Zoho, Cloud, Sridhar Vembu

Those who know me well have heard a lot of stories about my experience at Zoho when they transitioned from AdventNet to Zoho. I worked there between 2001-2004 when it was quite a new thing in the indian product ecosystem to talk of Product Management etc. During that period, the company went through a very significant phase of transformation which I was fortunate to be part of, see & learn from close quarters. Today, Zoho was named 4th best Cloud company to work for – makes many of us very proud.

The first thing that struck me was Sridhar’s focus on leveraging data. It went to a point where we realised that inefficient code can put paid to aspirations of leveraging data. And he rethought the data model for our suite of products ground up. The larger ambition was “Deliver software as service, not as installable“. This was in 2003! Back then, the company had about 5 big platform products (SNMP, WebNMS etc). Rethinking the data model, writing and enforcing code that didn’t obfuscate the database (most code was in Java, so it was easy enough to write inefficient code) were tough but important changes he brought about.

Sridhar cared a lot about how teams were organized – large teams are an inherently inefficient lot! Sridhar had the view that teams should be less than 7 people, cross-functional. The reward for growing a team beyond 7 was that it will be split :). His view was that since “Software will be delivered as a Service”, the company should transform from 5 big ships to a 1000 speed boats. To do that, each team team had to focus on a specific market, build and ship a unique product. By 2004 when I was leaving for Yahoo!, there were already 18 products underway. Before the end of the last decade, they were doing over a 100 products!! To go from 5 to 100 in just a few years is quite something.

There’s a lot to lay by the founding DNA of a company and what it can accomplish. While building Credibase which I’ve cofounded a few months ago, here are a few lessons I took away that we try to practice:

Data is God

Focus on the User and all else follows

Small teams create great work

Code always goes from Simple to Spaghetti, but never comes back