The Product Business is Like the Movie Business

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I read the cover story in Forbes on the success of Dropbox, which is set to do about $240 million in sales in 2011, with only 70 employees. As Forbes points out, that is about 3x the revenue per employee of Google, which is no slouch in the revenue per employee department itself. First, congratulations, Dropbox! This is the type of breathtaking number that makes the ordinarily successful companies like, well, Zoho, to wonder “What are we doing wrong?”

In our 15 year history in Zoho Corporation – which is bigger than the Zoho product suite itself – we have shipped over 70 products, of which we would say about 30 have been successful in the sense of being nicely profitable. Yet, even with that group of 30 products, we have seen the 10x effect: a set of two products that have taken approximately the same amount of effort to build, by similarly situated teams, yet one of them does 10x the sales of the other, with both of them being profitable. Of course the 10-bagger is much more profitable but the key point is that both of them could be counted as successful in the sense of being profitable. We have even seen 100x difference for approximately the same effort, but in our case, that is the difference between doing only $100K a year in sales vs $10 million a year, and I would not count that as 100x because the $100K product either grows up or we would eventually discontinue it because it is not profitable.

Dropbox is a logical extension of this phenomenon, where a product does 100x the sales, without taking much more by way of engineering effort than a profitable 1x product. And then the grand daddy of them all – Google search, which in its heyday reached $1 billion in sales, on not much more than the effort of a single engineering team – the headcount gets added later to diversify the company but the original search was a small team. I believe there has only been one Google search so far, so the ordinarily successful (ahem!) shouldn’t feel too bad.

Y Combinator, which has funded over 300 companies so far, is a perfect illustration. All these teams are similarly situated, with similar founder profiles and they all get similar initial funding, and they spend similar initial effort. If we consider only the universe of profitable YC companies, my guess is that so far there is only one 100-bagger i.e Dropbox, in the YC portfolio. Based on Zoho experience, I would estimate YC has about ten 10-baggers, and about fifty one-baggers (i.e just about profitable).

Welcome to the product business, which looks very much like the movie business!

Email isn’t a productivity killer unless…

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As with every other productivity tool, what really matters with email is how you use it. If email is draining your work productivity, it’s probably because you’re doing one or more of these:

  1. you make it the aim of your workday to achieve Zero-Inbox status.

    Let’s face it: the more email you send, the more you’ll receive. Set aside some time daily to respond to selective emails that are urgent and important. Mark the rest for

    later follow up

  2. you believe email is real-time.

    It isn’t. And doesn’t need to be instantly responded to. If you need

    (and only if you need!)

    to initiate a real-time conversation, use IM, or make a phone call. Or even better, make it a face-to-face conversation, if that’s possible.

  3. you believe in the ‘a folder for every email and every email into a folder’ rule.

    Heard of

    Email OCD
    ? If you’re spending a lot of time just moving your mail into folders, you’re wasting valuable time that could be spent on other important tasks. Instead,

    make automated rules
     for emails that absolutely must be organized into folders. Leave the rest in your inbox.

  4. you need to hunt for emails manually, one folder at a time.

    Every time you have to look for that all-important email that suddenly needs to be referred to,

    use an advanced search feature
     to fish it out. Not only will this save you search time, it will minimize your dependency on folder-organization too (see the point above)

  5. you use the ‘reply-all’ function for every email.

    Before you use ‘reply-all’ and reply to everyone who is marked on an email, think about whether your reply will be relevant and / useful for all the intended recipients. If not, mark the email to only those who will benefit from reading it. It’s good email etiquette and saves everybody (including you!) a whole lot of time.

  6. you use email for debates and discussions.

    A more productive way to encourage ideas, discussions and brainstorms within your team(s) and / customers is to use an internal discussion forum. At Zoho, we use

    Zoho Discussions
     for all such “discussions”.

  7. you only send / check your email at the desk.

    Being able to check email on your mobile device is a necessary evil. You can spend time outside your office, meeting your customers and prospects, and yet, still find time to

    check email while you’re on the move
    . Remember to do this judiciously though, for not all email needs to be read / responded to.

  8. you check email during face-to face / telephonic interactions with people.

    Avoid doing this at all costs. For one, it’s rude. Also, you miss out on important conversations and the chance to make an impact on your audience.

Are there any other email-productivity-killing-habits that you can add to this list? Which email habit are you going to change today?

A CRM Solution to React Faster and Stay Competitive

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Dennis Freeman leans on Zoho CRM to help him quickly match his nationwide network of vendors, a.k.a. “Homework Coaches,” with prospective clients. The faster and more accurately he can make a match, the better his chances of landing a sale.


Dennis Freeman is the director of The Homework Coach, a tutoring service that focuses on the overall success of the child. They specialize in students with ADHD issues, and students who need help with basic school organizing and getting prepared for tests.

The Challenge:

The core of Freeman’s business, and his greatest cost center, is the ability to match those students who need help with nearby tutors. This requires a massive database of talent all searchable by location. In 2002, when Freeman began his business, he used Act as his contact management system, as he was familiar with it from using it at a previous job. As long as his business was just him, Act worked fine, but when he hired some more people, then it got really clunky.

“What seemed then magic, but in retrospect is extremely clunky, is the way of synchronizing databases,” said Freeman. “Everybody ran their own desktop version of Act. And you had to synchronize it every morning when they started work, and every evening when we stopped work. Half the time it didn’t work and you had to send the sync again.”

The desktop solution wasn’t working, especially in his distributed work environment.

“I was looking for a way we could all communicate on the same data and have it instantly updated which is just impossible when you’ve got one database sitting on one desktop and you have to synchronize between the various people accessing it,” Freeman said.

How discovered Zoho CRM:

By 2008, SaaS model solutions became more apparent. Freeman was at the time a user of Google Documents, so the idea of data being in the cloud where multiple people could access it made sense to him.

While not an admitted techie, Freeman has had to act as his own IT guy for his company, and for that he tries to keep up on the latest tech news. Freeman hadn’t even heard of CRM before, yet he read about Zoho CRM in a TechCrunch article.

Competitive analysis of CRM:

Freeman looked briefly at Salesforce, but it was very enterprise focused and too expensive for him. And he looked at a couple of others for which he can’t even remember their names.

What Freeman liked most about Zoho CRM was that he could try it at no charge and the price was right. He tested it out by just uploading his data from the Orlando, Florida market. Once he was comfortable with that, he uploaded his entire database. The product totally fit his needs and he could customize the data. For example, the entire vendor module could be renamed appropriately as “Coaches.”

Unique use case of Zoho CRM:

“Zoho helps us find that tutor more quickly, and so we can get back to the client quickly,” said Freeman of the ability to make matches thanks to Zoho’s locate map feature. Even if he doesn’t know an area, he can see which tutors are physically close to a prospective client.

Freeman realizes that people often make multiple requests for tutors. If he can fill out a request faster and better than his competition then he’ll get the business.

Not only does the mapping feature help, but also the ability to bring in talent and leads directly into Zoho CRM. Freeman uses Zoho Recruit to advertise for tutors, and Web to Lead for prospective clients. In both cases, when a web form is filled out the information goes directly into Zoho CRM for which Freeman or his associates can take immediate action.

The major expense is setting up the client, said Freeman. Anything he can do to speed up that process, he’ll do. This makes his job easier, less costly, and more competitive.

Advice for others:

“You have to go with something that’s relatively low risk and see what works for you. It’s clear that Zoho understands that because they don’t lock you into a one year or even a three month contract. You can get out whenever you want. What they also do is they let it be free for the first three users. Zoho really understands what a small business has to do which is try something at low risk so if it doesn’t work you can get out and try something else,” said Freeman.

Turns out it’s worked out for Freeman. “We’ve become more competent in the way we do business by having good tools. And Zoho is definitely a key part of what we do,” Freeman said.

VMom Pte Ltd: A Zoho Books Success Story

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I spoke with Keng Swee recently, a Zoho Books user and founder of VMom Pte Ltd., a print media company based in Singapore. His company serves clients ranging from banks to integrated resorts. Keng manages a small yet passionate team of seven. Zoho Books helps him to stay up-to-date on his bookkeeping tasks. And he cleverly makes use of Zoho Books’s unique invoice custom template feature to send delivery orders.

Keng’s familiarity with Zoho Invoice prompted him to migrate to our accounting software. He has a necessity to create numerous invoices and quotes for his day-to-day business. He happily said:

I make use of Zoho Books custom templates to send quotations to my clients. The templates are easy to customize and are extremely user-friendly.

Keng has experience in using Zoho CRM as well, he finds the product to be intuitive and more responsive. Click here to read the full interview with Keng Swee.

Creating Better Experience in Zoho Projects

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We evaluated the existing user interface, sketched out different designs, discussed the merits and demerits of each to have a flexible user interface that is easy to use. After an extensive design journey with many iterations,
finally arrived at the new version which we’ve shipped. We are very happy with the outcome and believe it simplifies your use of Zoho Projects.

Ease of use
This goal is obvious, but what exactly does ease of use mean in the context of a task entry ?

As an example, for regular task entry, one very important aspect of “ease of use” is that to enter or edit a task requires very few clicks. This is something done over and over each day and any extra click quickly turns into an annoyance for the user. That is why the new contextual pop-ups are designed to keep the number of clicks to a minimum in Zoho Projects.
Our contextual pop-ups offer a powerful and an easy way to enter tasks, create events in calendar, log meetings, associate documents/forums and do more right from the same page in matter of few seconds.
Here goes the snapshot showing a contextual pop-up implemented in task details view

Contextual Pop-ups in Zoho Projects

Let me walk through the important changes implemented in Zoho Projects with focus on simplicity and ease of use :

Customize your columns in task view

Are there certain columns in task view that you don’t need to see each time you log in? For this, use the new Customize Columns
feature to choose the columns you’d like to hide. Simply click the new ‘Customize Columns’ link and select the columns you’d like to hide and you’re done.
Easily distinguish attached files in tasks

Before, there is no way to differentiate tasks with associated files or forums from the rest. Now, the newly introduced notes with attachment icon quickly helps you to distinguish the tasks with associated files/forums from others at the blink of an eye.

Gain more visibility with gantt charts

Great that you can drag and edit gantt charts, but should be able to drag into the next month rather than stop at the end of the current month. With this update, comes the custom period which allows you to view and edit tasks beyond current month. Isn’t it cool? Best of all, gain deep insights about the project progress with all tasks (open/closed) chart view.
Allocate tasks from resource charts

Want to allocate a task right from the resource chart view? Just click on a grey bar against a particular team member’s view and a contextual pop-up gets displayed. With this, enter umpteen tasks right from the resource charts and save your time.

Learn more about other features from What’s New

We see that we did most things right. But as always, we realize that there is room for improvement.

And remember, every time you send a feedback, you’re triggering us to work towards making your experience the best with Zoho Projects.

Log into Zoho’s Project Management Software
, play around and share your views about the new changes as comments here or mail us at

Increasing SMBs’ capabilities, at little cost, with CRM

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Thanks to a combination of economic pressures and the
ability to interact closer with the customer, there’s been a notable rise in SMBs
implementing CRM, said Michael Fauscette, Group Vice President, Software Business
Solutions at



At the CRM Evolution Conference in New York City, I spoke
with Fauscette and Brian Vellmure, Principal and Founder of Initium, LLC (


) about the current
state of SMBs deploying and integrating CRM into their business processes.

SMBs awoke to wanting to implement CRM when the recession
hit, said Vellmure. It was a time everyone was trying to “do more with less.”
Today, that productivity and customer connectedness has carried through. They’re
using CRM to acquire more customers and automate marketing processes, continued

As for integration, Vellmure is seeing a lot of growth in
business intelligence. Companies are getting more contextual awareness by connecting
their data with other databases, such as Hoovers.

Fauscette is most impressed with how companies are using
communities to create networks of support, thus alleviating their own customer
service demands. Not only are people helping each other, but they’re also
getting product feedback to help them actually improve the product.

Three unique ways to use Social CRM to grow your business

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You’ve got tons of customer data, but often your customers
aren’t talking directly to you. They’re talking to other customers and a lot of
people who aren’t your customers. This mass of unstructured data in the social
sphere (e.g., Twitter, YouTube, Facebook) is a goldmine not just for immediate
feedback, but for a host of unique customer service and product development

At the CRM Evolutions Conference in New York, I spoke with
analyst Ray Wang of


. He offered up three unique ways companies are taking advantage of
Social CRM:

  1. Steal sales from

    – By following your category and your competitors, you can
    discover people in purchase mode you never would have found. This is the best
    time to intercept and introduce yourself into the consideration mix.

  2. New uses for your

    – Videos of people with your product may introduce new ways to use
    your product that you hadn’t considered. Feed this information back into
    product development or new ways to market your product.

  3. Triage a problem before
    it blows up

    – When a customer has a complaint, escalate that problem to
    your company’s contact and action center and close the loop quickly so as to
    solve the problem in real time.

Are you not ready for Social CRM yet? That’s quite alright,
says Wang. While you’re waiting to launch your Social CRM campaign, start collecting
Twitter handles from your users so you can connect their social activity with
your customer database.