D J Thomas

Zoho at 25: The Untold Secrets of a Software Saga

In a riveting discourse at Great International Developer Summit, Hyther Nizam, President of Zoho for Middle-east & Africa, pulled back the curtain on Zoho's 25-year journey in the software industry. Boasting a 11,000-strong workforce, 80 million users in its digital ecosystem, and a global footprint that extends to over 180 countries, Zoho is far from your garden-variety tech startup.

So, what's the secret behind Zoho's success? According to Nizam, it's not just about the numbers; it's about sticking to their foundational principles, laser-focusing on long-term goals, and adopting an unapologetically tech-centric strategy.

“We committed not to sell customer data or place ads in our products as early as 2005. Think about it; we could have generated tens of millions of dollars every month, but we chose a deeper relationship with our customers.”

Zoho, it seems, was betting on customer privacy before it was cool. Way back in 2005, the company took a stand against monetizing user data or injecting ads into their products. While this might have cost them millions in potential revenue each month, the decision has led to building stronger, more authentic relationships with their customer base.

“We consider ourselves a technology company, not just a software company. Owning the complete technology stack allows us to control every aspect of the customer experience, much like the Apple model.”

But Zoho doesn't just stop at privacy. It also leans into what Nizam refers to as the "Apple model"—owning the entire technology stack to ensure an optimized user experience. Unlike many competitors who outsource chunks of their tech, Zoho identifies fundamentally as a technology company, replete with a full ownership of their stack that ranges from applications and microservices to hardware and even data centers.

What's under the hood of this full stack, you ask? A well-thought-out combination of proprietary tech and open-source tools. Java powers their applications, Linux their servers. The company also taps into the capabilities of PostgreSQL, an open-source database system. This balanced approach to their tech stack isn't just about cost-saving; it's a strategic maneuver rooted deeply in their core values and vision for the future.

Rather than scaling by acquisition, Zoho has opted for an organic route. Their in-house-built applications are underpinned by hundreds of microservices running on a common platform. This architecture delivers fluid integration across applications and services, all crafted meticulously from the ground up.

“Our engineering team follows a set of guiding principles that have been ingrained since 2005. These include performance optimization and treating every user input with caution. These aren't just rules; they define our development model.”

When it comes to engineering, Zoho has its own playbook. Think of it as their “Ten Commandments,” a suite of guiding principles such as performance optimization, cautious handling of user input, and the elimination of single points of failure. These best practices have been in the company's DNA since 2005 and continue to shape how they operate.

“We run our own data centers, and some are even powered by our solar farms. This is not just about cost; it's about having complete control and governance, and also giving back to the environment.”

But wait, there’s even more to their full-stack claim. Beyond software, Zoho's ecosystem includes hardware like FPGAs and application-specific ICs. Plus, they run their own data centers, some of which are even fueled by Zoho's solar farms. This gives the company an end-to-end control, right from the silicon to the cloud, while simultaneously nodding to their commitment to sustainability.

So, what’s the bottom line for customers? They get an integrated, hassle-free experience without the need to dance between multiple vendors. Zoho, in turn, achieves operational efficiencies, which translate to cost benefits for the end-user. It’s a harmonious setup that has been fine-tuned over a quarter-century of relentless innovation and adherence to core principles.

Zoho's impressive 25-year journey in the software industry isn't the result of happenstance. It's a meticulously charted course fueled by a strong set of values, a crystal-clear vision for the long haul, and an unwavering commitment to tech excellence that prioritizes customer experience. As the company sails forward, expect these fundamental pillars to remain the linchpins of their continued triumph.

Watch the full video of the talk, here.

Have questions or comments about this article? Reach out to us here.

Banner Image Credits: Hyther Nizam at Great International Developer Summit

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