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Meet Sridhar Vembu: The Indian Techie Who’s Been Awarded Padma Shri

Chennai-based Zoho Corp’s founder Sridhar Vembu has been awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honor, on 72nd Republic Day. He has been awarded under the Trade and Industry field.

The 54-year-old Indian billionaire took to Twitter on Tuesday to show his gratitude and wrote, “On the Padma Shree award, it is a huge honor, and I feel humbled. I dedicate this to our employees, my extended family, for keeping the faith. I want to thank friends and well-wishers for all your messages that have poured in. Your support keeps me going.”

Vembu and his siblings and Tony Thomas, in Pleasanton, California, founded Advent.Inc in 1996. Later, the company morphed into Zoho Corp. in 2009 with its headquarters in Chennai. He had also set up Zoho Schools of Learning.

According to an online publication, Zoho now has more than 60 million users worldwide, and its client includes Levi’s, Amazon, Philips, Whirlpool, Ola, Xiaomi, and Zomato Friday Magazine. The company continues to be bootstrapped but commands a valuation of nearly $1 billion.

So who is Sridhar Vembu?

Belonging to a Tamil family of farmers from a village in Tenkasi district, Tamil Nadu, he earned a bachelor’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras in 1989 and bagged MS and PhD degrees from Princeton University in New Jersey.

Before launching his own company, he worked for Qualcomm as a wireless engineer in San Diego, California. However, he now holds 88 per cent stake in his company Zoho and Forbes estimates his net at USD 2.44 billion, becoming the 59th richest Indian in the world.

Sridhar Vembu claims that Zoho was built at the right time, in the right segment, and when the conditions were right. Majority of his company’s success came from serving the underserved, according to him.

During an event organized by the Start India Initiative on 16 January, Vembu said that entrepreneurs need to be fearless. As quoted by Economic Times, he said, “You need to be fearless, because you are facing giants and much bigger companies than you. I say what’s the worst that could happen? You go back to getting a job. I apply a warfare analogy, where the worst thing that can happen in war is you get killed, but in business war, you still live. So it’s actually easier.”

Vembu also believes that government intervention is only required in setting up the rails for innovation. He said that while the government is bringing broadband to villages, it is up to the private sector to grow the industry.

Recently, the business magnet also started a messaging app after Zoho employees began looking for alternatives to the world’s largest messaging service, WhatsApp. The move came at a time when the messaging service was embroiled in privacy policy concerns.

The application is called Arattai, which means chit-chat in Tamil, was launched in January. At a virtual Nasscom product conclave, Sridhar Vembu said, “You will see voice and video capabilities (in Arattai), which have taken about 8-10 years of R&D that went into various products that we built… Arattai itself comes from our Cliq platform, which is an enterprise messaging platform. We are repurposing a lot of the tech towards a faster scale consumer-class product.”

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