Sridhar Vembu is a simple person, and most of what he says are tweet sized bits of wisdom. He inspires you almost instantly when you start conversing with him.
That was the first impression when I spoke to him for the first time.
He wanted to get into action as fast as possible. Before we recorded this video I was trying to make him comfortable with what I am going to ask but then he almost immediately started talking about super-interesting things. It was fascinating to hear from him directly. I could almost feel the vibe even when it was virtual. Since I am also focusing on Indian SME and am bootstrapped, I loved this advice: “Go out and learn from the best of the best in the world and then apply them to the local context”. This very much resembles what I wanted to do and my thinking was validated.
We spoke about Zoho’s early days and his remarks will help any young entrepreneurs starting out now. When we start up, a lot of us don’t even know what is the destination and how to navigate the path and what we want to become. In such cases we need a little bit of time and freedom to figure out things along the way. Instead of being forced to adhere to fixed format, setups and rules, bootstrapping is an excellent choice. With bootstrapping there is no sandbox we have to look at.
When I asked him about his hardship to acquire his first 100 customers, he stressed that getting the 1st paying customer is particularly hard. I completely agree; its key to be able to sell to the 1st ever paying customer for any entrepreneur. And the focus here is to find the fit and area where the market leaders are unable to penetrate for some reason. So identifying what is the right place for the current time will become instrumental to get the first one, ten or hundred customers.
At this point I did not want to miss the opportunity to ask a question that I was mulling over for some time. In our first OEQ Hangout on bootstrapping, Shekhar Kirani had said it won’t be possible to build Zoho without funding in today’s times. I did not agree completely with Shekhar at that time. So I asked that question directly to Sridhar to hear his viewpoint. It appears that he somewhat agrees with Shekhar about Zoho. However he said it is possible to build a sizable company now and even after 50 years without external funding. Its just that the entrepreneur must look hard whether the opportunity exists in the current market situation.
So its fair to say that there is nothing wrong in either path. The founders need to evaluate current opportunities and choose the best path that they are comfortable with. Success or failure both can come regardless of the path you choose. So the real focus should be the business and the value the business is creating than the way they are funding their growth. The ecosystem must celebrate both pathways.