The creator of QuickBooks debuts a new on-demand business management system, catering to the very smallest of the small-business segment.
Posted Sep 6, 2007
Targeting a perceived gap between what small businesses need and what SMB applications provide, QuickBooks creator Ridgeley Evers on Wednesday launched NetBooks, a CRM tool designed specifically for what he calls "the true small business." Delivered via software-as-a-service (SaaS), NetBooks is designed to allow small-business owners to manage the entire operation without heavy investment in IT equipment and staff, according to the company.
Evers says part of his inspiration for NetBooks was that his previous creation, QuickBooks, never addressed the business owner's problems directly. "The True Small Business, or TSB, is a company of two to 25 employees, owner-managed and owner-funded, growing organically, and typically holding inventory," Evers says. "By that definition, there are about 5.1 million TSBs in the United States, not including the one- or two-person desktop-and-mouse operations. They employ about half the U.S. population--and this segment has largely been ignored since the birth of the computer."
NetBooks, headquartered in Rohnert Park, Calif., is built around the precept that the majority of today's business products are focused on delivering enterprise-class power, which is mostly beyond the needs or capabilities of smaller organizations. "Small business is a vastly underserved market, because the software industry splits the world into two segments--enterprise and consumer," Evers said in a statement. "But simply stripping features out of enterprise software and dropping the price doesn't meet the needs of a small business. [SMBs] need a solution that is tailored to their unique requirements: similar breadth of functionality, but affordably priced and optimized for ease of use." Accordingly, NetBooks purports to provide these smallest of businesses with a wide range of functions, including:
Pricing is set at $200 per month for up to five users, plus free accounts for the customer's bookkeeper and accountant. Each additional user costs $20 per month, and Evers vows there will never be extra charges or premium editions associated with membership. Partner-provided functionality will only cost the price of services rendered, such as UPS shipping fees. (In addition to UPS, launch partners include authorize.net, PayCycle, and Vertical Response.)
- sales management;
- vendor relationship management;
- inventory and production management;
- shipping records;
- bookkeeping; and
NetBooks also seems to be adding a new meaning to the service part of SaaS: Membership includes access not only to cold code, but to warm bodies as well -- which NetBooks calls "concierges" -- for acclimating new users. "Working closely alongside the owners, NetBooks concierges ensure a smooth and effective transition" from disconnected applications to the on-demand suite, according to the company.
"Located at NetBooks headquarters, concierges have extensive backgrounds in bookkeeping and operations for a wide variety of small businesses." Evers says the true value in SaaS isn't hosting -- and that its second "S" should stand for "support." The NetBooks screen includes a help button that connects to a concierge for chat; if chat won't suffice, the concierge will be prompted to call. The rep who calls will have available the relevant information on the user, including what data permissions he or she has, and will see the same screen as the user.
Early reaction to NetBooks' approach is positive. "Not that many players are providing end-to-end functionality that serves this part of the market," says Sonal Gandhi, an analyst with JupiterResearch. "NetSuite is one, but their customers skew toward the larger end of SMB and into the midmarket."
It's worth pointing out that NetBooks is not the first company to promise functionality with ease-of-use and low cost. "The trend is to offer SaaS to SMBs, presenting it as more cost-effective and requiring less infrastructure," Gandhi says. "NetBooks is trying to distinguish itself further by saying smaller businesses need lots of help, and catering to the owner who must perform multiple duties." Whether this will play well, she adds, remains to be seen.
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