(picture courtesy: The Hindu online)
That scene above is from the suburb of Chennai (Tambaram) where I grew up, where my parents still live, but in reality, it could be anywhere in India. We get monsoons this time of the year every year, yet, every year this is how it looks for a few weeks.
I am in business because I believe there is really only one solution. We need 25x more businesses, 25x more jobs, 25x more infrastructure before India could be considered a livable country. I hope to live to see a day when one city, just one fucking city, in India will offer a world-class quality of life. Today, almost no city in India comes close to offering what would be considered an acceptable quality of life. That is why I wake up everyday and go to work, because my dream is to create sufficient profits to directly fund the infrastructure we need to live a decent life.
That crazy idea, directly funding infrastructure out of profit, would practically get me thrown out of my job in a nano-second if Zoho were a public company. That is why I don’t take venture capital and won’t ever take my company public. The good news is we have decent profit, and as we grow, my plan is increasingly becoming less and less crazy.
But it is not really about me. I live the good life. It is my employees in Chennai that are the true heroes. Every single one of them go to work under these conditions – and I am going to be there tomorrow. Scenes like these are literally everywhere in Chennai. Our people write code, support customers, teach and learn from each other, all under these conditions. The fact that our people ship the products they do under these conditions is a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit. I grew up in exactly these circumstances, but I still think of it as nothing less than a miracle that we are able to do the work we do.
My employees are just like people in that picture. The are hard working good people, forced to live under a broken system. Governments in India are famous for a singular lack of vision and imagination. In that picture, for example, you would think the local municipal body would be responsible for the civic infrastructure. No, that would be too obvious and too sensible, and of course that is how any functioning system anywhere in the world would work. In India, financial responsibility for that road would be divided between the state government, which manages the affairs of only 70 million people and the central government (because there is a railway line in the picture, and railways are all run by the central government, including the local train network of Chennai). The local municipal entity is powerless and broke, and it exists to basically receive petitions and forward them to the state or central governments – well, when they get out of their wheeling and dealing to getting around to doing any work at all.
We have ministries and departments for everything under the sun, from condoms to condiments, from rain forests to railways, from fisheries to fertilizers, from information technology to imaging satellites. Except that we don’t focus on basics like roads, sanitation or drinking water, because, well, that would be too obvious and too sensible. Ronald Reagan’s dictum “Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem” applies with astonishing force and clarity in India. That is why I am a businessman.
PS: You want to see more pictures like this, here is a slideshow from the Hindu.