Interview with Sekar Vembu

Posted on December 19, 2007. Filed under: Indian Startups, Interview | Tags: , |

Sekar Vembu is the ceo of a chennai based startup Vembu Technologies. He was a Co Founder, the CTO and a Business Unit head for AdventNet (of zoho fame). After Adventnet, he founded SwissSQL, a database migration solution, which was later acquired by Adventnet in 2004. Desistartups had an email interview with Sekar recently.

What made you to focus on backups, when the world was starting to pronounce “Web 2.0” in 2004?

The truth is that I am not really an early adopter of anything. So I never really paid attention to web 2.0 back in 2004 though I read about the different web 2.0 apps nowadays. Also, I would like to call myself more of an incremental innovator with a lot of common sense. So I am not sure if I can come up with a completely new world-changing idea or something like that. So when I started in 2004, I stuck to what I know best. I chose to work on storage as I felt there is lot of growth potential in that area and I did a little bit of research and decided to do a backup software product (which we call Vembu StoreGrid) – more because I felt I could really contribute with my incrementally innovative ideas and also because I felt I could get a product out and start generating revenues to support a boot-strapping model.

What was your initial investment?

I do not want to talk about the real investment. But it is quite significant compared to the investments with which I had helped bootstrap other companies. We still are in investment mode and expecting profitability in the first half of 2008.

Tell us something about your team?

Our management team has a very versatile background. I have always had good success in recruiting my friends from my school days or college days. I do not give much weight to relevant experience in the field I am working on. For example, the president of our company (previously VP, Marketing), Lakshmanan (lux) Narayan was my classmate at IIT, Madras. He did his MBA from IIM-C and then worked in the media/advertising industry for about 10 years. And when he joined me as a co-founder he did not have any experience in the IT field. But I know that he is a very smart and a creative guy who can get anything done if he puts his mind into it.And added to that we get along very well in spite of the huge differences in our personalities – him being a highly enthusiastic early adopter of anything and everything and me being quite cynical about trying anything new. And our VP of Business Development, Bhavdeep Oberoi, (who was Lux’s classmate at IIM-Calcutta) does not come with an IT background either. And both our Director of Technology (Jayavasanthan) and Director of Engineering (Sathish Subramanian) are known to me before. So when I recruit people I give a lot of emphasis on getting people with a variety of experience and skill along with a “Do what it takes” attitude and the willingness to signup for the long haul. And I should add that every employee in our company has fit in nicely into our culture of hard work, dedication, and willingness to make short term sacrifices to achieve our long term vision. I consider myself quite lucky in that front.

Different challenges that you faced over these 3 years and how you managed to overcome them?

I do not think I can pin-point any one significant challenge which we had to face. And of course there are business/people challenges you have to deal with everyday. I always believe no challenge is insurmountable given that you have a highly motivated team of people which have the attitude to “Do what it takes”.

Have you taken any silly decision which proved costly to your company? If yes, what was that?

I can’t think of any silly decision we have taken which proved costly for us. The truth may be that we have already made some silly decisions and we are not aware of that yet. Over time we may know.

How easy/difficult it is to hire people here?

One of the earliest challenges you face when you start a business is to find the right people with the right attitude for a startup. In India I believe it is especially difficult to attract young talented people to join a startup given the fact that you are competing for talent with the large well known services companies and also the large multi-national companies which have setup their software development centers here. In this age of fashion, driven by peer pressure, convincing a young person to work for your unknown startup is not that easy not to mention retaining them by keeping them motivated for the long haul. In our case, I have been quite lucky. Most of the people I hire or partner with are my friends or come through references from friends. That has worked for me very well.

Also, very talented and ambitious people try to move out of India for various reasons. And lack of experienced talent pool, especially people with software product management and product marketing experience, is a significant hindrance for entrepreneurship to blossom in India.

What will you call as your “Moment of proud”?

Obviously, the first time someone actually pays for the product you have created.

What do you think about Leopard’s Time Machine feature?

I think it is a very good feature provided it works as well as advertised. I have never tried it myself though.

Your genuine impression about zoho suite of products?

I have not personally used Zoho suite of products or for that matter any online office apps. It will be a while before I try them. But I am sure online apps will be successful either in its current form or in a form none of us are imagining right now.

What kind of people are you willing to hire?I will list the top 4 criteria I look for when I hire people:

  1. “Do what it takes” attitude.
  2. Passion with willingness for extreme hard work
  3. Willingness to make short term sacrifices and not succumb to peer-pressure.
  4. Intelligence combined with a lot of common sense.

Any tips for the upcoming entrepreneurs?

The biggest obstacle for being an entrepreneur is to get into an analysis paralysis situation. If you are passionate about being on your own just take the plunge and figure out everything later. You do not have to be a super smart visionary to be an entrepreneur. All it takes is a single minded pursuit of what you want to achieve along with the will power to stay focused and not give up.

Thanks Sekar for this wonderful interview. On behalf of our team and our readers, we wish All the very best for your startup.

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[…] 5th, 2009  posted by Sekar Vembu While searching randomly on the web I came across my own interview by a blogger on Indian startups. That interview was done little more than a year ago. A couple of things I had said was pertinent […]


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