Start-up City Conference Feb 25th 2012 – Inaugural Keynote

Conference started on time and it was nice to see the Inaugural Keynote speaker Sridhar Vembuarrive before 9am and was set and ready for 9:30 talk!

Highlights from Sridhar Vembu’s Keynote –  Formal education and Phd.  did not contribute much when it came to him starting this venture, his friends and brothers helped him!  Bootstrapped to the core and wants to stay that way!  Few nuggets about how Zoho is run and culture they strive to build and nuture

  •  informal dress code, no corner office – “anyone in my organization needs to reach me”
  • Open flat organization where information is shared – “we are graph rather than tree”
  • Developing a culture of disagreeing politely
  • internally acknowledge where we stand in the market place – “it is acceptable to say we suck in this area”
  • It took more than a decade because we had no ecosystem in India -Chennai. He went on to say Yahoo hired folks from SUN/IBM etc, Google from Yahioo, Facebook/Twitter from google, so when you grow a start-up to get folks with relevant experience!!
  • Every team in Zoho is small 5-10 members, >10 means complexity increases
  • 10% of workforce is students who have completed High school, committed to keeping this going – “interestingly 20% of recent year high school hires had no economic reason but still choose Zoho over college”
  • We do not try to retain employees, we create environment –> fun and challenging work place, good teams and team work and this makes employees stay – not sure if they actually do this but rhetorically or philosophy appealed to me “if someone quits we are ready to let them go within a day!!”

Sridhar mentioned that India needs to have product companies that can challenge the googles and microsofts of the world and the Revenue / Employee in product companies are  5x more than software service company. There was a lively Q&A  session, I did not take notes (as I was listening and trying to ask my question!) but here is my recollection

  • There were a whole bunch of VIT students from Africa (looks like they are doing MBA ) and one of them asked  “one reason to employee non-college graduates is because you want to pay low salary”.  Sridhar responded we pay them salary from day one and training takes two year!  And another one (from VIT) stood-up and narrated his experience about how folks with no formal education could provide electrical solutions and his contention was education corrupts your mind if you are not careful!
  • There were some in audience who did not like Sridhar emphasis on college education is not useful. Sridhar’s retort was I can only talk about my life experiences! There was one parent who said he was glad his son was not around because father-son constantly argue about this and his son is doing comp. Sc. in PSG Tech. Sridhar also clarified Education is necessary in life but college education is optional!
  • A student from SSN asked him for advice, Sridhar talked about ROI on time spent on exams and he mentioned earlier in his speech he went to tamil medium schools and does not remember doing any homework! So his message was if it was important for the students parent spend minimum amount of time on acing the exams, spend rest of time reading and doing fun things like maybe programming or playing with electronic stuff etc.

Looks like on a lighter note – there seems to be thousands of us who had our “wangdu moment!” in our student life …

The hall had aproximately 200 seats and the organizer told me before the start of event they were expecting north of 400 and they had to scramble to add more chair and I would reckon 300+ turned-up. It took me an hour to write this up, hoping I will do four parts within next two days (otherwise its not going to happen!)


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