Diversity

TheBetterHalf: Shoba Girish — From dreams to reality

I hail from Madurai, a place where life moves at its own pace, following the footsteps of tradition. Growing up, I was the eldest of three daughters, living a simple, South Indian way of life, guided by my father’s wishes.

I had an arranged marriage, following the customary steps after matching our horoscopes. I saw Girish’s photograph just hours before we met in person for the first time on May 5th, 2002. Our chat that day lasted over 55 minutes, and time flew by like magic.

Girish spoke about his habit of jotting down all his big dreams in a notebook and ticking them off one by one. I said didn’t have many dreams, except for one picture of a Mercedes E class that caught my eye in a magazine. He asked me for the clipping so he could add it to his notebook, so we could make that dream of mine a reality in the future. That’s when I realized Girish was different.

Quite contrary to my father’s upbringing, Girish pushed me to dream big, to be myself.

We tied the knot in Trichy, on October 31st, 2002, and moved to Chennai. Our family grew with the arrival of our sons, Charan and Sanjay. Life felt stable, everything falling into place.

Then came October 2010, and Girish dropped a bombshell — he wanted to quit his job at Zoho and start his own company. It shook me up; I didn’t see it coming. He tried explaining his plans, the product, the market, Ruby on Rails, and so on. But honestly, most of it went over my head.

He even asked me what I thought of the name “Freshdesk”. I said it sounded more like a juice company than a tech startup!

But I did understand one thing: Girish’s intention behind building a company. He wanted to build something meaningful. Something that could change lives. Something that could help every future employee of the company buy their own houses and BMW cars. And that sense of purpose was enough for me to trust his decision.

Our Honda Civic was on company lease, so we had to return it to Zoho. We couldn’t afford a big car, so we settled for a smaller Ford Figo. I still remember Girish, a six-footer, cramped up behind the wheel. It reminded me of that particular scene from the movie “Incredibles” where Mr. Incredible, a huge man, squeezes into a tiny car and drives to work.

Being the spouse of a startup founder came with its own challenges. I took care of most things at home. I often found myself attending weddings and social events alone, while Girish was busy with work. He even missed our first anniversary because that was the day his first product, Opmanager, launched.

There were moments when I wished for more of his time, more of his presence.

I’d dress up and ask him how I looked, he’d say I looked great, all while glued to his computer screen and barely paying attention. At home, he would hardly speak; a far cry from the confident speaker he was, who’d talk for hours straight on stage.

Sometimes, it would upset me, and make me angry. I would throw a fit. But it would fizzle out as quickly as it started. After all, it takes two to argue.

Girish, he was always patient. He’d listen to my rants without uttering a word and then after I had finished, he would calmly ask if I was okay.

He has always been like that. Those who know Girish well, know that he hardly ever loses his cool, no matter how difficult a situation or challenge is, whether at home or work.

When Freshdesk was just six months old, the CEO of Zendesk called the company a rip-off. A situation like that could easily rile someone up. But Girish took it in absolute stride. Instead of getting mad, he saw it as an opportunity to turn things around for the better. That’s just how he is, a chess player — always looking for the next best move possible.

Fast forward to over a decade, and Freshworks got listed on Nasdaq. I was there at the bell-ringing ceremony, wearing a saree, representing our country on the global stage. It was surreal, a culmination of years of collective hard work and dedication. Every single detail of that day is etched in my memory; it was an experience of a lifetime, and there are no two ways about it.

And despite all the success, we’ve always kept a low profile in social circles. I tend not to share much information about my family or my husband’s career with friends and relatives; I am always cautious to avoid coming across as boastful.

To this day, when someone asks me what my husband does for work, I just tell them that he works for a software company.

In fact, one of my friends was quite confused when she saw a photo of Girish and me waving the national flag at the Nasdaq MarketSite. She phoned me, asking if we were on vacation and what was happening in the photo. When I explained it to her, she was completely taken aback; she had no idea about any of this.

Looking back, I realize how insignificant our past struggles seem now. Life has a funny way of putting things into perspective. It has taught me to let go of expectations, to cherish what we have instead of longing for what we don’t.

There’s an Akbar and Birbal story I always go back to.

In the fable, Akbar once draws a line on the wall and asks his subjects to make the line shorter, without touching the line or erasing a part of it. Birbal takes up the challenge and draws a longer line parallel to the first one. And that automatically makes Akbar’s line shorter.

That’s one lesson I always take with me. Everything is subjective, including the problems you face in life. What may seem unbearable right now, will appear insignificant down the line.

It’s equally important to not tie your happiness to specific outcomes. Not everyone gets everything in life, and we need to be okay with certain things not coming to fruition the way we expected. We need to make peace with whatever hand we’re dealt with. And that brings happiness and humility.

And to be honest, I don’t believe I’ve made any “sacrifices”, per se, in life. Everything I’ve done has been for my family’s well-being, which doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, especially when compared to the genuine sacrifices many people make for the betterment of the world.

Girish made his fair share of compromises too — missing out on family time, and putting his passions on hold — all to build his company. And as his partner, it was my responsibility to support him and take care of things at home, so he could focus on his work.

That’s what being a team is all about, isn’t it? It’s about understanding each other, giving each other space to grow, and pushing each other to be the best version of ourselves.

As we look to the future, I’ll keep urging Girish to work harder, not just for our sake but for all those who believe in him and the company. Because in the end, it’s not about fame or fortune; it’s about making dreams come true for everyone around us. And that, to me, is the greatest reward of our journey together.

Shoba with Girish, Charan, and Sanjay.

This post was originally published on The Better Half


About The Better Half

Startup spouses share their journeys and perspectives on the challenges and rewards of the startup hustle. Read more from Sadhana Balaji.

About the author

Sadhana Balaji

Head of Brand and Content, Atomicwork
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