Over the many years that I’ve covered small businesses, I’ve heard scores of corporations swear their undying dedication to entrepreneurs and small business owners when introducing new products and services. The vows sometimes last, more often they don’t, and business owners are left to find other products and services that are valuable and affordable.
Of course, not all corporations abandon their commitments to small business owners. One such company is Zoho Corporation. Zoho, a multinational tech company, was founded in 1996 and is still run by one of its co-founders Sridhar Vembu. It’s privately held, so even 27 years later, Zoho clings to its entrepreneurial roots.
And likely, that’s the reason Zoho continues to innovate and provide solutions for small businesses of all sizes. Currently, about five million businesses are created every year. And many business owners need help transforming their business ideas into an actual business.
Just in the last few months, Zoho has launched several new products to help mid-sized businesses, small business owners, solopreneurs, and freelancers.
Zoho offers over 60 business apps that scale with you as you grow. It has increased its offerings to the mid-market (businesses with 100-1,000 employees) but is still firmly committed to serving small businesses (1-100 employees), freelancers, and solopreneurs.
Recently, my podcast partner, Brian Moran and I talked to Raju Vegesna, Chief Evangelist at Zoho, to learn more about some of the new and newly empowered releases.
Zia stands for Zoho Intelligent Assistant, which the company’s been building for years. Open (generative) AI has taken ZIA to another level, and Zoho integrated it into its CRM program so it could help more small businesses. For instance, Vegesna says you can tell Zia you want to send a holiday offer letter to your customers and ask it to create an email template. Or Zia can create a checklist for a new product launch, help you write ad copy, or rephrase content you’ve already written.
Vegesna says Generative AI helps make Zia an even more powerful tool that boosts productivity, which is crucial because small business owners don’t have as many resources as large corporations do.
Essentially, Vegesna says Zia can create, modify, and improve your content. He says to think of Zia as a brainstorming assistant. (Vegesna actually used Zia to help him create billboard messages for Zoho—“Simplify business, amplify success.”
Currently, Zia is integrated with about 14 Zoho products, but more integrations are coming.
For now, Zoho Solo is in private beta for users in the U.S. and Canada (you can access it here). Vegesna says Zoho noticed that solopreneurs and freelancers were using five to 10 different individual applications on their mobile phones and trying to juggle between them to make it work. He says, “I felt, why should they make it work? Why can’t we do that and offer a package solution for them so they can focus on their work and not worry about the various tools out there?”
And he adds, in developing nations like India, far more people own smartphones than computers or laptops. And web apps “weren’t doing it justice. So there [should] be a mobile application that pulls everything together from customer-facing activities to back-office related activities like accepting and making payments, managing finances, and more.”
Vegesna thinks of Zoho Solo as creating a recipe using Zoho ingredients. He says, “Zoho has a lot of technology [so] we can pick the right technologies” a solopreneur needs to be productive and offer it in a cohesive package.
Ulaa is a free browser available on all major platforms, and iOS and Android. Vegesna explains that the idea was to create a browser that focuses on privacy—“People do not realize to what extent their privacy is being abused. Why should we pay with our personal information to browse the internet?”
Most browsers, he says, “have an ad-based business model, and the incentive is to collect and sell your information. We disagree with that. So we launched Ulaa—an extremely snappy privacy-centric browser—it’s one of the faster browsers out there because we eliminated all the tracking baggage. And then we added a lot more productivity capability to protect privacy.”
One great feature of Ulaa is that users can switch between separate modes (personal, work, kids, and developer). Ulaa also features a lot of Zoho tools, including a translation engine for more than 50 languages.
Zoho Start guides small business owners through the business formation process, including applying for Employer Identification Numbers (EIN).
Vegesna says Zoho Start will initially focus on rolling out support (state by state) for forming a limited liability company (LLC). Currently in beta, when it launches, small businesses will also get access to:
- Zoho Books: Businesses launching with Zoho Start will get Zoho Books free for the first year to manage their finances
- Small businesses can get a web URL through Zoho Domains, create a website using Zoho Sites, and then get an official business email address with Zoho Mail.
- Zoho Voice is an existing tool that offers telephony services to small businesses, where they can purchase an official business phone number.
Essentially Vegesna says Zoho wants to provide small business owners with an infrastructure they can build their business around so they can focus on the things they enjoy.
Zoho Start is available for public beta access for U.S. residents only, starting with the state of Texas and then moving on to California. Users can gain access at this site.
And there’s more. Some other apps you may be interested in include:
- Zoho Publish: Currently in beta, a small business can use Zoho Publish to post their contact information on listing services, such as Google Maps and review sites. Then you can monitor and respond to customer feedback from there.
- Zoho Tables: Since so many small businesses still use spreadsheets, Zoho Tables is the next step toward using an app. Currently in beta (you can request early access here). Zoho Tables gives users “the power of an application with the simplicity of a spreadsheet.”
And still, there’s a lot more to Zoho. Instead of juggling multiple apps, Zoho One offers small business owners an operating system with access to more than 40 apps.
Vegesna calls Zoho the “peace of mind service. You’re not licensing apps,” he explains, “you’re licensing peace of mind because you don’t have to worry about what tools to buy. The price is low enough, and the value is great.”
Vegesna adds, “And that is the goal. From our earliest days, Zoho’s commitment was to serve businesses through every stage of growth as they blossom into an enterprise. We want to empower entrepreneurs throughout their entire business journey [because] we are all in this together.”
Note: Zoho is a client of the Rieva and Brian podcast.