Earlier this month Zoho made several announcements about its cloud-based software suite at the annual Zoho Zoholics user conference in Austin, Texas. The announcements covered a range of new products and significant investments. One highlight of the event, particularly for how the company relates to modern work, was the launch of generative AI (GAI) features across Zoho’s portfolio of business apps.
In this article, I’ll look at Zoho’s AI announcements and how they fit into the overall Zoho portfolio. I’ll also consider how this impacts Zoho’s commitment to creating the most value for the customer while maintaining data security. Some might say the latest announcements reflect a bit of a “boil the ocean” strategy. (Spoiler alert: Zoho’s cofounder agrees with this sentiment. More on that later.) But I also believe they could provide tremendous value to small businesses while feeding Zoho’s customer pipeline.
But first, AI
These days, every enterprise software and cloud company has an AI announcement to make, whether they are ready or not. Regardless of their products’ status, companies have rushed to announce their own entries into the AI race. We saw this with Microsoft’s Copilot announcement, then Google’s AI-infused Workspace. It escalated with companies from Grammarly to Box introducing AI capabilities, even if those capabilities are not generally available in some cases.
Zoho may be somewhat late to the GAI party, but the company is no stranger to AI. Zoho has a long history of developing AI in-house and is taking a cautious approach to GAI. In particular, it’s going to great lengths to safeguard users’ data—not surprising given the company’s historically strong posture on security.
Zoho has a three-phase plan for implementing GAI tools. In the first phase, it will use OpenAI’s third-party functions through extensions on the Zoho Marketplace, meaning that GAI features are omitted by default but are available as extensions. The company will introduce ChatGPT to current users across several applications, beginning with Desk, Social, Writer, Mail, Assist, SalesIQ and Landing Page.
In the second phase, it will switch to open-source generative AI tooling and bring all customer data back to Zoho’s data center. Zoho designed this mid-phase strategy so that information from customers does not leak to any third party. In the third phase, Zoho will create and utilize its own language models and generative AI tools.
GAI has the potential to drastically change the way people work and how businesses hire, communicate with customers and engage in daily business. AI is driving a quantum leap in productivity, and I’m eager to see how Zoho implements GAI across its already very sticky platform.
When I say “sticky,” I mean Zoho users really love Zoho. They are, in fact, somewhat fanatical about the platform. Historically, Zoho has benefitted from these “Zoholics” by not having to put very much effort into marketing. The company says that it acquires most of its users by word of mouth. By increasing users’ productivity on a platform that they already feel they can’t live without, Zoho is in a firm position to maintain its low churn while adding even more new customers.
It’s not just about AI
We at Moor Insights & Strategy have been following Zoho for several years and have seen the company make significant strides. Zoho’s approach to serving its customers with deep cross-integrations has proven disruptive to the cloud software industry. Time and again, we’ve observed the company demonstrate its value proposition of creating easy-to-use, affordable software for various functions.
Today, the company is continuing this trajectory with more than just AI. At the Zoholics event, Zoho touted its significant investments in business and technology, focusing on upmarket growth and expanding its offerings for small businesses and entrepreneurs. This includes 65% YoY upmarket growth and the unveiling of new apps and services designed for small businesses.
Zoho is creating one Zoholic at a time
Zoho announced a suite of new tools for small businesses, including Zoho Start, which guides entrepreneurs through filing legal documents and paperwork. The service includes applying for an Employer Identification Number (EIN), as well as state-specific business guidelines. The company also announced Zoho Solo, a mobile-first application that provides essential tools for solopreneurs.
Zoho Start is currently available in beta in Texas and will soon be available in California and Delaware as well. The pricing for Zoho Start is reasonable at $99 per filing plus the state filing fee, while Zoho Solo is in public beta-by-request and priced at $9.99/month.
Once Zoho Start is out of beta, Zoho Books, Zoho Domains and Zoho Voice will be available as pre-built integrations for it. This gives businesses immediate access to accounting, website and telephony tools all within one platform. In addition, Zoho has launched Zoho Tables for spreadsheet flexibility with application functionality and Zoho Publish to help small businesses increase online visibility and manage customer engagement. I think this modular business-builder approach is wise. Although many small companies ultimately fail, those that build on Zoho and succeed will likely remain customers and sail upstream into the company’s mid-market sweet spot.
A secure, compartmentalized browser experience
Zoho also launched Ulaa, a web browser that prioritizes user privacy and security. Built using open-source technology and with user control over data in mind, Ulaa is a Chrome competitor of sorts, and the logo even resembles Google’s browser identity. Where Ulaa differs substantially is the lack of ads and the ability to designate modes for Work, Personal, Incognito and more.
There is also a Developer Mode designed for professional web developers and testers, which includes advanced user features such as suggested extensions. Kids Mode adds an extra layer of security with password protection and customizable site restrictions. But for those who want to live on the edge, Open Season Mode contains no browser restrictions and a warning that users might face privacy concerns because ad-blockers and anti-tracking measures are disabled.
The Dynamic Mode Switching feature in Ulaa allows users to organize their browsing sessions based on the different contexts already mentioned—Work, Personal, Developer and so on. Each mode has its own set of URLs, which can be edited as needed.
With this feature, users can easily switch between modes without creating a profile for each one. This saves time and allows for a more seamless browsing experience. Additionally, suppose a user accidentally opens personal data in the work mode. In that case, the feature will prompt them to proceed or not proceed with the action, helping to prevent potential mistakes or data breaches.
While testing Ulaa, I found that the Dynamic Mode Switching feature provides an organized and efficient browsing experience. Once specific URLs are set up—for example, my son’s baseball team site belongs in Personal Mode, while the Moor Insights & Strategy site and other research portals are set up in Work Mode—it allows me to compartmentalize online activity based on different contexts. I find this extremely useful as I juggle my responsibilities for work, home, sports and philanthropy (to name a few.) I also like it that Kids Mode requires a password to exit to another mode, meaning that my kids can’t accidentally edit documents in my other modes or access sites they shouldn’t.
Zipping it all up
Zoho’s latest announcements demonstrate its ongoing commitment to privacy, security and helping small businesses succeed. While the new developments showcase Zoho’s dedication to innovation, it’s also a lot for the company to take on—and it risks diluting their brand identity with users.
Zoho, which Patrick Moorhead, CEO and chief analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy once described as the most successful SaaS company you may have never heard of, continues to operate with a low profile, keeping its head down and focusing on good products rather than splashy marketing. Yet with the latest launches, it seems like the company is taking on a lot if it wants to nail the delivery like it has in the past. Senior leaders acknowledge that Zoho’s ambitions are broad. “I’ll be the first to admit, we are doing too many things,” Zoho cofounder Tony Thomas said at the Zoholics conference. “But there’s a method to our madness.”
Zoho has a reputation for integrated experiences and seamless UX. I look forward to seeing how Zoho integrates the new products to deliver more value while still fitting into its existing ecosystem. In particular, I hope to see Zoho use the latest AI capabilities to help its customers extract high-value information while delivering the same great Zoho experience. To do that, the company may need to make some tough decisions about its focus so it doesn’t “boil the ocean.” As Zoho grows to be even more things to more people, it may have to put a stake in the ground and decide what it really wants to be known for.