Zoho racks up another offering, launches Checkout

Yet another product launch from the most active software vendor you’ve probably not ever heard of.

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Zoho is a pretty interesting little company.

I first got to know them a decade or so ago when they sponsored a blog I was, at that time, writing for. Zoho’s CEO, Sridhar Vembu, invited me to visit Zoho HQ in Chennai, India to take a look at how they did things. The context for that was that, after blogging for a few years on a Wordpress-powered platform, I was moving to a blog that leveraged an internally built tool. Yes, Zoho had decided that it made sense to build their own blogging platform on which that new blog would be hosted.

Bear in mind that Zoho has an incredibly extensive platform. Office productivity? Check. Email client? Check. Accounting and invoicing? Check. Wiki solution? Check.

Zoho’s culture seems to be that if a need arises, whether it is internal or external, they will fulfill that need themselves. And there is a degree of logic to that -- Zoho has a huge developer base of several thousand skilled technicians in India. Despite the fact that Zoho pays them well, relative to their compatriots, the fact is that the economics are in Zoho’s favor and building products in-house can be done cheaper than, for example, it costs Wordpress to develop its own tools.

This culture is also an extension of Vembu’s personal viewpoint. Many years ago he and Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s CEO, had a falling out when Vembu rebuffed Salesforce’s acquisition overtures. Building and selling out of a business is not Vembu’s style -- he is very much in it for the long haul and wants to continue to build a long-term, sustainable organization.

Of course that strategy, alongside Zoho’s somewhat scattered product development approach, has created a huge variety of products and tools that have been criticized by some as being half-baked. For me, Zoho’s products -- and I’ve used many of them -- often have a feeling of being nearly baked. But not quite. They work, and they’re suitable for the small and mid-sized business customers that they’re geared towards, but they’re not polished in the way that Salesforce’s CRM or Microsoft’s Office suite are.

So why am I telling you all about Zoho's long history? Because it puts in context the announcement that Zoho is launching yet another product: this time a checkout offering that allows businesses to collect online payments.

The idea here is that it will be easier than ever before for small businesses to create customized online checkout pages for both one-time and recurring payments. Checkout joins the broader Zoho Finance Suite which, I have to say, Zoho is justified in calling “one of the most comprehensive cloud-based financial applications in the market today.” Whereas other vendors -- from Intuit to Sage, to Square, to Xero, to Shopify -- rely on building an ecosystem of third-party apps that are all integrated together, Zoho prefers to be a one-stop shop.

And conceptually that is an idea that works. The fact is that integrating disparate SaaS applications is far harder than most point solution vendors would let on. And with disparate solutions, things seem to break fairly often. The theory goes that all that pain is avoided with a suite solution. Of course the theory and the actuality are two different things and, naturally enough, a suite solution can have as many internal errors, issues and problems as can a solution made up of discrete components.

But I digress -- back to Checkout. Raju Vegesna, Zoho’s longtime chief evangelist (that is another of Zoho's traits – people stay around for a very long time) explains that Checkout is designed for both big and small organizations:

“A secure, reliable online payments solution is critical to managing the cash flow of businesses and e-commerce companies of all sizes. We built Zoho Checkout to be simple enough for small businesses to use by sending links for payment, but also scalable enough to offer larger companies the ability to easily customize their payments page with consistent branding.”

As is the usual model from this company, Zoho Checkout is available with a free plan. In this case, one that supports one payment page, with no restrictions on the transaction amount per month. There are also standard and professional plans at $9 and $29 per month respectively, which cover a more comprehensive feature set.

Time will tell how well Zoho does -- after all, other products the company has introduced have had mixed uptake. That said, integrated checkout is a very useful tool, so it will be interesting to see customers’ responses.

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