The Indian IT industry is known for its software services firms, but can’t boast of great technology product companies. For that to happen, it needs to make its young engineers stay back in the country and encourage them to innovate here, Sridhar Vembu, founder and CEO of Zoho, tells Sudhir Chowdhary in a recent interaction. Excerpts:
What’s the rationale behind developing Zoho Desk from rural India?
We believe rural talent should not have to leave home to find opportunity. Our broken urbanisation model creates severely overcrowded and polluted mega-cities and denudes rural areas of talent. That is why what Zoho Tenkasi is doing matters.
I believe that we should make things in India. Basically, engineers want to make things, figure out how to make things and that’s what I have been focusing on. Specific to Zoho Desk, it is gratifying that we have come to this level, it has validated our thought process. Today, we do not see ourselves primarily as an export driven phenomena. Even at Zoho, I keep saying we have to solve domestic problems. My slogan is we do not want to solve problems only in Atlanta and Chicago, we have to solve problems in Coimbatore and Jaipur, too.
Do you think the IT industry is becoming service-oriented?
Take IBM Global Services. In a different universe IBM would have been Google, it had all the technology, it defined computer science; but it is Google that is defining computer science today. So, global services is a misdirected move in my opinion. What I am saying is that IBM stopped being a computer company. That was the problem.
Look at Apple, which stays true to its product rules and that is why it is the biggest computer company on the planet. It has overtaken IBM too. Once upon a time that thought was outlandish. But it happened because Apple stayed true to its products.
What is needed to make great product companies in India?
One part is to make ambitious people stay in India. We are losing our talent to Microsoft, Google, etc. We are making it abroad and importing it here. Second is the ease of doing business. When you are young, why not try doing your own thing? That culture has to come. For that, there has to be ease of doing business. Third is the mind-set. We think of business as trading, but trading is one component, there has to be a source to exist. We have to go back to the source. How do we produce the source, how do we trade it? There is the whole engineering mentality that has to come in.
Is there a connection between Zoho Desk’s tagline ‘Made in rural India, Made for the world’ and the government’s ‘Make in India’ campaign?
Absolutely. That is why I am a huge supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is the first time a politician actually is so committed to this mission—that we need economic development and we have to make in India. It’s also the solution to our job crisis.
What are your initiatives for gaining customer traction?
We are opening more sales and marketing centres around the country. Delhi is the first one. Soon we will be going to Mumbai and Bengaluru but these establishments will be small.