding the right talent and experience working in a global business environment, as well as specialists who understand local and regional markets. This is particularly evident when it comes to the number of languages supported amongst our employees. A lot of software tools have made it easier to access and interface internally, but ultimately, we need to follow our customers, which led us to open an office in the US first, and now in Europe.

You are looking to make a number of hires at your new European HQ. Can you discuss a little bit about Chargebee’s company culture? What qualities make someone a great fit for Chargebee, and what can prospective employees expect once they’ve joined your team?

Let me answer the question based on some of the values we celebrate and encourage, which may give an indication to the type of individuals who will thrive here. As a group we are in a serious business, but we try to do our best to ensure that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. There is a lot of banter on the floor and folks are extremely open to teach. We are thankful for our existing team members who practice a give-first attitude, selflessly taken it upon themselves to onboard new employees and share their knowledge by conducting trainings and fast track new employees. People who do well are genuinely curious to learn on their own, like to teach each others and build relationships. As founders, we want our culture to change for the better due to all the new folks who would join than attracting talent that conforms to certain traits.

Finally, what's one key lesson that you have learned on this journey thus far that you would like to share with others at the start of their entrepreneurial journey?

From the vantage point of Chargebee, we see thousands of companies on their journey from the very early stages to their growth beyond $50M and $100M+. And I have learned to appreciate how hard it is to scale a company and how lucky we are to stumble upon market, timing and the right team to scale a business. This is the part where we get lucky or stay long enough to get lucky.

But my biggest learning is that repeatability is the key to a scaling business after product-market fit. The biggest learning as a founder is to focus on simplifying the complex process into repeatable steps and remove bottlenecks for the team, every step of the way.

Thanks Krish!

Krish is a frequent speaker on B2B, subscription sales and growth strategy. To learn a bit more about the Chargebee story, check out some of Krish's previous talks:

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