Big Idea

A whole new game

What makes software applications company Zoho Corp a challenger to Google, Microsoft and Salesforce?

RA Chandroo

In 2007, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com met Sridhar Vembu, founder of California-based Zoho Corp, which also has an office in Chennai, with an offer to buy him out. “He said, ‘Google is going to crush you guys with their Office suite. We can help you,’” says Vembu, recollecting the meeting. “This reminded me of the story where a bear chases two friends. One friend tells another, ‘We can’t outrun the bear’. The other one immediately says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you’. Similarly, with Google chasing me, I thought I don’t have to outrun Google, I just have to stay ahead of Salesforce.”

That is easier said than done. But the company, known as AdventNet in its previous avatar, has managed to carve a niche in a marketplace where big boys like Microsoft, Google and Salesforce play, through products that match its global peers at reasonable prices. Launched in 1996, it initially sold network management software — now the oldest division, WebNMS. Post the dotcom recession, AdventNet revamped its portfolio in 2004 to offer enterprise IT products through ManageEngine, the largest division in the company.  

A year later, online communication, business and productivity applications such as email, word processors and spreadsheets, customer resource management (CRM), project management and invoicing were introduced through its third division, Zoho.com. The company was rechristened to Zoho Corp in 2009 as the division became more popular. Today, th

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