Zoho hosted its usual Analyst Day to coincide with the annual Zoholics event in Austin TX. You’ll likely have seen the announcements already, as well as some analysis of them; I’d like to focus on one set. Zoho has opened up beta access to a set of apps that are specifically targeted to serve solopreneurs, small business owners in the making, freelancers, and similar individuals. Briefly, these apps include:
Zoho Start, which guides individuals through the process of launching a business;
Zoho Publish, a visibility tool to access listing services, maps, and feedback sites;
Zoho Tables, a hybrid spreadsheet/app combining ease of use with team access; and
Zoho Solo, a mobile-only set of essential CRM and other business tools for solopreneurs.
On the one hand, this is very smart. The majority of solo/small businesses worldwide have a smartphone or tablet as their only computer, driven by the commonality of solopreneurs around the world, both in the developed and developing worlds. The figures Zoho quoted to us included 5 million new business launches in the US annually, more than 33 million existing small businesses, and 70 million people who consider themselves freelancers. By catering to this audience with apps and services that support them specifically, Zoho taps into a huge market that is not otherwise well served.
On the other hand, this approach is self-limiting. While we’re talking about majorities, the vast, vast majority of potential users will never grow beyond a one-person, one-device business, nor will they want to. The ones that do grow still aren’t likely to reach a level of revenue that will require a more extensive (and expensive) implementation of Zoho products. Freelancers in particular do not always fit well in the small business framework.
On the third hand (look, Austin has a reputation for being weird), it likely doesn’t matter. Zoho has a tendency to put products out into the world to see how they do, rather than focus on their immediate money making potential. It also generally acts as a good (private) corporate citizen, and does what is right as often as it does what is business savvy. Zoho Solo et al probably fits that description. It’s an investment in people, and in the future, and that is something Zoho has shown its willingness to do time and again.