Founded in 1996, Zoho Corporation is the software company behind three great brands: Zoho, ManageEngine and WebNMS. Over the last two and a half decades, Zoho’s software portfolio has grown from an online word processor and a CRM solution in the early 2000s, to an industry-leading suite of 45+ integrated apps that cover practically every business function, including sales, marketing, support, collaboration, finance, HR and IT.
To get to this point, Zoho hasn’t taken the typical path you’d expect for a global tech company with over 50 million users worldwide. Bootstrapped and privately held, the vast majority of Zoho’s product development and leadership are based out of their Chennai office, making them the largest software company in India.
Driven by the belief that talent can be found everywhere, and that access to high quality jobs shouldn’t be limited to Bay Area locals, the Zoho team has invested extensively in their internal training program, The Zoho Schools of Learning.
“We bring in recent high school graduates from rural areas all across India and train them in coding, communications, and product management. This education is provided to students at no charge, in fact we pay them a stipend during their year-long training period. At the end of their coursework, these students are placed on product teams and converted to employees. 10% of our current workforce has been brought in through this program, so we know how easy it is to find talented team mates if you’re willing to look outside of the major tech hubs,” says Elkins.
David Elkins started with Zoho Corporation as a contract copywriter in early 2016. Now, he’s the head of content review. Elkins manages the editorial pipeline for all of Zoho’s new content, which includes marketing pages, help documentation, email campaigns and brand-level presentations. With a hand in so many of Zoho’s content initiatives, he was approached by the Zoho Show team to plan and execute their internal template project.
Zoho Show has been on the market since 2006, offering an alternative to Google Slides and Powerpoint. Their team is made up of a wide range of designers, developers, marketers and product managers. Rather than providing users with the typical generic templates found in most presentation software, they wanted to offer something that was specialized and targeted, backed by direct experience following the latest presentation design trends across different industries.
“The Show team has done a lot of work creating a killer presentation tool, but the thing with design apps is that if you don’t have experience with design, you won’t feel confident using the tool, no matter how easy it is to use. We wanted to help our users feel more confident by offering professional templates as a starting point for their presentations,” says Elkins.
From the outset, Elkins realized that creating 70+ presentation templates would be a tricky task.
“At the start, I knew I didn't have the skills to drive the design process myself, but I knew that if I had some design leadership to partner with, we could build something really powerful. I had the idea in mind, I just needed help executing it.”
Though Zoho has plenty of internal designers, they’re often tied up with other important product work. Elkins needed to commission this project out to a team that could handle the workload and that had enough presentation expertise to create templates that would stand out when compared to their competitors’.
“At Zoho, we take a ‘build it yourself’ approach to things,” says Elkins, “That’s why we were so particular about finding the right design partner. We’re experts at designing for the software industry; we wanted to work with a company that could say the same about designing for other industries. We knew our users deserved that.”
Prior to signing with Superside, Elkins talked to a few different design companies, but none of them were a good fit.
“While they seemed perfectly capable, their prices were exorbitant, and I wasn’t sure their fixed staff of designers would be able to come up with enough creative ideas to fill out our template library. Designing one template is one thing; designing 70 is another. I really liked that Superside could scale their team to fit us, rather than forcing our template project to fit them. With those other design companies, the value just didn’t add up. With Superside, it did.”
“The way Superside has built its service is really flexible, and that’s exactly what we needed. Superside fit well with Zoho’s ethos of how to provide good, affordable services, and how to engage with customers. We don’t want to take advantage of our users, so we avoid doing business with companies that try to take advantage of us. Superside always felt like a partner, not a resource drain.”
Transparency is built into the Superside model. This gave Elkins peace of mind, knowing exactly where and how his design budget was being spent. “I love the fact that Superside bills hourly, because that gave a lot of transparency into the work being done, unlike agencies who tend to inflate their quotes to account for hidden costs and project overages.”
The presentation design project was a big one, and it really allowed Elkins and his Superside creative project manager (CPM) to get aligned. At the beginning, there was a very close back and forth relationship. Elkins talked to his CPM weekly, or biweekly, for every set of presentations that were being designed. Over time, because they were working with the same designers, and because Elkins’ dedicated CPM learned what his expectations were and what things he cared about, the number of revisions dropped significantly.
“By the end, basically they’d send over a set of test slides, I’d approve them, and a week later I’d have a stack of beautiful decks waiting in my inbox. It made working on this project even smoother than I could have hoped for,” says Elkins. “That instilled a high degree of confidence in me because I saw their team overcome the learning curve. I could tell that they were really paying attention. In the end, it saved me a lot of time, which allowed me to work on other things.”
Elkins notes that a big value add that Superside brought “is the ability to create designs in an infinite number of styles and themes.” This is made possible because the Superside design team is composed of hundreds of vetted and talented designers that all have their own set of skills and creative flare.
“Zoho’s in-house designers don’t have as much direct experience creating presentations for niche industries, like artisan cafes or independent jewelers. Why would they? We’re a tech company! Everything we do is themed around Zoho’s brand. But Superside’s designers have been exposed to so many industries and so many business types. They were able to offer that as part of the service they provided.”
With 45+ other apps, many of which need designed templates, Elkins saw the opportunity to bring the Superside model to other teams.
“After the presentations were done, we landed on website templates as our second design project with Superside,” said Elkins. Their website builder product—Zoho Sites—competes with design-focused companies like Wix and Squarespace. Elkins knew that he could drive a lot of value into the hands of their users by providing them with a set of professionally designed website templates. “Switching to a new type of design has opened up a bunch of new questions and challenges, but Superside has adapted really well. I’m really happy with the work the team has produced so far.”
Moving forward, Zoho and Superside will look for more opportunities to partner on template design projects, helping to deliver an even more compelling experience to their growing user base.