Startups have been the overrated success story of the past decade, with numerous new entrants not just hitting it big, but changing the face of business in the process. However, the harsh truth of startup ecosystem is that nine out ten startups fail, sometimes mysteriously and often unnoticed! But for every nine startups, there emerges a quick, inventive and incredibly innovative startup. One such firm, which has emerged from a small apartment located in the suburbs of Chennai, India in 1996, to become a multi-million dollar company without taking any external funding, is the Zoho Corporation with an inspiring journey that has a legendary status in itself. Over the last two decades of its journey, Zoho has emerged as a leader in the cloud and on your devices, while providing a single cloud platform with all the necessary applications to run a business entirely from the cloud. With a total staffing of around 4000 employees, the company is headquartered in California and also holds offices in Singapore, Japan, China and India.
Today Zoho’s marketing, sales and customer support applications – Campaigns, CRM, and Desk – enable businesses to acquire and manage customers and empower employees to create, store and distribute content on the cloud with Zoho’s productivity and collaboration applications – Office, Mail and Docs. Furthermore, businesses can run their operations on Zoho’s finance and human resources applications – Books, People and Recruit.
More than 30 million users around the world across hundreds of thousands of companies rely on Zoho every day to run their businesses – including Zoho itself. A business can choose to run the entire Zoho suite, or just a single application. Zoho applications are available directly through zoho.com, or through an ecosystem of hundreds of worldwide Zoho partners.
Zoho’s comprehensive range of online applications enables individuals and businesses to manage all their work with ease while dramatically reducing the cost. But being more productive and saving money is just the beginning of using Zoho. The HRM vertical is also equally essential for a company. The processes to be maintained are a lot, and that takes away all the time. So, its HR solutions suite of Zoho Recruit and Zoho People ensures that recruiters focus on what needs their attention the most – good talent.
The Smartest Entrepreneur Who Turned Down VC Money
Sridhar Vembu is the CEO of Zoho Corp. He co-founded Zoho (formerly AdventNet) along with Tony Thomas, and has been a CEO since 2000. Leading from the front, Sridhar has transformed Zoho, from a modest beginning as a software company serving network equipment vendors into an innovative online applications provider.
Sridhar Vembu hails from Chennai, India, with an electrical engineering degree from IIT Madras and a doctorate from Princeton University. Before starting out on his own in Silicon Valley, he worked as a wireless systems engineer at Qualcomm, Inc. for two years, where he was fortunate to work with some of the leading minds in wireless communications.
Not every startup makes it to the finishing line and not every entrepreneur either. It demands courage, determination and perseverance to become the next big thing. And this is precisely what Sridhar has proved throughout his career. Right from introducing a new product line in the market to going against VC funding in 2000, he has done it all. What his career proves is that it’s not impossible to live the dream of every entrepreneur – being chased by VCs, and rejecting them!
The Modest Beginning that Became Strong Foundation
Zoho was set up to provide customers (individuals, students, educators, non-profits, small and medium sized businesses) with the most comprehensive set of applications available anywhere (breadth); and for those applications to have enough features and depth to make your user experience worthwhile.
However, being a bootstrapped company, it was not an easy row to hoe. The prime obstacle in its early years was simply to figure out a way to grow without external financing, simply because no such financing was easily available. They had to find specialized market niches while staying under the radar of big industry players.
But as they say, every hurdle comes with the lesson to learn and take something valuable out of it. Something similar happened with Sridhar when he learned that small niche markets exist that are not attractive to major incumbents can provide good opportunities for new companies, and he leaped.
Initially, Sridhar was Chief Evangelist and focused on promoting and marketing the technology the company was selling and began approaching customers in the Bay area. And in no time, the company started getting clients, out of whom, one of their first clients turned out to be Cisco.
The software had begun selling well, and they sold it to a lot to companies in the Silicon Valley and developed a good market in Japan too. By around 2000, the team had crossed century in a number of engineers with the business of around $10 Million.
Awaiting Bubble that Showed Right Direction
The business was growing steadily, but something else was waiting for them – the bubble burst, and they saw a major downfall from 150 customers to just three customers. Sridhar had just taken over as the CEO of the company, and it was a very crucial phase for him as well as the company.
But, once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results; he took it positively. The year was called an R&D, which only moved them into a right direction, and took place the birth of ManageEngine which today accounts for over half of Zoho Corp’s revenues.
A year later, a lot of the start-ups were gone, and Zoho had successfully managed to transition the core of their business to well-established companies. Over the period, apart from ManageEngine, Zoho evolved into two more divisions; Zoho.com and WebNMS which ruled respective markets successfully.
The Culture that Retains the People
The biggest asset Sridhar considers in the organization is its culture, which enables them to retain their people. As per Sridhar, retaining talent and inspiring them to excel is the most durable competitive advantage any company could have. They think of the company as not just a commercial entity, but as a community, and think holistically about people and nurture talent in following ways.
Zoho Recruit: Zoho Recruit is an easy-to-use collaborative recruitment software, catering to multiple hurdles faced by recruiters. With complete solutions for both corporate recruiters and staffing agencies, Recruit helps you source, track and hire the best candidates. Zoho Recruit’s strengths lie in its simple, yet effective user interface and maximum customization. Be it pre-hiring or post-hiring processes, set up Recruit to make hiring work your way.
Zoho People: Zoho People is a complete human resources solution. While you focus on taking care of your employees and your business, Zoho People focuses on taking care of all the HR details that can often be so tedious and distracting. By empowering employees this way, Zoho People frees up management from repetitive time-consuming activities and allows your managerial and administrative teams to focus on the core services of your organization.
“How an organization recruits and how it inspires its people to give their best is the essence of productivity at the microeconomic level and prosperity for society at large. HRM software plays a crucial role in these processes. By matching organizations with the right talent, recruitment software helps place people where they are the most productive. As more and more organizations in an economy scale greater heights of productivity, society itself benefits. Employees of well-run organizations also become pillars of their local communities, providing leadership to voluntary organizations,” – Sridhar shares his view on the current HRM industry.
Constantly Striving to Innovate
Zoho continually strives to innovate and build software that simplifies running business for companies of every size. The company’s latest release is the Zoho One, an all-in-one suite of applications to run an entire business—across every function and organizational group. Zoho One includes more than 35 integrated web applications and an equal number of mobile apps—under a single sign-on and with centralized administration and provisioning—making it a true operating system for business.
Zoho One is available for $1 a day, per employee. With over 35 applications, complementary mobile and native apps along with several browser extensions and extras, Zoho One offers the broadest suite of business applications in the market along with an administrative control panel for centralized administration and provisioning.
Envisioning the future, Zoho aims to be The Operating System for Business, providing the foundational software for millions of organizations and hundreds of millions of users worldwide. With the kind of inspiring journey it has had, the company is surely on its voyage and already way ahead of the competition.