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Bootstrapped: How Sridhar Vembu Built a ₹65,700 cr Cloud Empire by Saying No to Millions

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Bootstrapped: How Sridhar Vembu Built a ₹65,700 cr Cloud Empire by Saying No to Millions

Another late night. Desperately searching for that important email. And where’s that presentation file? Missed deadlines and international phone calls at ungodly hours. Gosh! How does even one keep track of all these without feeling stressed?

This scenario wasn’t too long ago; it was simply how things were done for many businesses. Until a visionary entrepreneur stepped in, turning down millions and daring to dream of a better way. His story? As inspiring as the solutions his company offers.

Also Read: Top 10 Solar Energy Stocks in India

Read on to discover the revolutionary approach that is transforming businesses around the globe, ensuring you never face those stressful late nights again.

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It All Began In Chennai

This journey began in 1996, not in Silicon Valley but in Chennai. Sridhar Vembu’s brothers, Kumar and Shekhar, and their friend Tony Thomas had a burning desire to revolutionize network management with their company, AdventNet. 

In the beginning, Tony served as CEO. Sridhar Vembu, a Princeton Graduate who settled in Silicon Valley and worked as a wireless engineer for Qualcomm in California, was primarily a supporting figure. 

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From An Engineer

Tony tried to sell this software at the Las Vegas trade show and asked Sridhar to join him, but neither knew anything about sales. With his rusty skills, he made a few sales and became the first salesperson. 

Sridhar attracted major US clients, but the deals came at terrible margins. He readily admitted his lack of sales experience, and some clients even confessed they would have paid ten times more for the software if they’d known its true value. 

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And the Million-Dollar Leap

This realization fueled a crucial decision – reinvesting profits in a new product, Web NMS, an early foray into the Internet of Things (IoT) coupled with their lean operating model (thanks to a talented Indian workforce). The gamble paid off, propelling them past a million-dollar milestone in 1998. 

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From Crisis to Opportunity

As things looked up, the 2000 dot-com burst sent shockwaves through the tech world. At one point, they were down to 3 paying customers from an initial base of 150.

However, unlike many, AdventNet had a lifeline—a combination of three factors: a healthy cash reserve, no investors to answer to, and a lean operating model thanks to its Indian headquarters.

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Internal Issues To Saying No

Meanwhile, internal issues shook the company’s foundation—disagreements over strategy led to the departure of Sridhar’s brothers and Tony.

As the new CEO, Sridhar faced his darkest hour. He saw an opportunity in the crisis. Recognizing the growing needs of small and medium businesses (SMBs), ManageEngine, a suite of IT management tools, was born the same year; an investor was ready to invest $M10 in the company at a valuation of $M140, but Sridhar famously rejected the VC funding.

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From SOHO Dreams to ZOHO Suite

As their focus shifted towards small and home offices (SOHO), they wanted to incorporate “SOHO” into their new product offerings. Unfortunately, the domain soho.com was unavailable, so they landed on zoho.com. 

With the launch of the Zoho virtual office (2004), he offered a string of corporate workforce solutions under Zoho Suite—Zoho CRM Solutions, Zoho Writer in 2005; Zoho APIs, Zoho Show, Zoho Projects, Zoho Sheets, Zoho Projector, and so on, in 2006.

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Conquering the Cloud

With a passionate workforce, Zoho embraced the cloud revolution. They pioneered the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, making high-quality business software accessible and affordable for small and medium-sized businesses. 

From Zoho Mail and Zoho CRM to Zoho WorkDrive, a comprehensive suite of applications emerged, catering to every facet of business operations.

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By 2008, their user base reached a staggering 1 million. Since the name Zoho became increasingly popular among its TG, the company officially rebranded itself from AdventNet to Zoho Corporation in 2009. 

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Bridging the Talent Gap

Success often also brings new challenges. As Zoho scaled, it faced a hurdle – a talent shortage for highly skilled engineers in India. Their cost-effective model wouldn’t hold up if they had to rely on expensive overseas talent. 

Sridhar , known for his unconventional solutions, devised a revolutionary plan – Zoho University to bridge the gap by nurturing brilliant minds from rural India. Imagine a completely FREE two-year English, Mathematics, and Computer Science program. 

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Zoho’s Remote Revolution

Among the most remarkable aspects of Zoho’s story is its location—the billion-dollar tech empire is operated from a remote village in India, hundreds of miles from the nearest major city.

Sridhar believes in the power of remote work. This philosophy resonates with a world increasingly embracing flexible work arrangements.

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Global Powerhouse

Zoho’s growth trajectory continues to impress! In FY23, net profits climbed a healthy 3% to a staggering ₹2,836 crore, building upon the previous year’s impressive performance.

This growth is also mirrored on the revenue side, with a remarkable 30% surge to ₹8,703 crore – a testament to the enduring value Zoho delivers to its global user base.

Today, Zoho serves customers in over 150 countries and a robust infrastructure of 14 data centers humming with activity.  The Zoho family has grown to over 100 million users, with a diverse suite of 55+ products.  

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Innovation & Impact

Committed to sustainability, Zoho is harnessing the sun’s power, using a 5 MW solar farm to power their data centers and offices and reduce their carbon footprint by a staggering 7,200 tons annually – the equivalent of planting 14,400 trees!  

This dedication to innovation and social responsibility cemented Zoho’s leadership position. Its founder, Sridhar Vembu, is a true inspiration, rightfully recognized with the prestigious Padma Shri award in 2021.

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Prepare for Zoho 2.0

With over 100 million users worldwide, Zoho
The company is setting its sights on the future, investing in cutting-edge R&D projects that push the boundaries of technology.  

Apart from revolutionizing farming with smart solutions and bringing healthcare closer with telemedicine, Zoho is actively exploring AI’s potential, setting up a groundbreaking project where AI systems learn from each other, accelerating innovation at an unprecedented pace.

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I’m Archana R. Chettiar, an experienced content creator with
an affinity for writing on personal finance and other financial content. I
love to write on equity investing, retirement, managing money, and more.

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