This morning Zoho, known for SMB focused SaaS offerings in the areas of productivity, collaboration, business processes launched an Accounting app: Zoho Books. I typically don’t do detailed product reviews, when I see the first good ones, will link to them – just a few points here and then let’s discuss how it rounds out Zoho’s overall strategy.
The following video introduction is a bit “cutesy”:
-and that’s quite intentional. In fact simplicity is one of the key points in Zoho Books:
- Clear, streamlined UI, tabs, easy terminology –i.e. Money In, Money Out. This service is clearly targeted at non-accountants, which is most of us in a small business – hey, even I can understand most of it.
- That said, Books offers the opportunity to share data and collaborate with accountants (Ouch, did I really needed that reminder for tax time?;-) )
- Multi-currency support – this is typically a later add-on in many systems, but Zoho has a wide international presence with most of their other services
- Integration with Zoho CRM, Invoice, Mail – somewhat basic now, will be improved as we’ve seen with the rest of Zoho’s offerings
- Support for electronic payment systems like Paypal, Google Checkout, Authorize.net. This is a “hidden treasure” inherited from twin service Zoho Invoice, which is a subset of Book’s functionality and can be easily upgraded. Why hidden? Because relatively few know that Paypal offers 50 cent (yes, that’s $0.50 per transaction) Business Payments NOT available through the Web, only via their API, i.e. apps like Zoho Invoice and Boooks.
Having said that, is Zoho Books a Quickbooks killer? Probably not, and I don’t think Xero is running scared either To begin with, Zoho Books supports tracking your expenses – as long as you enter them… ouch. That’s so 90’s. I want them downloaded automatically. Zoho says this, and many enhancements are coming – and this has been the typical pattern with all their other services (26 of them): early version is promising, functionally does not stand up to the competition, but Zoho is selling to their already large user base, which appreciates integration, and “one throat to choke” for most of their IT needs. Then in typical SaaS fashion Zoho continues to add features until the product is on par with the best.
But I said I wanted to give the bird’s eye view on strategy, so here’s why I think this is an important step: It completes a vision I discussed for Zoho almost five years ago, when the Zoho brand was hardly known, and only for the Office suite. Here’s what I wrote in From Office Suite to Business Suite, back in October 2006:
How about transactional business systems? Zoho has a CRM solution – big deal, one might say, the market is saturated with CRM solutions. However, what Zoho has here goes way beyond the scope of traditional CRM: they support Sales Order Management, Procurement, Inventory Management, Invoicing – to this ex-ERP guy it appears Zoho has the makings of a CRM+ERP solution, under the disguise of the CRM label.
Think about it. All they need is the addition of Accounting, and Zoho can come up with an unparalleled Small Business Suite, which includes the productivity suite (what we now consider the Office Suite) and all process-driven, transactional systems: something like NetSuite + Microsoft, targeted for SMB’s.
Well it was not a quick trip, they took a detour in the direction of HR, adding Zoho People, then Recruit, launched a much reworked Mail and several other services, but finally, with today’s addition of the 26th product they have a very well rounded suite of services.
That said, don’t think of Zoho as a closed ecosystem, they spent the past year working on cross-Zoho integration, but also on integrating to external systems, including Google Apps, or Quickbooks, which the new Books product competes with – yet their own CRM product works with quite well. In fact Zoho Books, along with many other products is available from the Google Apps Marketplace. Coopetition is today’s business reality.
Talk about business, here’s a first from Zoho: this is the first product that does not have a free version (other than a 30-day trial): entry level is $24/month that includes 2 users, so it comes to the usual $12 / user fee. It is still a good price, but having reached a smorgasboard of offering, perhaps it’s time to offer a total, ‘smorgasboard’ price, other than the a’la carte pickings.
Now, for some fun: this product actually got pre-announced by TechCrunch last week. It’s not the first time, 2 years ago TechCrunch actually realeased Zoho Invoice. Well, sort of: when they accidentally posted the news a few weeks before the planned launch, the Zoho Team decided to play along, and instead of disappointing TC readers with a broken link, opted to release the product immediately. Last week’s story was different: TechCrunch did not break the embargo, they (or a reader) had discovered Zoho Books on their own. So here’s a not too well-guarded “secret”: Zoho has long been doing this. Their tradition is to silently make pre-release products available, use the initial user feedback, then launch a few weeks later. So now that you know … happy Zoho hunting.
(Disclosure: up until mid-2008 I was an Advisor to Zoho, and they were CloudAve’s exclusive Sponsor for the first two years of our existence.)