Kamla Bhatt in conversation with Sridhar Vembu

Sridhar got interviewed by Kamla Bhatt of LiveMint Radio. You can listen to the interview or read the transcripts here - Part I and Part II. Excerpts from the interview :

Kamla: Describe to us the different products that you have. What are the new products that you are going to be introducing by the end of the year?

Sridhar: We have just this year, for example, we completed the office suite with a really good e-mail solution and we have a CRM, and project management. And one of our most interesting products is called Zoho Creator that allows anyone to develop applications on it. Alongside we launched Zoho marketplace. So that is really what we have done this year. Our next year’s priority is going to be around integrating all of these applications. That is the top request for our users is to integrate seamlessly. Mostly for example CRM with e-mail and office documents with CRM and those kinds of integration. We still have new products but those will all be for example CRM adding support modules those are the new things that are coming up. Really a lot of the focus is going to be on integrating these applications and to make a coherent integrated suite. So that is the part of the vision.

Kamla: You described Zoho as an Indian company with a skeletal staff here in the US. What were some of the early pitfalls and problems that you encountered working on Zoho because we know about the success but what about the pitfalls?

Sridhar: Sometimes in anything new you do, you simply have to figure out a lot of things like how to write software efficiently to run as a web service on the internet. All of these we have to figure out and those are the engineering challenges, then the market challenges so figure out what for example in CRM market is. But I didn’t come from a CRM background, we came from a different background so figuring that out. So those are the challenges but we have smart people that we have developed internally a cadre of managers and engineers who are come up in the system and they are really smart and they observe a lot of companies. Basically we are also a business school and so they learn and they put their lessons to work, the next generation. So that is how we are. It’s very much an organic process its not like day one when we think of doing something and we get that right. Its like we launched something and then we learned a lesson, sometimes it’s a failure and then we analyse why we failed, go back do it again. We have done that with even our CRM for example; our first ten ships were in 2004 as a product we didn’t ship it as a web service. The whole CRM was a product. And then we decided no that is not the right way to talk in this market so we actually reloaded as a web service. So that is the ability to learn from your mistakes and adapt. That is what I think is the key to success.

Kamla: Here is a question that I often encounter from start up folks in India. They say that there is no big exit of an Indian start up in India so they are looking for role models and stories-successful stories. You have been very vehement against an exit strategy. You want to keep your company private. How would you answer this question if an entrepreneur from India came and asked you we don’t have good role models so we don’t have companies that have exited? How would you answer that question?

Sridhar: Well I don’t, each person has to decide for themselves what they want in this life and I am not interested in exit because I like working in this company and I like coming to work everyday why would I want to exit or would I want to sell and get out? I am not interested in it. So that is the reason it is not because I am philosophical opposed to it but I just personally don’t like to do it. Exit is something which is not in your control. Whether Google is going to acquire or yahoo is going to acquire or some Indian company is going to acquire that is not in the control of a person starting the company. So my advice would be to forget that as a plan, focus on serving the customer and making money. Then may be exit will happen or may not happen. In our case we are not interested in an exit so it is not part of our strategy at all. But even if you want an exit may be it is a better idea to just forget about it and build a real company, serving real customer and making money. In that case then the exit is a bonus if it happens and if its not its not. So that is what my advice would be.

Thanks Kamla, for the excellent & elaborate interview!


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