Zoho a disruptive force in SMB software

Tom Paine

Have you heard of Zoho?

The Indian-American SaaS CRM company has been getting considerable attention recently as it continues to grow. A classic disruptor, it is beginning to move upmarket from its SMB roots towards the enterprise market.

Industry analysts love Zoho’s story, because it seems free of much of the baggage legacy enterprise vendors carry. Customers love not paying Salesforce prices. And you can piece together other Zoho application modules to form ERP- like capabilities .

Zoho’s founder and CEO, Sridhar Vembu, 51, was born in a small town in Southern India and went on to earn his PhD in Electrical Engineering from Princeton. He was on his way to a long career in academia, but quickly decided that was not what he wanted to do and set his sights on the tech industry and software.

Vembu co-founded Zoho in 1996, and he and his family own over 90% of it. Zoho has some 8,000 employees and has had 5 consecutive 30% + growth years. It has never required outside equity.

Vembu has had Zoho build and surround itself with its own ecosystem, owning a full-stack operating system, operating Zoho University (which breeds much of the company’s top talent), and following Mr Vembu’s other often unique ideas for building a software business.

Zoho One is the core of what it calls Zoho’s “operating system for business”, consisting of more than 45 separate apps. Zoho has built all of Zoho One internally.It has its own hardware and data centers. All the apps are fully integrated to work with each other. App builder Zoho Creator can work in a low code environment.

Last year, Zoho relocated its US headquarters from California to Austin.

We are not the SAP of the east. SAP is the Zoho of the west“,  is Vembu’s refrain. He isn’t looking for an IPO, though it could do that. Revenue has surpassed $500 million, but likely is still short of $1 billion, and Zoho says it is profitable.

Zoho references the City of Philadelphia as being important client. Philly-based Purolite is another. Philadelphian Gene Marks runs a Zoho user group which was scheduled to meet tomorrow, but was cancelled..

Analysts seem skeptical about how much Zoho can penetrate the large enterprise market. Certainly it can handle some apps, but perhaps lacks the infrastructure to manage a complex enterprise. Also, I would be concerned about Zoho becoming too inwardly focused, depending as it does on a rather closed proprietary architecture.

Zoho’s video ads, which run on cable, look like takeoffs on another ad genre:.

Vijay Sundaram, Zoho’s chief strategy officer and a Wharton grad, on Constellation Research’s DisrupTV

Podcasts: LLR Partners, Dell Boomi, Big Pharma, Zoho Chief Strategy Officer (Wharton Grad)

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