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Cover story: Sridhar Vembu's vision from the village

Snuggled within the Western Ghats in southern Tamil Nadu, almost on the absolute edge of India, is the newly formed district of Tenkasi, most famous on the tourism map for the Courtallam Five Falls. Among a collection of nine waterfalls, the Courtallam Five that cascade from the river Chittar is compared to the mythological five-headed cobra, and its waters are said to have restorative effects. Lower down on the plains are predominantly agricultural hamlets, with paddy occupying the largest area of cultivation.

Nine years ago, a Chennai-headquartered software products firm purchased 4 acres of land in one of the villages, Mathalamparai, to begin operations from the district— roughly 650 km from the Tamil Nadu capital.

Its founder, born in a village in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur district into a family of farmers who later went on to study at Princeton University, New Jersey, work at Qualcomm in San Diego, California, and later live in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, had a vision: To take Silicon Valley to the village.

Meet Sridhar Vembu who, in his late 20s, founded AdventNet in 1996 to make software products at a time when IT services were the rage. In 2009 he renamed the company Zoho Corp to reflect the transition from a software company serving network equipment vendors to an innovative online applications provider.

Zoho today provides cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) solutions and over 40 apps for, among other activities, online accounting, human resource and inventory management. A few of those products, including Zoho Desk, a customer service software, were built out of the Mathalamparai office, vindicating Vembu’s vision that you didn’t have to be in the urban hubs to develop world-class products.

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