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SridharKumudam

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Below is his complete interview (this was 'abridged' into this :-))

1. இதுவரையிலும் உங்களின் பெயர் நிறைய பேருக்குத் தெரியாத அளவுக்கு அமைதியான சாதனையாளராக இருக்கிறீர்களே...எப்படி? ஏன் உங்களின் பெயர் இந்தியா, மற்றும் தமிழகத்தில் அவ்வளவாகத் தெரியவில்லை? யார் காரணம்?

 That's because I don't believe I personally deserve so much credit and publicity. The company's success is directly the result of the hard work of so many people and I don't feel good hogging the limelight. I am not saying this to be modest, I really mean it.  I was a very shy kid, and I am still not very comfortable with publicity, so I am actually happy not to be "well known" - it is the company's success that is important!
 
2.உங்களைப் பற்றி? பிறந்த ஊர், படிப்பு, குடும்பம் பற்றி?

 I was born in the village Umayalpuram in 1968. It is my mother's native village, and as was the custom, I was born at her parents' home in the village. I grew up in Chennai, attended Anjugam Higher Secondary School in West Mambalam until my 9th standard, then Jaigopal Garodia National Higher Secondary School in East Tambaram for 10th through 12th which I finished in 1985 after which I went to IIT Chennai for B.Tech. In 1989, I went to Princeton University for doing a PhD in Electrical Engineering.

 My parents both come from small agriculturist families in Tanjavur district, who had six or seven acres. My father S. Vembu finished his schooling and got a job in Chennai in the court system, eventually working in the High Court at Chennai for over 30 years before retirement. My mother Janaki is a house-wife. I have 3 younger brothers and one younger sister. My brothers Kumar and Sekar started this company with me, and now they both have their own software companies in Chennai - Sekar's company is called Vembu Technologies and Kumar's company is called GoFrugal Technologies, both are in Velachery. My sister Radha and my last brother Mani work in Zoho Corp in Chennai.
 
3.படிப்பு முடிந்ததும் என்ன வேலை செய்தீர்கள்..? பிசினஸ் துவங்குவதற்கு முன்னால் உங்களின் ஆரம்ப கால வாழ்க்கை எப்படி இருந்தது?

  During my school and college years, I had a good academic record, because I had excellent memory and was good at taking examinations, which is the skill they really measure in our education system!  Due to my background of growing up in Chennai but visiting my village often as a kid, I observed the contrast, and would ask questions like "Why is there so much poverty?" I remember asking these types of questions with some of my teachers in school. I remember one of them giving the answer "All our problems will be solved with communism" but it never really persuaded me, because he would argue that the government should hire everyone, which felt absurd to me even as a young kid. In some ways, that early obsession with poverty was instrumental in my being a businessman today, because I eventually realized that entrepreneurship is the way to create jobs, which is the only way out of poverty.

  I originally went to USA to get a PhD and become a professor and do research at some university. But during my PhD, I felt my research work was meaningless ("Ettu soraikai, karikku udhavadhu" in Tamil!), got disillusioned, and decided to get a private sector job. I was 25 years old at that time, had no idea that I would start a business. But taking that step out of the academic environment was a crucial decision.

4.ZOHO CORP-  நிறுவனத்தை ஆரம்பிக்க வேண்டுமென எப்படித் தோன்றியது? எப்போது ஆரம்பித்தீர்கள்? இப்போது அதன் வளர்ச்சி? தொழிலாளர்கள் எண்ணிக்கை?
 
After finishing the PhD, I began to work in Qualcomm in San Diego, California as a wireless communications engineer in 1994. A few months later, my first brother Kumar also joined Qualcomm as a software engineer. We would often discuss about how to use our talents in India, because we both would feel it was so sad that we were so far behind in India, and we did not think we could just "settle down" in America and be happy with ourselves. After a few such discussions, in November 1995, Kumar decided to resign his job, return to India, and start something from home. My second brother Sekar had just started a PhD program in US at that time, but when Kumar returned, he also decided to drop out of the PhD program, and return to India to join hands with Kumar. The company they started was called Vembu Systems Private Limited in Tambaram. There was no business plan or even an idea of what to do. My parents were worried that two of their sons returned home without a job and planned to sit at home to write software!  Soon Sekar brought in his friend from his IIT days named Shailesh Kumar. They also recruited my last brother Mani to help them, partly because he did't have to be paid much (there wasn't much money!). So it was a friends and family affair - Sekar and Mani brought in a lot of their friends! Soon Kumar used his previous relationships to get a couple of small contracts to develop some software, one in Chennai and one in Bangalore. He would go back and forth between Chennai and Bangalore.

Around the same time that Kumar left for India, one of my friends in Qualcomm introduced me to Tony Thomas, a Bangalore-born IIT Chennai graduate, who had started a software company of his own called Advent Network Management in New Jersey. Tony needed some help with the software he had developed, and I introduced him to Kumar & Sekar in India. They decided to create a two person team in Chennai to enhance Tony's software, and provide customer support. Tony had some savings, and he also borrowed some money from his brother, which was how he was able to pay for this team in India.

While those things were going on, I left my job in Qualcomm in April 1996, and moved to silicon valley, with the idea that I could be helpful to get some business for Vembu Systems, though I still had no idea how I would do that, because I had no experience in business. I started to develop some hardware with a friend, but the effort failed because the hardware did not work. That was when I decided I should stick to software. Then around May 1997 , Tony called me to say that he needed help to sell his software in silicon valley. I told him I would try to sell the software. Tony could not afford to hire anyone, so I ended up becoming the salesman, though I had no experience in sales!

To my surprise, I found that I could sell the software. During 1997 and 1998 , revenues started to grow. Along with it, the team in India grew rapidly, and that team started to develop new products on top of Tony's original product. In 1998, we decided to create a unified company called AdventNet, with headquarters in San Jose (in silicon valley) with Tony as the CEO, myself as the VP of Marketing, Kumar as the head of India development center, and Sekar and Shailesh became VPs of Engineering. In 1999, I hired full time sales staff, and sales grew even more. By 2000, Tony told me I should become the CEO, because he wanted to focus on the technology side and he felt I was more suitable to running the business. I was reluctant to accept at first, but eventually he persuaded me. By the end of 2000, we had reached about 150 people in India and about 10 people in USA

I am narrating all this history because it was not my "grand vision" that led to the start of this company. Kumar & Sekar's return to India, Tony's initial software product - all of these played a far more critical role in the very early days than I did. So it is unfair to assign all the credit to me! 

Today, the company employs about 1200 people in Chennai, about 20 in USA, 25 in Japan and 20 in China and a small sales office in UK.

5.உங்களின் ஆரம்ப முதலீடு எவ்வளவு? ZOHO ஆரம்பித்த பிறகு நீங்கள் சந்தித்த தடைகள்..சிரமங்கள்.?
 
There was not much investment because none of us had much money. Kumar invested his savings to buy two computers and create a small office at our house in Tambaram. Tony put in some savings to pay for the team in India to support his software. I invested my own savings in the hardware development project which failed so it didn't really end up helping the company other than to teach me about failure! For nearly two years, we all worked without pay, so that work was really the biggest investment. I relied on my wife Pramila who worked as an engineer in silicon valley  to support me during that time.

6.பிசினஸில் உங்களின் வருட வருமானம் இப்போது எவ்வளவு? (டர்ன் ஓவர்) 

We don't disclose our revenue as a private company. We are a growing company with healthy financial situation. 

7.ZOHO CORP - நிறுவனத்தின் வேலைகள் என்ன? இது எந்த மாதிரியான நிறுவனம்?
 
Zoho Corp is a product company. In India, most companies are actually software-services companies. The difference is that they write software on a contact basis while we create and sell products. We have tried to create a flexible informal work culture in Zoho Corp, similar to silicon valley companies. 

I am personally very proud of our hard working employees, whose passion is the reason we are here. We still have a long journey ahead of us, and it is our employees that form the main asset of the company.

8.அமெரிக்க வாழ்க்கை பற்றி?  அங்குள்ள இளைஞர்களைப் பற்றி? அங்கே உங்களுக்குப் பிடித்த விசயம் எது?

The most impressive thing about Americans I like is their openness. I came here as a foreigner ("velinaattavar"), and yet I have never felt like a foreigner. Silicon valley in particular is a mix of so many cultures. It is that openness that is the strength of American society.
I also admire the ability of American young people to think on their own, follow their dreams. That is an inspiration for me.  

9.அமெரிக்காவில் இந்தியர்களை மதிக்கிறார்களா...? அங்கே உங்களுக்கு ஏற்பட்ட சுவையான சம்பவம் ஏதேனும் சொல்லவும்.?
 
Americans respect talent, in whatever color, race, religion it comes from. For that reason, Indian IT talent is respected in America. 

During the early days of the company, I concluded a sales agreement with a customer. The customer felt sympathy because of my lack of business experience, and told me "You should have charged me a lot more for your software, but you are too shy to ask for the real value. Please learn not to be shy and ask for the real value of your software or hire another professional sales person to help you!" 

10.இந்தியாவின் பிசினஸ் வளர்ச்சிப் பற்றி உங்கள் கருத்து என்ன? இந்திய இளைஞர்களிடையே பிசினஸ் ஆர்வம் எப்படி இருக்கு?
 
I left India as a student in 1989. To be honest, I felt very pessimistic at that time, because of our anti-business economic policies. Today, I am very happy at the transformation in India. The economic reforms launched in 1991 have made a big impact. The economy has grown immensely, and there is a new-found confidence among Indian youth. I see a lot of hunger for knowledge and growth in India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, which I am very happy about. I travel all around the world, and I would say that India is one of the most attractive places to do business today, in spite of all our problems such as poor infrastructure, over crowding in urban areas, and so on. It is the talented, educated young people who are the real assets and the real future of India.

11.உங்களை கவர்ந்த இப்போதைய இளம் தொழிலதிபர்கள் யார்?
 
I am very inspired by Badri and Satya, founders of Kizhakku Padhippakam in Chennai. What they are doing is very admirable. In terms of role models, I have studied Japanese companies like Honda for inspiration, because of their long term engineering innovation. I hope Tamil Nadu would have engineering innovation like Japan does, because that is the foundation of prosperity.

12.பில்கேட்ஸை சந்தித்தது உண்டா? அமெரிக்காவில் உங்களுக்கு நெருக்கமான வி.ஐ.பி. நண்பர்கள் இருக்கிறார்களா..?

I have not met Bill Gates. I live an ordinary middle class life in America. I don't have any close VIP friends though I have met many important people for business reasons. 

13.சென்னையில் செயல்பட்டு வரும் உங்களின் நிறுவனதைப் பற்றி? ZOHO யுனிவர்சிட்டியை பற்றிச் சொல்லவும்?

Zoho Corp has over 1200 employees in Chennai. I visit Chennai every 3-4 months. Our co-founder Shailesh Kumar is the head of our India operations. From early days, due to my brother Kumar's focus on training new employees, we have not paid much attention to academic performance in our recruitment. Instead, we have focused on providing opportunity to enthusiastic, passionate people, and let them learn on the job. This has resulted in a very dynamic culture in the company that is based on performance in the job, not based on which college, how many marks and so on.

As an extension of that early focus, we started Zoho University in 2005, as our internal education and training program. We take students directly after their +2 or diploma, and we train them in software programming, English and Mathematics. We pay them a stipend during the training, so they can focus on learning. After about a year of very intensive training, they join our teams as apprentices, and within 2 years, they become empoyees. We started this in 2005, and by now over 100 employees in our company have come from this program. We started this because college education is very expensive and it has become an economic barrier to many talented young people who are not fortunate to have richer parents. In addition, college education is not very relevant to real world work, and I felt we could do a better job than many colleges do. It has worked very well! I am very proud of our very passionate, motivated Zoho University students!

14.தமிழ் நாட்டு இளைஞர்களுக்கு நீங்கள் சொல்ல விரும்பும் அறிவுரை என்ன?

I cannot do better than Dr. M. S. Udayamurthy: "Unnal Mudiyum Thambi, Nambu" - I used to read his articles during my student days, I felt very inspired.  The solution to removing poverty and achieving widespread economic development is really more and more entrepreneurship and initiative. If we have a thousand companies in Tamil Nadu like Zoho Corp, we would be a developed country! 

My suggestion is to take the initiative, and do something to solve local problems. It is not just in terms of business - young people can take the initiative to clean our streets, plant trees, and so on. It is such local initiative that ultimately would make us a developed country. Our development is not going to happen because some magic happened in Delhi. It happens because our talented young people take the initiative and do something, however small. Never give up because the problems we face look so big. Start small!
 
15.கிராமங்களிலும், ஏழைகளிடமும் உங்களுக்கு இருக்கும் ஈடுபாடு பற்றிச் சொல்லுங்க?

Due to my parents rural background, I would go to my village every summer and most school holidays. I felt a closer connection to my village than to Chennai as a result. I was also very pained to see the poverty that is everywhere visible. When I was an engineer in Qualcomm, my brother Kumar and I used to talk a lot about how to use our talents to do something in India. We felt the only way out of poverty is to create jobs, and we wanted to use our talent to do that. Zoho University was inspired by the need to help talented young people who come from poor backgrounds. We have recruited many rural kids in this initiative.

Today, my brother Kumar has started an office in Kumbakonam, and he employs many people from villages around Kumbakonam. I feel inspired by  his example, and Zoho Corp is planning another center in a rural part of Tamil Nadu soon.
 
16.தமிழக கிராம மக்களின் கல்வி அறிவு மற்றும் தொழிலை மேம்படுத்த என்ன செய்யலாம்..? டிப்ஸ்?
 
The role model for rural development is China. I have studied China's economic development in the last 30 years, and it was based on small businesses started in rural areas, to produce simple, useful products - examples include textiles, footwear, plastic products, toys, agro-based products and so on. These rural "light-weight industries" (not capital intensive "heavy industries") became the foundation to enable China becoming a middle income country today. It created vast employment opportunities, and helped hundreds of millions of Chinese to transition out of agriculture to industry.

One tip I can give is for rural entrepreneurs to look at nearby urban centers as markets. Look at the middle-class people in cities like Coimbatore, Madurai or Tiruchi. What kind of products do they need day to day? Focus on those products that can be built with relatively low investment, in a smaller scale. There is a lot of labour that is waiting to be tapped in rural areas, labor that has a high school level education but doesn't have much employment opportunity. China used that labour well to create these rural-based light industries. That is a model that I believe can work wonders in India too.

17.தமிழகத்தில் ஏதேனும் தொழில் தொடங்க உங்களுக்கு ஆர்வம் உண்டா...? என்ன மாதிரி தொழில்?
 
We already employ over 1200 people in Chennai!  In future, we plan to move into more rural areas.

18.உங்களுக்கு அமெரிக்கா அல்லது இந்தியாவில் இதுவரை விருது, கவுரவம் ஏதேனும் கிடைத்திருந்தால் அதைத் தெரிவிக்கவும்?
 
Peridhaga sollikollum alavukku appadi onrum illai!   

19.எதிர்காலத் திட்டம் என்ன?

I am interested in medical equipment, because it involves high technology similar software. Healthcare is the fastest growing segment in India, as Indian society gets richer and cares about health more. So a lot more medical related companies are needed.
 
ஸ்ரீதர் வேம்பு... தெரியாத முகம். பொதுவாழ்க்கையில் இதுவரை அடிபடாத பெயர்.ஞீளிபிளி சாஃப்ட்வேர் கம்பெனியின் பொது நிர்வாகி. ஒற்றை வரியில் சொன்னால்  அமெரிக்க சாதனைத் தமிழர். ‘யாரும் அறியாத மிகத் திறமையான இந்தியச் சாதனையாளர்’ன்னு ‘போர்ப்ஸ்’ பத்திரிகை ஸ்ரீதருக்கு புகழாரம் சூட்டி கட்டுரை போட்டி ருக்கிறது. கலிபோர்னியாவிலிருந்தபடி ஸ்ரீதர் வேம்பு பேசுகிறார்.

”தஞ்சாவூர்தான் என்னோட சொந்த பூமி. மண்ணை நம்பி வாழும் வாழ்க்கை. அப்பா, அம்மா ரெண்டுபேருமே விவசாயக் குடும்பத்தைச் சேர்ந்தவங்க. குமார், சேகர், மணி  என மூணு தம்பிகள், தங்கை ராதா என மிகப் பெரிய குடும்பம்.சென்னையில் அப்பாவுக்கு வேலை கிடைக்க, சென்னை வாசியானேன். அப்புறமா வாய்த்ததுதான்  அமெரிக்க வாழ்க்கை.
பி.எச்டி. முடிச்சுட்டு புரொஃபஸராகணுங்கறதுதான் என்னோட ப்ளான்.

ஆனா, அமெரிக்காவுலயே செட்டிலாவதில் எனக்கும், என் தம்பிக்கும் துளியும் விருப்பமில்லை. ‘இந்தியாவுல.. நம்ம தமிழ்நாட்டு பூமியில ஏதாச்சும் செய்யணும்.’ இதான்  எங்க ஆசை. மொதல்ல குமார் தன்னோட வேலையை ராஜினாமா செஞ்சான். குமாரும், சேகரும் கைகோர்த்து எங்களோட தாம்பரம் வீட்டுலேயே ‘வேம்பு சிஸ்டம்ஸ்’னு  ஒரு சின்ன சாஃப்ட்வேர் கம்பெனி ஆரம்பமானது. சென்னையில படிச்ச டோனி தாமஸ் என்பவர் நியூஜெர்ஸியில பழக்கமாக, அமெரிக்காவுல ஞீளிபிளி நிறு வனம்  உதயமானது.’’

இது சாதாரண விஷயமில்லீங்க..!மைக்ரோசாஃப்ட் நிறுவனமே முணுமுணுக்கும் அளவுக்கு ஞீளிபிளிவை முன்னிறுத்தி வெற்றி கண்டிருக்கிறார் வேம்பு.

ஆரம்ப முதலீடு? தடைகள், சிரமங்கள்....?

“அப்போது நான் திருமணமானவன். ஏற்கெனவே ஹார்டுவேர் சம்பந்தமான துறையில் என் சொந்தச் சேமிப்புகளை முதலீடு செய்து நிறையவே பணத்தை இழந்திருந்தேன்.  என்னிடம் திறமை, நம்பிக்கை மட்டுமே இருந்துச்சு. என் தம்பி குமார் தன்னோட சொந்தப் பணத்தை போட்டு ரெண்டு கம்ப்யூட்டரை மட்டும் வைச்சுகிட்டு சின்னதா ஒரு  ஆபீஸ் ரெடி பண் ணான். அப்புறமா, நண்பர் டோனி கொஞ்சம் பண உதவி செய்தார்.

ரெண்டு வருஷமா எந்தக் காசும் வாங்காம எதை யும் எதிர்பார்க்காம பேய்  மாதிரி உழைச்சோம். இந்த விஷயத்துல நான் என்னோட மனைவி பிரமிளாவுக்குத்தான் நன்றி சொல்லணும். இந்தக் கடினமான சூழ்நிலையில் அமெரிக்காவுல இன்ஜினீயர்  வேலை பார்த்துகிட்டே எனக்குப் பக்கபலமா இருந்து சப்போர்ட் செய்தது என் மனைவிதான்.’’

தமிழக இளைஞர்களுக்கு நான் சொல்ல வர்ற ஒரே விஷயம்...

எங்கிருந்தாலும் சின்ன அளவில் தொழில் தொடங்கி அதில் ஈடுபடுங்கள். வெற்றி நிச்ச யம்.’’

 தமிழக கிராமங்களில் தொழில் மேம்படுத்துவது குறித்து...?

 ‘‘ஊர்ப் புறங்களில் தொழில் தொடங்குவதெனில் நான் சீனா வைத்தான் கை காட்டுவேன். பொம்மைகள், ப்ளாஸ்டிக், செருப்பு, டெக்ஸ்டைல் என சின்னச் சின்ன தொழில் களை ஆரம் பித்து வெற்றி கண்ட நாடு அது.

தமிழகத்தைப் பொருத்தவரையில் மதுரை, திருச்சி, கோவை மாதிரியான ஊர்களில் தொழில் துவங்கலாம்.பெரிய தொழிற்சாலைதான் ஆரம்பிக் கணும்னு அவசியமில்லை.  குறைவான முதலீட்டில் மிகச் சின்னதாக ஆரம்பித்தால் கூடபோதும்.இதைப் பரவலாக்கினால் ஏழ்மையை எதிர்கொள்வது ரொம்ப எளிதானதுதான்.’’

மணிவண்ணன்

http://bit.ly/zohouniversity99
http://bit.ly/forbeszoho
https://www.mixcloud.com/kiruba/sridhar-vembu-on-zohos-future-plans-and-threat-from-google/
https://www.facebook.com/EconomicTimes/videos/10154704976522694/?hc_ref=ARTaRF_T-dhthpFLOdeBmyUqiIvamNNky5rMM7cH0_Jzn5l6r70RVWR3PHZ6HP3x4D0
http://www.sramanamitra.com/2007/07/14/happily-bootstrapping-sridhar-vembu-part-1

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