Sridhar Vembu is one of India's most successful entrepreneurs, a self-made billionaire who pulled himself up from the bootstraps with a great deal of hard work and an Ivy League education. Most famously he is known for building a billion-dollar software company from scratch without taking any external funding. As founder and Chief Executive Officer of Zoho Corporation, Vembu has successfully spearheaded the company towards becoming a global powerhouse with more than 50 million users.
Today Zoho competes directly with giants like Microsoft and Google. Initially, Vembu began his entrepreneurial journey in 1996 when he launched AdventNet, another software company that eventually blossomed into a global provider of web-based business tools and office suites. Widely regarded as a visionary in the tech industry, Vembu has received multiple awards throughout his illustrious career, including the 2019 Ernst & Young "Entrepreneur of the Year Award" in India. He was also the recipient of the Padma Shri, India's fourth highest civilian honor, in 2021. That same year his country again recognized his contributions to the community by appointing Vembu to the National Security Advisory Board.
In 1989, Vembu came to Princeton University with a very different set of goals. Having just completed his undergraduate degree in India, Vembu entered Princeton's hallowed halls with every intention of eventually becoming a faculty member in some leading university. While working toward his Master of Science degree and Doctor of Philosophy degree in electrical engineering, Vembu also gained a keen interest in political science and economics, which led him to the opinion that the main problem in India was socialism. Hoping to eradicate this from his homeland, the brilliant graduate student came to a major decision. By the time he graduated from Princeton in 1994, he had turned his back on becoming an academic, in order to pursue what he felt was a more meaningful existence in the corporate world, taking his Ivy League PhD with him.
Known for his unconventional choices, it may come as no surprise that the free-spirited Indian tech guru has not only failed to return to his alma mater, but also created a rival institution of learning. In 2005, Vembu started an informal university called Zoho University. Instead of hiring engineers from reputed institutes, he focused on hiring young talented individuals from low-income households, training them to build software products in India for the world. Back in the U.S., his company is now building a new 375-acre campus in Austin, Texas, which will also house the Zoho University. Currently, 15% of Zoho's workforce is composed of alumni from Vembu's new university. By offering hands-on practical training, Vembu believes that these grads will have an additional edge over those with a formal education, perhaps even some of his fellow Princeton alumni.