This company is doing $1 Billion in revenue with zero funding.

Aman Bhatia
5 min readMar 19, 2023

Its founder operates this billion-dollar empire from a village and empowers rural youth to have careers in tech.

Story of Sridhar Vembu & how he built Zoho.

Sridhar’s philosophy is that you don’t need billions of dollars in funding to build a successful technology company.

While startups and large tech giants are spinning under severe financial stress, Zoho grew its profits by 43% last year.

This story is not about a multi-billion-dollar company & its founder. It is about a vision that enabled a man to lead a global technology business from a village.

The story goes back to 1996 when Sridhar was working in the US, as an engineer for Qualcomm, after his MS & Ph.D. at Princeton University. His brothers, Kumar & Shekhar, started AdventNet, a network management company. The company had promising technology but no sales.

In no time, Sridhar managed to onboard major firms in the US. But these deals were at horrific margins. Primarily the reason was that he was doing sales for the first time. Some even told him that they would have given him 10 times more money, only if he was a good salesman.

With these low margins they kept going & Sridhar started converting more customers. With that, they started generating revenue. It was fairly low, but it was constantly growing. So rather than taking salaries, they launched a new product called Web NMS, an IoT platform.

Within 2 years, they crossed $1M in revenue and finally took their first salaries from the company. But that’s just the start. They believed that small businesses can scale & become highly profitable without external funding. Here is an important business lesson —

It is better to focus on making customers happy than trying to find people who will invest in your business.

So everything was hunky dory for them until in 2000 the dot-com bubble burst & AdventNet’s sales took a hit. Thousands of companies went bankrupt as they didn’t have enough money to operate. But Sridhar & team had a solid advantage, to save them from it.

As most of their employees were from India, they had low operation costs. They had sufficient running capital to operate for another few years. Not just that, this advantage worked so well for them that they launched another product, ManageEngine — an IT management software.

But life works in circles. Soon due to some internal struggles, Sridhar’s brothers & other key executives left the company. Now Sridhar was the only executive left. It took Sridhar about a year to manage the absence of the primary executives. That’s what true entrepreneur does, they face the hard times & hustle through them. And while he was in the groove, he made one of the most prominent decisions of his life.

He decided to launch a new division, in 2005. It was a division for cloud-based products & services called Zoho.

At the time, companies were looking for a way to store their data on the internet & reduce their server costs. So cloud storage & other services were in high demand. And Sridhar was quick to grab the opportunity.

For the next 3 years, they offered a whole suite of business software, from word processors & spreadsheets to dedicated CRM, etc. They kept adding more services, but their most popular one was a project management system. In 2008, they had over a million users on their cloud-based products. So they decided to go all-in on the cloud & changed the company’s name from AdventNet to Zoho Corp.

Today Zoho offers a variety of products & services & is amongst the most famous cloud service companies around the world.

But the story does not end here. Sridhar wanted to empower the youth of India to lead the technology domain in the world, especially the rural youth. So to do that he launched Zoho University for young students who struggled to have even the basic necessities in life.

It was a special university, unlike the traditional ones we all have seen & experienced. Here students were trained for 24 months in subjects like English, Mathematics & Computer Science. And, it was 100% FREE. The best part of this university is that students are given a monthly stipend for the training period of 24 months. After their graduation, the students are hired across various tech roles in Zoho Corp.

Today Zoho has more than 11,000+ employees & a good percentage of them come from this university. With that dedicated & talented workforce, in 2022, they did a massive $1 Billion in revenue. Since 2019, Sridhar lives in a village in Tamil Nadu. He believes that village offices are the future of work. He says he won’t be able to live in big cities now that he has tasted life in a village.

Entrepreneurs such as Sridhar Vembu and Nithin0dha have always been an inspiration for me, for their tenacity, grit, and intent to work on their own terms, even if that’s contrarian to the world.

Things I’ve learned from Sridhar: — Take good care of your team, they are key to your success — Run after your customers’ satisfaction, not after investors — Simplicity is the key

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Aman Bhatia

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