- Shridhar Vembu, with other founders, started Zoho University, now known as Zoho Schools
- The Zoho schools, onboard and train students with skillsets and abilities.
- Students are not charged a fee but are paid a stipend of ₹10,000 throughout the tenure of the two-year course.
Nine years ago when a Chennai-headquartered software products firm purchased 4 acres of land in one of the villages named Mathalamparai, to begin operations from the district which was roughly 650 km from the Tamil Nadu capital, nobody knew that it would lead to starting of a new vision. Zoho, what we see today wasn’t like this always, it was built up in harsh village conditions with no advanced technologies, and today provides cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) solutions and over 40 apps, among other activities, online accounting, human resource, and inventory management.
About Shridhar Vembu
When the pandemic started in early 2020, Shridhar Vembu was in a village in Tenkasi in Tamil Nadu, from where he had been working for six months. He continued talking to clients and colleagues, coding, and running his business from a small village.
After the lockdown was lifted, he started opening offices across villages and in a few small cities where the employees had moved to be closer to their families. Sridhar Vembu, in his late 20s, founded AdventNet in 1996 to make software products in his IT service. In 2009 he renamed the company Zoho Corp and made the transition from a software company serving network equipment vendors to an innovative online applications provider.
Over the past eight months, Vembu has moved back to his rural and agricultural roots. His motivation to go back into rural areas is that he wants his employees to live in these villages because it brings a lot of new ideas. The good stuff, like mentoring and coaching, is what Vembu hopes the city people can give to the local youth, who Zoho can then recruit and create a perfect organization.
Zoho- The Innovation
“I always thought that people migrating from villages to cities is not a good idea,” Vembu told Forbes India. About a year or two ago, he decided that he want to do something new. his vision is to go to the smaller villages and set up satellite-connected office centers where 10 to 20 people can work.
As of now, Zoho has two rural offices, one in Tenkasi and the other in Renigunta in Andhra Pradesh with 500 of its 9,300 employees globally working out of these. The plan is to have many more of its 8,800 India-based employees working out of non-urban India.
Zoho has become the first software product unicorn, and Forbes in 2019 valued Vembu’s 88 percent stake at $1.83 billion. In 2019, Zoho reported profits of ₹516 crores on total revenue of ₹3,410 crores. The company claims to have 50 million users globally for its apps, in which the latest was launched at the start of the pandemic and is called Zoho Remotely.
In 2004, the founders started Zoho University, now known as Zoho Schools, to onboard and train students with skillsets and abilities. Students are not charged a fee but are paid a stipend of ₹10,000 throughout the tenure of the two-year course. Out of 9,300 employees, 875 are students from Zoho Schools.
In the last seven years since Digital India was launched, India has started many technological advancements. UPI has been successful, and schemes such as Digidhan Abhiyaan, E-Granthalaya, E-Panchayat, E-Hospital, and E-Pathshala, to make technology accessible and inclusive, have seen good adoption. Make in India and Startup India, which were helped by projects under Digital India, have led to an increase in entrepreneurship. India has now become home to nearly 66,000 startups and has become the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world.
The Indian startup ecosystem is maturing rapidly. Rural talent will be very important to building these domestic capabilities as suggested by Vembu. Entrepreneurs should try to take advantage of the digital infrastructure, and the talent in rural areas, and invest in up-skilling.
Vembu’s idea of a future for himself and his industry is to combine a perfect mix of rural and urban civilization, he’s also starting on a mission to build an army of engineers—not those with conventional degrees but those trained in-house.
“I have much more to build. So not right now. But like, as my mother said, first let’s survive the virus.” says Shridhar Vembu.