Hair & Handsome
Forbes India|February 12, 2021
Sudheer Koneru, an engineer from India, built Zenoti— the world’s first salon and spa unicorn—into a billion-dollar company by scaling payments and b2b businesses
RAJIV SINGH

Outskirts of Hyderabad. August 2008. Sudheer Koneru was getting ready for the big moment. He had just turned 40, and his picturesque farmhouse, nestled some 35 kilometers away from the boisterous city of Hyderabad, was playing host to a grand bash, the first one in four years since he came back from the US. Koneru, an IIT grad from Madras who started his career with Microsoft and worked with the American software giant at Seattle for a good eight years, looked calm and composed. There were no signs of nerves before the key announcement.

The guests too anticipated something grand from Koneru, who founded two companies in the US and exited the last one—HR software solutions firm SumTotal—when it was around $100 million in revenues in 2007. Around 80 percent of the operations of SumTotal moved to India with Koneru in 2004. Four years later, he was 100 percent ready for his next venture.

The party was at its peak. Koneru plays to the gallery, but it turns out to be a damp squib. “I am hanging my boots,” he announced. The guests were stunned; the music went off, and the mood turned sombre. “I am not going to work anymore,” he proclaimed. The visitors were still trying to grasp the essence of Koneru’s big move. Was 40 too early to sign off, they wondered. What they also couldn’t figure out was Koneru’s next move. Nothing made sense to them.

For the entrepreneur, though, it made perfect sense. Koneru just didn’t want to think about ‘what next’. He had been burning the candle at both ends. A successful professional, and a winning entrepreneur, Koneru had seen it all till the age of 40: Fame and name. For over two decades, he had lived life in the fast lane by building and scaling his business. “All of us go through life in a rushed way,” he recalls. Success, he lets on, came with a massive price. “I just went on from one thing to the other. I just kept moving on,” he recounts.

After coming back to India, there were days, even weeks, when Koneru would stay at his farmhouse, disconnected, without stepping out. “So taking a break at 40 made sense,” he says. The plan now was to rediscover himself by doing what he never did: Yoga workshop; art of living courses; meditation; and self-realization classes. Becoming self-aware became an important goal now. Wealth took a backseat. Health—mental and physical—started driving him. “I was in a different zone, but happy,” says Koneru, the first-generation entrepreneur born in a small village in Andhra Pradesh. Most of his schooling— till Class 7—happened at Army Public School in Delhi. His father, a director in civil aviation, then moved to Hyderabad and Koneru completed the rest of his studies there before joining IIT-Madras.

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