Web 2.0 company Zoho has announced the launch of the latest product in its suite of online freeware and payware applications. Zoho Invoice gives users the ability to create everything from estimates to invoices in multiple currencies. Industry insiders say the company is working hard to build enough "critical mass" for it to challenge the industry's heavyweights.
The application joins other members of the Zoho Suite of products that target businesses (including applications for meetings, planning, HR and database creation). It's integrated into Zoho Projects, a project-management application, according to Raju Vegesna, Zoho's evangelist.
"If you are working on a project, you can invoice your client directly from Zoho Invoice by creating an invoice from Zoho Projects. It automatically imports the time spent on the projects from Zoho Projects," Vegesna said. In the future, the application will be integrated with the CRM and other company applications.
Zoho Invoice is integrated with PayPal, so invoices can be generated and sent to customers, who can then make payments directly through PayPal. The company plans on adding more payment gateways. The application is free for sending up to five invoices per month; four monthly subscription versions range from $5 to $35 and allow from 25 to 1,500 invoices to be sent each month.
"We primarily expect individual professionals and SMBs [small to midsize businesses] to use this app," Vegesna said. "There are many small and micro businesses who need a simple way of generating invoices and managing them. That is the target market for Zoho Invoice."
The invoicing application joins more than a dozen other Zoho productivity and business tools that are available for free or for low rates. Rob Bois, research director at AMR Research, thinks the company is thinking of the long term. "It's all about trying to get critical mass early on," Bois told us. "If you look at a lot of early-stage companies, Google wasn't raking in money hand over fist when it first started. It was just this search engine that's turned into a giant ad-revenue business."
While it's easy to compare Zoho to Google, given that they both offer a large set of online productivity tools, Bois said the company is actually competing with another giant. "In reality, it's an affront to the Microsoft model. Microsoft has all those productivity tools, and then they have this whole Dynamics business unit, and a product line under the Live moniker which is actually CRM, SharePoint, collaborative tools targeted at very small businesses, and it's all offered online as a service."
AMR has researched software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications like Zoho's, and Bois said that businesses put a high value on it. He noted, though, that it remains very new ground for many businesses. "It's a real paradigm shift," he said. "There's still not a lot of clear-cut ownership for where these tools live. Does IT own this and roll it out and deploy it? That's certainly not the traditional consumer-based model, which is much more of an open-market structure where people go out and find stuff that helps them do their job most effectively."
One advantage of Zoho is that is remarkably user friendly. Bois said that ease of use is no longer simply an option in applications, given that a generation of software users has grown up with easy-to-use interfaces on the consumer Web.
"Now [users are] coming into the corporate world and finding all these enterprise applications where they have to go to a week-long training course to be even quasi-proficient, and they feel like they're turning back the clock 20 years. It's a very frustrating experience, and I think that it's incumbent for the software vendors that are selling to businesses to make business tools just as intuitive and easy to use as the consumer tools."