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SPARK OF THE CORPORATE

Sridhar Vembu, founder and CEO of Zoho Corporation is profiled as an example of home grown entrepreneur, who is out to make India proud on the world stage. His motto for the company – Made in India, Made for the world, which is considered as the tagline for the prime ministers campaign, but the same is followed by the company long before the launch of the government campaign. Hats off to Sridhar for his unique approach and outlook towards business and personal life. Vembu stands as an inspiration for all the entrepreneurs and serving as the pride of Tamil Nadu and India.

The person behind the development of Zoho as a SaaS unicorn based out of Chennai, and employing more than 5000 people and without missing out on generating of millions of dollars of revenue year on year is Sridhar Vembu. Vembu was successful in managing and building scalable global products which compete with Microsoft of Google’s cloud, salesforce.com and has managed to do so by sitting in India and without external financial aid.

Early career ...

Soon after his PhD, Vembu was associated with Qualcomm as Electrical Engineer in San Diego for about a period of two years from 1994 to 1996. His areas of responsibilities were wireless communication which also includes CDMA, power control and much more detailing of wireless communications. Sridhar Vembu co-founded AdventNet in the year 1996 and had been the CEO since 2000. The dotcom bust has made Vembu to move aggressively into the cloud space and acquire the domain Zoho.com and also launched Zoho Writer in 2003 and 2005 respectively. Zoho Corporation is into making of online Zoho Office Suite in addition to various business applications. Zoho Corporation has its offices in seven different countries with the global headquarters in Chennai.

Initial stages ...

Initially Sridhar Vembu was Chief Evangelist, who focused more on promotion and marketing of the technology which was being sold by the company by approaching the customers directly in person. In no time Vembu could attract good clients and one among their first clients were Cisco. During the Dot-com bubble burst of 2001, the company had to face a major downfall from 150 customers to just 3 three customers. It was during this time that Sridhar has taken over as the CEO of Zoho Corporation

The situation was taken positively by Vembu and considered it as the year of R&D and without the bubble burst destroying the company, the leadership of Vembu has moved the company in the right direction. Many changes were bought by Vembu including the advertising strategy and even renamed the company as AdventNet in the year 2005. In 2009 the company was again renamed as Zoho Corporation. By that time all the businesses were increasing and depending more on internet. At this point Vembu has also changed the business direction and started the youngest division of “Zoho.com”, which was mainly into offering internet-based software.

Vembu style of leadership...

The guiding principle for Vembu behind the running of Zoho is to dance with the person with whom you want to and not the other way around. He follows this principle and tells everyone in the entire organization to follow. The strategy of Vembu is to always work with the people who have trust and belief on your idea. Sridhar Vembu lives the dream of every entrepreneur – being chased by the Venture Capitalists and rejecting them.

When Google entered the office suite online venture, Vembu initially thought that it would be very tough to compete with Google, but not exactly with the Salesforce. Thinking on these lines, Vembu has made Zoho to move into CRM, which turned out to the blockbuster of Zoho success. If Vembu has restricted his thinking only to fight with Google, with regard to office suite space, then billions of dollars have to be spent for marketing. Instead Vembu was thinking out of the box and found out other opportunities, CRM in particular. This enabled Zoho to run R&D in the office and parallel build another business. Vembu says that one of the important lessons for any entrepreneur is to realize the dream.

Counting of the blessings without depending on them, identification of self strengths and the right space to be in and reinventing as per the requirements and needs of the market are the main ingredients of the success sauce that helped Vembu to successfully and profitably run Zoho for about 21 years. Vembu says that as an entrepreneur, good times are not always taken for granted and hard times are also to be faced. An entrepreneur should make use of the good time to reinvent to stay on top of the continuous changing market. Zoho also worked on the same lines and always kept series of products up its sleeve so that it is in a position to reinvent itself and does not fall back in the race.

Success...

Vembu has plans to sign up 1 million enterprises in the next three years and as a part of the strategy Vembu is enabling Zoho to intensify marketing and sales in the country, turned out more aggressive in the outreach with many motivational messages. With such an aggressive approach Vembu is expecting to increase the contribution of domestic business to the revenue from 10% to almost 30% in the next four to five years.

Vembu has transformed AdventNet from a modest software company which served the network equipment of vendors to an innovative online application provider. Vembu could do this while maintaining the growth and profitability without even looking for outside capital. Vembu has been running the business, Zoho, successfully and profitably for 21 years. Vembu has transformed the city of Chennai into India’s SaaS hub. Zoho also runs a University which is meant for unique education and other staffing practices.

Sridhar Vembu is famously known for his efforts towards successful building of Zoho Corporation right from the scratch and without external funds and has reached to the position to compete directly with the giant market players such as Google, Oracle, Microsoft and Salesforce.com. The smartest unknown Indian Entrepreneur, Sridhar Vembu is the man who turned down the venture capital money and thus earned a huge fan-following in the start-up industry. By remaining bootstrapped, Vembu has transformed Zoho into a multi-million dollar business. It was in 1996 that Vembu along with Tony Thomas has started Zoho Corp as a software company based in California. Today, Vembu has setup offices in countries like Singapore, Japan and China. No external investment except for some help from family and friends.

Personal life...

Sridhar Vembu has obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Madras and has completed his PhD in Electrical Engineering from the Princeton University.

His two cents for future entrepreneurs...

• The humble beginnings are to be carried forward in the startup journey and try to be a better person initially.

• Use your roots to open up and learn constantly in the initial years.

• At the beginning, try to make investments on ideas.

• Ensure that the clients go live with the products.

• Always remain focused on scaling up and stay calm for the first years.

• Try to lead a good personal life and need not work for long hours for coming up with good products.

• Not all products become success.

• Not every sale materializes.

• The ideas never scale, it is only in the execution that one knows where the idea stands.

• Always work with the people who believe in your ideas.

• Not necessarily every business generates cash, in which instances, going for venture capital are a good enough idea.

• Cash should be always used conservatively for building future products which will generate more cash.

• The founders of the ideas must be able to sell, as it is their business, others cannot do.

• It should be all about what the technology will do for the clients and not about what exactly is the technology.

• It is not always the big wins that matter. One should be constantly be out in the market and prove on the working of the product.

• Success in life is not depended on the formal college degree.

• Growth should be happen at the cost of profitability.

• Open culture is healthy for any organization. An easy-going atmosphere and fear-less approach towards work has to be created for the employees.

• Learn to be patient, develop a long-term approach and create what the market needs and always continue to learn during the whole process.

Hope readers caught up the spark...

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