How Zoho Became a $1 Billion Company Without a Dime of Outside Investment…

… and keep your soul intact in the process

The traditional startup a fever dream goes something like this: You come up with a revolutionary startup idea in your dorm room. You drop out of school and take your idea to Sand Hill Road, where VCs shower you with money. Your company is growing rapidly. You end up with a valuation of over $1 billion and go public with great fanfare.

That’s the mythology anyway, but what if there was another way? What if you could grow a $1 billion company without outside investment, the crazy sales and marketing costs, the pressure to grow even faster?

Zoho, a company that has a wide range of front-end and back-end business software, has defied this stereotype of growth and investment to great success. Zoho reports that revenue last year topped $1 billion — though as a private entity it doesn’t provide an exact figure. Yet it never took a dime of outside investment.

By growing the company on its own terms, Zoho was able to build a strong internal culture steeped in R&D and product development, growing slowly but steadily without having to deal with any investor interference.

Zoho’s product catalog, which exceeds 50 products, covers everything from a traditional office suite to business intelligence, finance, sales and marketing, customer service, and too many other software categories to list here. Using a freemium model to drive usage, it competes with giants like Salesforce, Google, Microsoft and Oracle, yet has found a way to thrive despite such a tough competitive environment.

I spoke with founder and CEO Sridhar Vembu, along with some industry experts, to get a better sense of how Zoho is growing on its own terms and how this “little engine that could” keeps moving forward.

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