Building a network of Intrapreneurs

In the heart of India’s burgeoning software-as-a-service (SaaS) landscape, one company has stood as a beacon of innovation for the past 27 years. Zoho, the brainchild of Sridhar Vembu, has not only been instrumental in developing world-class products but has also sown the seeds of entrepreneurship through the cultivation of a unique corporate culture – the culture of “intrapreneurship.”

The Inc42 analysis reveals a remarkable story: a staggering 59 former Zoho employees have transitioned into the world of entrepreneurship, collectively birthing 41 startups. These endeavors have managed to secure over $493 million in funding, a testament to the transformative power of Zoho’s culture.

What’s truly fascinating is the diversity of backgrounds among these Zoho alumni turned startup founders. Unlike many success stories tied to prestigious institutions, less than three of these 59 individuals are from the hallowed halls of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) or other top-tier institutions like IIM and XLRI. When you step back and look at the bigger picture, it becomes clear that Ivy League pedigrees are not the primary drivers of entrepreneurial success in this ecosystem.

In fact, for most of these trailblazing entrepreneurs, Zoho served as their first professional experience. A remarkable 44 out of the 59 identified founders were fresh graduates when they embarked on their Zoho journey, illustrating the incredible power of creating entrepreneurs from the ground up.

So, what has been the catalyst behind this remarkable transformation of Zoho’s employees into thriving entrepreneurs? It all comes down to the culture of intrapreneurship that Zoho fosters right from the beginning. According to several former employees, this culture has been instrumental in shaping their entrepreneurial journeys.

Prabhu Ramachandran, the founder of Facilio, backed by Tiger Global Management and a Zoho veteran of 17 years, credits his startup’s success to the invaluable lessons he learned at Zoho. These lessons revolved around concepts like extreme ownership of products, the ability to tackle global challenges, and making a genuine impact on people’s lives through software. Such values and skills are the lifeblood of Zoho’s intrapreneurship culture.

The Zoho Network, as it has come to be known, is characterized by founders who had the privilege of experiencing the entire spectrum of launching, building, and running a business within Zoho. This is largely due to the empowerment of employees, encouraging them to operate as if they were the CEOs of their respective products. This confidence and know-how cultivated within the company made them realize that they could replicate this success outside the walls of Zoho.

On average, most startup founders emerging from the Zoho Network have spent between 3 to 4 years at the company. It’s during this time that they have honed the skills and gained the knowledge required to navigate the intricacies of entrepreneurship.

Moreover, the Zoho alumni continue to rally behind each other’s startups, creating a web of mutual support that propels their collective growth. Notable instances include Freshworks utilizing Chargebee, Facilio Inc leveraging Freshchat, and Hippo Video employing Freshdesk, among other synergistic collaborations.

The Zoho Network has become a flourishing ecosystem of innovative startups, each carrying the torch of intrapreneurship and a commitment to changing the face of the SaaS industry. As Zoho’s legacy of cultivating entrepreneurs continues, it serves as a testament to the profound impact a corporate culture can have in nurturing the next generation of visionary leaders and innovators.

Key Takeaways for Corporate CEOs:

  1. Nurture Intrapreneurship: Encourage an intrapreneurial culture within your organization to foster innovation and empower employees to think and act like entrepreneurs.
  2. Prioritize Skills Over Prestige: Look beyond the prestige of academic backgrounds and focus on skills and potential when identifying future leaders and entrepreneurs within your company.
  3. Invest in Employee Growth: Invest in the growth and development of your employees, providing them with the skills and knowledge they need to excel in their roles and potentially pursue entrepreneurial endeavors.
  4. Encourage Ownership: Promote a sense of ownership among employees, where they take responsibility for the products or projects they are involved in, as this can be a crucial foundation for entrepreneurial success.
  5. Foster a Supportive Ecosystem: Cultivate a supportive ecosystem within your company, where former employees continue to collaborate and support each other’s entrepreneurial ventures.

By implementing these lessons from Zoho’s success, corporate CEOs can contribute to the growth of a dynamic and innovative startup ecosystem while strengthening their own organizations.


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