It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to interview Suresh Sambandam. Suresh is not only our first non-North American entrepreneur interview but, he’s also the CEO of the largest company we have interviewed so far.
Suresh grew up in a small town in India, started his company, Kissflow, in 2012, and has grown the business to now have over 10,000 customers in 160 countries, and the business now employs over 200 people. An extremely admirable feat in such a short period of time.
So how does someone who almost ran out of money, without enough funds in the bank to pay staff, and forced to use credit cards to fund the business, end up with over 200-employees and a thriving business?
You can read Suresh’s story below to find out.
I am Suresh Sambandam, CEO of Kissflow. I grew up in a small town called Cuddalore in South India. After I finished my secondary education at 17, my father insisted that I help him run his business instead of pursuing a college degree. Instead, I enrolled myself in a computer programming course. I ended up getting hired for a job later on, despite having no formal degree.
Now, my mission is to democratize automation and create an immersive work experience for enterprises of all sizes. I am passionate about entrepreneurship; technology start-ups and I spend a significant amount of time in the start-up ecosystem mentoring young founders.
Kissflow, founded in 2012 is a disruptive, SaaS-based enterprise-level work automation, and collaboration platform with more than 10,000 customers across 160 countries. The Kissflow digital workplace is a no-code environment where anyone can create an automated process, build a project board, handle a case flow, and hosts the important discussions about work, all in one intelligent and easily integrated platform.
After an initial entrepreneurial stint at the age of 19, I went to work at top brands such as Hewlett-Packard in 1997, where I used Talarian’s real-time inference engine (RTIE). And later in, Celestica (later partially acquired by Accenture), where I practiced in the field of rule-based computing.
From these two experiences, I learned that rule-based computing doesn’t make life easy. That’s where I understood and wanted to pursue the dream of ‘Democratizing Rule-Based Computing’. It was this passion I had for technology that made me start on my own along with a few of my team members.
During our journey, we went through two failed products to arrive at the current successful one. But I believe that persistence, staying the course and following the vision, has always been what has kept me going.
Currently, we are 200+. Back in 2012, when we launched Kissflow, were a small team experimenting with new things. When we decided to come up with a new version of Kissflow recently, we chose to grow. From the start till today, our core team has been together.
The first software product that we built as an alternative to Microsoft Excel. The second venture was a cloud platform where businesses could build tools online for themselves. It was not until our third product, Kissflow, that we started seeing a constant source of revenue.
Each time we pivoted, it was hard to abandon the hard work we had invested, but it was always the right decision.
The key moment in any entrepreneur’s journey is knowing when to walk away from an idea or product. You shouldn’t give up at the first sign of trouble, but you should know when you are in a dip that you need to push through, and when you are starting a tailspin.
Our story is the greatest success. We faced failures, but we never gave up. We learn from the mistakes and create a better version of ourselves. In Kissflow, we just don’t work. We celebrate each and every work. That’s one of our core values. Now we are a company with more than 10,000+ customers in over 160 countries.
Describe a period that really tested your ability as a leader and how you overcame that challenge.
When I started the business, every day was challenging. However, there was a moment during the early 2000s, our product was not generating enough revenue and we ran out of money to pay the employees. There were times, I ended up using credit cards to keep afloat and even sold my car to keep the lights on at the office.
While many of the core team knew the struggles, we faced and went without a salary for some time. Though we kept things positive for those around us, I didn’t flaunt my sacrifices and only told others after we gained stability in our business.
Being an entrepreneur and building a business is hard, challenging, and sometimes stressful. As a fellow entrepreneur, it’s helpful to know that you’re not alone in personal challenges.
How did you manage the work/life balance?
Work/life balance for me personally is at its best. Because I see work as part of my life. I don’t spend my time like from 9 to 5 for work and the latter half for my family. There are people who see work and life as two different things. But according to me, they both go hand-in-hand. I spend my weekends along with my family and I make sure that there is always a balance between both.
How did you manage the work stress?
I do my job with love. According to me, if you do any work with love, you will not feel any kind off stress. As I said earlier, I had/ have this passion for technology and also learning new things, which makes me stress-free.
I’m looking to chronicle the lives of entrepreneurs who are at any stage in their entrepreneurial journey, whether you’ve just started, or, have had multiple exits. If you would like to be considered for an interview, please contact me.
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Also, I published a book during the summer of 2018, “The Kickass Entrepreneur’s Guide to Investing, Three Simple Steps to Create Massive Wealth with Your Business’s Profits.” It was number 1 on Amazon in both the business and non-fiction sections. You can get a free copy here.