The Path Less Travelled Brings Zoho To Byron Bay

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Zoho is one of the biggest tech companies you've probably never heard of. They create business software - things like accounting apps, CRM, email and other essential tools - using a cloud platform. They have recently launched officially in Australia and are taking a very different road to that of other tech companies.

The typical start-up story goes something like this. The founder or founders have an idea and work on it for a while, creating something tangible from their idea. After a while, they realise that in order to take the next step, whatever that might be for them, they need to either take out some financing through a bank or hit the VC trail seeking out some funds. Then, faced with interest payments or new shareholders, they focus on relentless growth, renting flashy office space in Silicon Valley and major cities.

Instead, Zoho has never taken out financing or used a cent of VC finding. They eschew flashy, big city offices, preferring to place their offices in regional centres as there's lots of talent and the money they save on office space can be used in other ways.

I spoke with Zoho's new ANZ chief Timothy Kasbe about what makes Zoho different to almost every other cloud software company you've heard of.

Zoho's new office is being established in Byron Bay. And the company has other offices in a village in South India and another at Dell Valley in Texas - a community of 17,000 people. So, why take the regional approach?

Kasbe said "There are a few things we are really cognisant of. We find that people in regional areas have a better temperament to the types of passion we're looking for. Byron Bay is very close to the Gold Coast where we host a lot of events there so it's logical for us. We always try to be near a university and we will be close to Southern Cross University and we expect to get a lot talent through good relationships".

With many people from metropolitan areas seeking a sea-change and moving to regional areas, Kasbe said there's a lot of untapped talent there as well. And he noted that employee retention a Zoho is exceptionally high with employee burnout insignificant.

"It makes sense to be away from the noise and the treadmill that drives people into stress," he added. "Byron really makes sense for us from a culture point of view and because of how we operate".

The proximity to Southern Cross Univeristy is just one part of the company's commitment to education. Zoho has established their own universities in India and Texas.

"It comes from a belief that education and business is a way out of a lot of bad things in the world. We want to give the opportunity to students who may not normally have a chance due to their family's economic situation. If someone has a passion for technology we want to give them an opportunity".

Almost 2000 people have graduated from Zoho's private university with about 15% now working within the company. There are campuses in India and Texas with plans create another in Australia.

Avoiding the temptation to go public or be bound by the constraints of VC finding has allowed Zoha to do some "crazy things" said Kasbe. For example, they offer a suite of 40 apps for $1 per day. That means they can offer software to everyone from street vendors to global brands.

The company also provides a 24 hour kitchen to staff as well as well building schools for the children of staff and low cost housing. These things don't make sense for public companies but they contribute to Zoho having the highest staff retention of all large tech companies.

It also means Zoho can take a long-term view, said Kasbe. Without being driven by quarterly profit reporting, they are able to invest in initiatives such as chipset design - something the company commenced last year - as well as developing a new programming language that will allow them to develop software that's unconstrained by todays tools.

So, I'm guessing more than a few of you reading this will be wondering how to get a job at a growing tech company where you can sneak out for a lunchtime surf. Kasbe said the plan is to have about 40 people at the Byron Bay office. Here's what Zoho is looking for.

"The first thing is attitude. Do they have a humble attitude, a servant attitude for serving the customer? Those are really hard to teach. Intellectual programming languages are easier to teach".

Kasbe is also looking for people who are thirsty for knowledge and to learn. They also look for global awareness. With 45 million users in 180 countries, Zoho wants people who can empathise and understand needs that go beyond what they see locally.


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