Why I Am a Businessman and Why My Employees Are My Heroes

(picture courtesy: The Hindu online)
That scene above is from the suburb of Chennai (Tambaram) where I grew up, where my parents still live, but in reality, it could be anywhere in India. We get monsoons this time of the year every year, yet, every year this is how it looks for a few weeks. 
I am in business because I believe there is really only one solution. We need 25x more businesses, 25x more jobs, 25x more infrastructure before India could be considered a livable country. I hope to live to see a day when one city, just one fucking city, in India will offer a world-class quality of life. Today, almost no city in India comes close to offering what would be considered an acceptable quality of life. That is why I wake up everyday and go to work, because my dream is to create sufficient profits to directly fund the infrastructure we need to live a decent life.
That crazy idea, directly funding infrastructure out of profit, would practically get me thrown out of my job in a nano-second if Zoho were a public company. That is why I don’t take venture capital and won’t ever take my company public. The good news is we have decent profit, and as we grow, my plan is increasingly becoming less and less crazy. 
But it is not really about me. I live the good life. It is my employees in Chennai that are the true heroes. Every single one of them go to work under these conditions – and I am going to be there tomorrow. Scenes like these are literally everywhere in Chennai. Our people write code,  support customers, teach and learn from each other, all under these conditions. The fact that our people ship the products they do under these conditions is a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit. I grew up in exactly these circumstances, but I still think of it as nothing less than a miracle that we are able to do the work we do.
My employees are just like people in that picture. The are hard working good people, forced to live under a broken system. Governments in India are famous for a singular lack of vision and imagination. In that picture, for example, you would think the local municipal body would be responsible for the civic infrastructure. No, that would be too obvious and too sensible, and of course that is how any functioning system anywhere in the world would work. In India, financial responsibility for that road would be divided between the state government, which manages the affairs of only 70 million people and the central government (because there is a railway line in the picture, and railways are all run by the central government, including the local train network of Chennai). The local municipal entity is powerless and broke, and it exists to basically receive petitions and forward them to the state or central governments – well, when they get out of their wheeling and dealing to getting around to doing any work at all.
We have ministries and departments for everything under the sun, from condoms to condiments, from rain forests to railways, from fisheries to fertilizers, from information technology to imaging satellites. Except that we don’t focus on basics like roads, sanitation or drinking water, because, well, that would be too obvious and too sensible. Ronald Reagan’s dictum “Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem” applies with astonishing force and clarity in India. That is why I am a businessman.
PS: You want to see more pictures like this, here is a slideshow from the Hindu.


24 Replies to Why I Am a Businessman and Why My Employees Are My Heroes

  1. You didnt write what you did to fix the problem, even little thing like meeting the minister or putting your own money to fix a platform in the road?
    People like you can make a difference in India one step at a time.

  2. Hello, there!
    My names Emmanuel and i'm completely new on your site as well as a new student at Rasmussen College of Business here in Fargo North Dakota(U.S.A)I eventually find this website so valuable and that i should use it for my studies if i will be possitive on assuming the used to this special web. like i say that i recently recover this under my school linked and do want to enhance from you what is its to be Zoho in your own words as a director and the founder perhaps, please briefly for better understanding and thank you very much for the media.
    Best regard.

  3. @Director, I hope I have the maturity and wisdom. On most days, I just feel hopeless and miserable. The only way I know how to beat that misery is to go some place small, start over, and do things from the ground up. By nature, I am not a believer in top down, large scale change.

  4. Dear All,i greatly admire sridhar's contribution in creating "flat-world" by building "Zoho Corporation" from scratchi agree more than 50% of all his views/opinions, he is one of my role-model, but sometime i differ from him, i would like to humbly propose a "new definition" for "quality of life" in world,“Happiness (Quality of Life) doesn’t depend on what you have or whom you are, but solely on what you think” – Dale CarnegieInfluential Indians like Narayan Murthy, C.K.Prahalad has said that the difference between developing country & developed country is only thinking(mindset)Also i would like propose "Happy Planet Index" which is a idea of measuring nation’s success by
    happiness and well-being of it people instead of productivity (GDP)#...HPI urges Politicians to pay more attention to “life satisfaction“ over GDP. It urges Leaders in Business/Govt to work for people’s “Life satisfaction“ over moneyThe big message of the HPI rankings is that we have to produce a organisation(system) that makes people happier without costing the EarthThanks & Kind Regards,
    Manoj Thansi
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_peace" rel="nofollow">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W...
    “Peace and friendship with all mankind is our wisest policy,
    and I wish we may be permitted to pursue it”
    - Thomas Jefferson

  5. Sridhar, from my (all too brief) stay in India nearly four decades ago and what I have read and heard since that time, I can agree that that the India's central, state, and municipal governments do constitute a large part of the problem faced by the country and its residents. But who are the bagmen who provide India's politicians with the funding they use in their election campaigns and the higher bureaucrats with the bribes which enable them to live at a standard far beyond the dreams of a majority of the population ? You, indeed, do seem to be an honourable exception to the rule, but to assume that big businessmen in India are less corrupt than their couterparts in the governments the former control is to fly in the face of the available evidence. It might be wise to reflect over what Ronald Wilson Reagan and his followers have done to the government of the United States before citing his one-liner....Henri

  6. Sridhar, little by little I get a better sense of respect for you and your company, how you think, your noble dreams and intentions.Coming from a thirld world country like yours, we also see some of the same very issues here in colombia. We have grown large mountains of cities with little or no regard for even human basics like drinking water, despite having large rivers and reservoirs that flow pristine from high altitudes, unspoiled yet by the hand of man.Like you, I believe business can be part of an answer to all these problems, but it requires removing one large obstacle: the crippling, damning bloodsucking politicians and their ever thirst for money and power.I believe firmly, that countries need to be ran by scientists and technicians, the only ones who pursue the truth on a daily basis. Technology can be used for a better good, not a simple drive for profit, but can be an engine that propels a better life for people around the world.To get there, however, you need great leadership to drive the necessary changes, and leadership requires an enourmous amount of spiritual energy to engage in the "crazy" things that you mention. Coming from India, could you be such a leader or could you get there at one point in your life? At least one can sense in you a deep pursuit for maturity and wisdom. Cheers to that.Recommend you read this weekend Steve Job's biography, it's inspiring and enlightening. It may show the light.Diego Bronstein

  7. Sridhar,
    Hats off to have created such a wonderful corporation and the purpose of the enterprise.You truly are an inspiration.When I landed in San Jose airport to see Zoho occupy the billboards,I sensed that you were creating a Global product from Indian Soil.Regards,

  8. Dear Sridhar,The No:1 problem in india & across the world is "absence of peace",
    The market of this problem is bigger than market of all other problems;
    If violence, murder,rape,arson,hatred,poverty,pessimism is reduced in world, other problems can easily minimized, people can do entrepreneurship & can create jobs for themselves without external assistance,
    Lets create a better world for our future generationsThanks & Kind Regards,
    ‎”I regard myself as a soldier, though a soldier of peace” – Mahatma Gandhi

  9. If drainage mixing in drinking water is a problem during rainy season, Garbage all over the place is the situation during rest of the year.#...Everyday after seeing this, we have to do quality work.

  10. I fully agree with you. Not just Chennai ,its other cites of India as well which is not liveable . Its a struggle to reach office more then the work at office.

  11. Ever thought about Reducing population? Like Less fckers living on a fixed square feet? Thought about such an incredibly magical idea? Lesser fckin Crowd?

  12. Interesting read. I have never been to a Zoho office before and hence would like to really see what kind of infrastructure and facilities do employees enjoy at Zoho. If its about the Indian growth, work starts at home, It'd be great to see Zoho employees being treated to a world class environment :)

  13. Had to add something more.Indian government is indeed the source of the problem but to think that country ills will be solved by direct funding is a big joke. We need to ask how will India ever change?
    Will it change only if we keep complaining or it will change if we get politically involved. Indian businessman have to face the truth. If you want more profits or lets face it- if you want to have basic descent lives for you and your employees then India required big changes and it can only start with direct political involvement. Disengagement with politics is the root of all misery in India and engage if you want to fix things.

  14. Made a lot of sense to me...I have been dreaming all the while to grow my small company big and go public one day...This article just hit that part of my brain to do a re-thinking.My driver's are my heroes... they ply Zoho employees at Chennai city, safely back home every night on these broken roads...

  15. Sridhar - This is very sad- but things are not going to change just by blogging. Indian middle class disengagement with politics is responsible for the mess we are in. There is no one who will go and fix the system for you until we you and I decide enough is enough and work for a proper structured change. Please consider joining #.... Please also read http://sabhlokcity.com/2011/04/how-to-remove-corruption-from-india-the-actual-solution/" rel="nofollow">http://sabhlokcity.com/2011/04...

  16. Thanks for sharing. I, as a business owner appreciate hearing your perspective literally from the opposite side of the planet. Our issues are different, poverty has a different face. Complacency is the norm. But again, we are all human facing the situations we were born into. Hello from Vancouver!

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