Probably you know that I've been a huge fan of Zoho. I think they are a smart company that has a great deal to offer to the world of small business and even the midsized enterprise.While they have an enterprise CRM business edition for a mindblowing $25/user per month that is functionally suite complete, I'm not yet convinced its what's needed for the large enterprise, mostly because they've given me no reason to. That said, I think that they have had an important impact on the industry because they are providing collaboration tools and a very capable CRM application for either very cheap or free - and mostly free. They have a business edition that was built by good engineers and people that understand the minds of small and even mid-sized business people - so they are not hard to use and even fun at times. If I have a "product complaint" at all its that they have a such a dazzling array of products that it can be confusing to newbies looking to start with technology tools for their business - meaning the menu is so large it sometimes can obfuscate what should be focused on. But, to their credit, while the products are differing in the quality offered - meaning some are better than others, the products I tried and reviewed are for the most part, very good. Here is an idea of what they offer. Take note.
Mind boggling isn't it? I've used Writer, Sheet, Show, Docs, Notebook, Wiki, CRM and Creator. The only one I found deficient but this was a long time ago was Wiki. Even now, it doesn't compete with say PBWiki, but it is free. CRM, which of course is the one that I had the most interest in, is very capable as a sales tool. In retrospect, that's not surprising, given the quality of their engineers. Not only is it good, but Zoho gives away three licenses for free - and the licensing price for CRM remains remarkably cheap even after the free licenses are factored out.
But they continue to do something that disturbs me and that I consider a blot on their otherwise exciting growth - a growth that I can not only say I am genuinely happy about for them and the industry but foresaw a long time before most people. In fact, they were a well deserving finalist for my 2007 Steppin' Out Awards - 6 companies out of an original field of 82. Because they are having trouble with salesforce.com and because salesforce.com according to Zoho's parent company Adventnet's CEO Sridhar Vembu, a. didn't buy them and b. seems to refuse to allow them to integrate with salesforce.com, he has decided twice now to attack Marc Benioff - once in April 2008 and again just a few days ago - the latter soap operatically entitled "Mr. Benioff, Tear Down That Wall." The premise of the latter Zoho blog entry is that Mark Benioff said at Dreamforce, also soap-operatically that "Microsoft hates everybody and salesforce.com loves everybody" and Mr. Vembu decides to "call him on it" by essentially repeating the story about how, since salesforce.com tried to buy them and they refused (smartly by the way) due to cultural incompatibilities and since that time salesforce.com has been trying to prevent people from migrating to Zoho, by claiming they can't get their data until their salesforce.com contract is over. And they have emails supporting this. Which I don't doubt they do, though if they make the claim, they ought to publish the emails, not just say they have them. Mr. Vembu goes on to do what he did in the first entry - which was to praise Google even though they are competitors too but they have been friendly and working from a level playing field and blah, blah, blah. Mr. Vembu claims that this isn't personal - which is the one claim I don't believe at all.
You know what? I don't doubt that there is some friction and some goings on that aren't great between Zoho and salesforce.com - just like I don't doubt there are difficulties elsewhere including nasty lawsuits between Oracle and SAP. But I don't see Oracle executives or SAP executives attacking other executives in those fights. I see beyond-the-pale competitive crap in our market day in and day out and I don't like any of it. But Zoho's CEO is doing a pit bull act and that's an act I don't like one bit. This is clearly personal between him and Benioff. Look at the contradiction embedded in this phrase from the latest blog entry - " I have no personal animosity - even today, we would integrate Zoho into Force.com if they would let us, because that would benefit our customers and theirs - but when I read an interview where he blatantly spins a story starkly in condradiction to reality I have personal knowledge of, I have to call him on it." I see personal animus here. Just because they would sleep with the enemy because it makes business sense doesn't mean that he is doing us some service by dissing Marc Benioff - his dislike is clear. He has not only repeated this same story in his blog twice now but apparently, according to a sentence in Dennis Howlett's somewhat different take on this in his Irregular Enterprise ZDNET blog has been talking about it other places too. Mr. Vembu's rationale that its not personal is one that he repeats in both blog entries on what good guys their competitor Google is. Lame to say the least. That's like saying, "I think that so and so is a total scumbag but his cousin is a pretty good egg, so clearly this couldn't be personal."
Look, I remain a fan of Zoho but I honestly don't like this kind of sniping. It isn't necessary. If Zoho wants to prove the point, do it in a civil way. Win the GE deal. Beat them with the applications. Let customers love them more than they love salesforce.com. But stop repeating the same story over and over about how bad salesforce.com is. They are an enterprise company. Force.com is not open source, though to my knowledge, neither is Zoho. I think Zoho has a HUGE future and they have some great personnel and smart engineers - and that's the way they are going to win. But honestly, I get tired of the same story which seems to be premised ultimately on the idea that Zoho overspent resources in pursuing the opportunity because Marc Benioff was disingenuous and Sridhar Vembu was mad about that. Hey, there is a cost to pursuing opportunities and they all don't work out. Happens all the time. Not that this is an excuse. Salesforce.com might well have done what Mr. Vembu said they did, but what he's doing by recycling this story is just something that will harm Zoho in the long run. Not help it. All press isn't good press. They have a lot going for them but this shouldn't be part of their offering. Its much better to win by being better than by recycling a complaint.
Call it....tough love.