For decades, India lacked role model entrepreneurs. There were a few names like Dhirubhai Ambani who made a name for themselves by taking the entrepreneurial landscape by storm, but they belonged to old industries like Petrochemical or Textiles. The tech-savvy youth of India looked up to American entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg as role models. But the entrepreneurial landscape is slowly changing and a new class of wealth creators has emerged in India with everyone having their unique story. In the last decade, many self-made people made the Richie-rich list, and the most important of them is arguably Sridhar Vembu, founder and CEO of Zoho Corporation.
Born in Thanjavur District of Tamil Nadu, Sridhar Vembu pursued his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras in 1989, and earned his MS and PhD degrees from Princeton University in New Jersey.
Vembu started his career as a wireless engineer with American semiconductor Qualcomm. But in order to pursue his entrepreneurial journey, in 1996, Vembu founded a software development house for network equipment providers called AdventNet. In 2009, the name of the company was changed to Zoho Corporation in order to focus on the Software as a Service (SaaS) industry.
Building a Profitable business:
Vembu is an inspiration for Indian entrepreneurs and the aspiring middle class for many reasons. Unlike most of the SaaS industry players like Icertis, Freshworks – who have established headquarters in the United States because most of the revenue comes from there – Zoho is headquartered in Chennai. So, while the other companies are creating wealth for American or Singaporean investors, Zoho is creating wealth for India and Indians.
Moreover, unlike the other well-known names of the Indian software industry like Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Deepender Goyal, or Girish of Freshworks – Vembu has built a profitable business rather than burning the investor’s cash. Zoho’s FY 21 profit was 1,918 crore rupees, more than double of FY 20, and with every passing year, revenue is growing more than revenue – which is exactly the opposite of other startups.
Love for villages and rural life:
Vembu himself lives a village life and is providing employment to thousands of people in rural and semi-urban areas rather than getting into the mad rush of urban and industrial centres. “Going for a walk in a village is a divine experience. After tasting this life in a village, it would be very hard for me to move to any major city anywhere now. That is the truth. I can almost say that I am addicted to this rural life. I have always loved it, and now I love it even more,” Vembu told a Deccan Herald reporter in an interview.
Zoho is aggressively expanding its rural centres across India including in states like Bihar, and even in foreign countries, the company prefers to establish offices in rural areas. “We now have 15 rural centres and we are now growing those aggressively because more people are transferring to rural centres, and we are space-constrained in some of our offices and we are leasing bigger spaces,” says Sridhar Vembu.
A hardcore Nationalist:
Unlike other startup founders and business leaders, especially those in the technology world, who claim to be a globalist – Sridhar Vembu identifies himself as a nationalist.
He has attended RSS events and when the low IQ twitter trolls started attacking him, Vembu said, “I don’t decide my views based on Twitter attacks. If you dislike which events I attend, please do what your conscience dictates and I will do what mine dictates. We earn our daily bread due to our work and we will continue to do quality work. I won’t be responding to attacks.”
The Modi government has also appointed him to the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) given his credentials and nationalist leanings.
Building other industries through investment in deep-tech:
Sridhar Vembu has aligned his investment ideals with Prime Minister Modi’s AtmaNirbhar Bharat initiative. In the last decade, he has invested in semiconductors, medical equipment, electric vehicles, and many other businesses that will establish India’s leadership in emerging areas and fill the deficiencies in critical areas such as semiconductors.
Last year Zoho Corporation invested $5 million (about ₹35 crores) in a Bengaluru-based medical devices company Voxelgrids, which makes magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners. This partnership between Zoho and Voxelgrids is going to revolutionize the Indian Pharmaceutical Industry and is a big step towards an ‘Atmanirbhar’ Bharat.
The investment will be made in two tranches over the next two years and Zoho would own around a 25% stake in Voxelgrids. Zoho had previously invested in companies working in DeepTech such as vTitan and SignalChip.
While announcing the investment in Voxelgrids, Vembu said, “We have a medical device company vTitan which has already started shipping products. So Zoho has experience with medical devices.”
“The investment in Voxelgrids will foster the development of deep technological capabilities and intellectual property (IP),” he added.
India needs more and more contrarian leaders and entrepreneurs like Sridhar Vembu. He has defied all the conventional wisdom about building a business and established a highly successful company. Visiting his Twitter page gives a thrill as takes on the people like Raghuram Rajan who wants India to become a coolie of developed western nations by providing them cheap services instead of building great products and services for domestic consumption as well as for exports.
Vembu also social entrepreneurship through lifelong learning schools and various other initiatives that he has opened up in the village he resides. The lungi-wearing billionaire is a role model for emerging entrepreneurs as well as for the people already established in the industry.