A new Israeli startup hopes to upend the dominance of mega-companies like Amazon and Wal-Mart over local businesses. The idea has been to give small organizations free, consumer-grade tools to manage themselves and connect with each other. Starting Wednesday, SohoOS' new App Store will bring third-party paid apps to the mix as well.
SohoOS may seem like yet-another Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) startup offering business management and collaboration web applications to small businesses. Yawn.At first glance,
But this is more than just a few editing and CRM apps packaged together on a pretty website: SohoOS is a highly automated system aimed at the microbusiness segment, a channel that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. And with the new App Store, it’s also a marketplace for additional small business services.
SohoOS’s mission is aimed right at that small business sector, delivering business management tools to try to automate as much as possible for busy small business owners and entrepreneurs. And SohoOS means small: businesses with maybe one or two computers, rather than the typical SMB (small and medium business) model of 10-50 machines.
Why target the really little guys?
SohoOS founder and CEO Ron Daniel argues that micro-businesses often don’t have the luxury to relegate business management tasks to one specific employee.
“It can be someone like a single mom, running a designer business out of her home,” Daniel explains. “She needs to be a designer, not taking up her time managing the business.”
To address this problem, SohoOS provides the prerequisite business management tools: document management, contact management, collaborative tools and the like. But then it goes a step further, automating the basic steps that happen during certain events.
Create an invoice for a new customer, for example, and the customer’s information is added to the contact system and any items on the invoice are automatically removed from the business inventory. “We are trying to consumerize the management platform,” Daniel said.
SohoOS' model has had some traction: the Tel Aviv-based vendor has almost 850,000 customers signed up since it started in December 2011. Daniel expects that number to top a million soon.
A New App Store
To expand the platform’s appeal, Wednesday the company announced the addition of a new app store designed to let users buy add ons to SohoOS, as well as tap into subscriptions to business-oriented sites and services tailored for micro-businesses.
Apps available at launch time include personalized data backup controls; a leads widget to push leads to users; and additional document, invoice and Web themes.
Differentiating between “free” and “paid” was a critical distinction for SohoOS, and was the vendor’s primary reason for moving to the App Store model. The company did consider affiliations and similar models with partner vendors, but ultimately opted away from those plans because they worried those approaches could lead to fewer choices for its customers.
“We wanted customers to have the widest available options, and be able to cherry pick what they needed from that selection,” Daniel explained.
Creating a Community
Ultimately, SohoOS hopes to turn the SohoOS customer base into a community resource, allowing participating businesses to share information, expertise and resources to create powerful B2B connections.
For example, “small yoga shops could sell combined discounts for customers who travel,” Daniel said. Or a retail store could help sell another company’s excess inventory. combine expertise, resources. These scenarios would give independent owners more leverage against larger brands, Daniel said.