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One-on-One with the founder of Zoho

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Sridhar Vembu is the Co-Founder and CEO of Zoho Corporation. Sridhar initially founded AdventNet in 1996 and became its CEO in 2000. AdventNet transformed itself from its modest beginning as a software company serving network equipment vendors, to a global, innovative online applications provider in Zoho. It has maintained growth and profitability, without needing outside capital. Prior to AdventNet, Sridhar worked as a wireless systems engineer at Qualcomm, Inc. where he was fortunate to work with some of the leading minds in wireless communications. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and PhD in Electrical Engineering from Princeton University.

Do you travel between the US and India offices often to actually be on the ground with the main engineering team?

I do travel to India every couple of months to meet with the team. Vijay, our Chief Strategy Officer, probably mentioned that we are a very “flat” organization, and as CEO, I really like to get to know our team in India. We currently have over 7000 employees in our India office.

 

What do you think are the few areas of Zoho that could be improved?

We are now rolling out more services through the partner network. Our customers love the product suite and we receive tremendous feedback, but we still feel that they need more services. When someone needs to adopt, we are continuously working on improving the processes currently in place.

We are now working on the Zoho concierge product. The concierge will act as your business consultant and will be there to learn more about your business in order to optimize how Zoho One can be part of your workday.

 

As the CEO of Zoho, what do you think is the number one difference between the ways you think about your business today compared to when you founded Zoho?

We founded the company 23 years ago and it was called Advent Net. Years later, we changed it to Zoho. At the very beginning, we were like every other small business trying to survive. In the early days, we tried to create a product that would be useful and beneficial for SMEs but it was quite difficult to imagine growing at the pace we are at right now.  23 years later, the mindset has changed: we now think about how to bring our products to millions of people around the globe with different cultures and business practices.

I believe that the key is to keep humanity as part of a system, throughout management, the legal department and all other aspects of Zoho. It’s a lot of little things that we are driven to accomplish today in order to keep that same culture while growing. I certainly would not say that it’s one main thing.

We believe that in order to teach the Zoho newcomers who have just joined the team, they must learn from the people that have been here for a much longer period of time. If a newcomer watches another person do something, they will learn from that example. We follow the philosophy of leading by example and that has really helped us maintain our identity from the early days.

 

At the Zoholics conference, you spoke about the potential for partnerships with banks, because of the large amount of real-time data that you have which can be transferred to the bank. This will provide more information on their clients and therefore they will be equipped to offer a better product to their clients. As you explained, the banks win, the customers win, and Zoho wins. What is the timeline for establishing a partnership like this? Have you already begun approaching banks to create such a partnership?

Yes, we have already started working on this strategic partnership. We first started with ICICI, the largest Indian multi-national banking, and financial services company. It is a private sector bank and we have launched deep integration with them. With this new plan, it’s definitely easier to start out in developing markets. Banks in developed markets typically have a much more bureaucratic process which naturally would take substantially longer to get to the decision maker.

 

 Does Zoho intend on opening any more additional global offices in 2019? If so, what parts of the world are you looking to expand into?

Yes, we are always looking at expanding and opening additional offices around the globe. We are opening in Australia this year and we are very excited about it!  We have also announced that we have started working on plans to build and create a 345-acre Zoho campus in Austin, Texas. This will be the new official headquarters of Zoho and it will be located about 10 minutes from the Austin airport.

 

Is the next step in creating other verticals in addition to e-commerce? What have you been looking into?

We are always working on new projects to offer a better and more complete product to our customers. At Zoholics 2019, we have announced a new HR suite of applications that we will be releasing. We are very excited to roll that out. And yes, in the future we will be working on implementing other verticals in addition to e-commerce. Most of our current work is around more customization for platforms, systems, etc.

 

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