When you are the Product Evangelist at a renowned tech company like Zoho, you are expected to be a techie with educational background in a premium institute and work experience at multiple tech titans. But Kuppulakshmi Krishnamoorthy, who heads the tech platform Zoho’s Startups program, is an Industrial Microbiologist by education. She started her career as a soft skills and communication trainer and a voice and accent specialist.
The Tamil Nadu native, who has been a part of 24-year-old Zoho's growth story for about a decade now, spoke to MAKERS India recently, recollecting her journey and her vision.
At Zoho, bridging the gap between businesses and technology has been her core area of work. She focuses on strategic alliances between Zoho and State governments, incubators, accelerators, and other stakeholders. She also mentors startups on pitching, design thinking, and on using EQ while hiring new talents and while setting up the vision and culture of startups.
In addition, Kuppulakshmi also works with Project Puthri, a non-profit organsiation that focuses on education and training life skills for girl children who don't have great exposure otherwise. Speaking to MAKERS India, Kuppulakshmi reveals that it is her own humble background and un-gendered bringing up that makes her what she is today.
Growing up self-reliant
Kuppulakshmi, now in her thirties, was born and brought up in a small town in Tamil Nadu, to parents who had not finished school but wanted their children to study well. Due to the family’s financial constraints, Kuppulakshmi often had to depend on hand-me-down clothes and borrowed books. But she shares that she got valuable life lessons from her parents, and learnt self-reliance at an early age.
“My mother had studied only till eighth grade. But she was very clear that she wanted to be her own person - “Being a mother is just one of the many things who I chose to be” – she used to say. My father and my younger sister also supported her. I used to teach her biology when I was in 12th grade! She went on to take MA and M.Ed later in her life, while my father took care of the household chores,” she recollects, adding that seeing conventional gender roles have influenced her too.
“Although my parents were dependent on my monthly salary when I started working, they never thought of me as the ‘son’ they never had,” she says with a smile.
But Kuppulakshmi also confesses that she had a hard time in school. Although she was a topper in English and Biology and active in extracurricular activities like Chess, Kuppu failed Maths in 12th grade. “I now realise that it was due to a lack of better direction that I chose Science group after 10th. My parents could not guide me; I had to depend on friends – many of whom I lost after flunking the exam. But I learnt a big lesson in self-reliance then,” she says.
Looking back, Kuppulakshmi is proud of her achievements – but also regrets that her parents are not around to see her accomplishments. “I lost both my father and my mother in a tragic accident a few years ago. It took all my strength to not let that grief destroy me. But even today I wish if they were alive – so that I could at least give them an easier life, or a vacation which they could never afford.”
Having experienced such a life has definitely shaped Kuppulakshmi into the strong, helpful, empathetic person she is today – a trait that makes her stand out as a startup mentor and evangelist. “Successful leaders have always focused on the human element. In order to sustain (your company) for a period of time, you may tend to be too focused on money matters. It’s essential; but so is the human element,” she says.
Her advice to startups is to not just focus on the financials but on the emotional quotient too – like by bringing gender equality, guaranteeing safety, and ensuring mental wellness among employees. She encourages supporting mothers at workplaces too. (At Zoho, Kuppulakshmi – as a new mother - was allowed to bring her baby and a nanny to office.)
A champion for women empowerment and bringing more women into the workforce, she urges younger generation to make conscious choices in career. “I wish more youngsters would do the research (about a potential employer) and not pick a job opportunity just because it's out there. Ask questions during interviews. Make a selective choice of where they want your skills,” she says, adding that it is the responsibility of every professional to put pressure on companies to follow diversity and inclusion. “We need to make men also allies in our efforts for women empowerment,” she adds.
In a world where women have to fight more battles daily than ever before, Kuppulakshmi is the role model we did not know we needed.