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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

BizAutomation.com CEO Carl Zaldivar: One Suite Fits All

On Feb. 16, BizAutomation.com is planning a launch of an on-demand business suite that will include e-commerce, CRM, accounting and other back- and front-office features. There are other similar products on the market — namely NetSuite — but none, insists CEO Carl Zaldivar, that are geared specifically to the small and medium-sized business (SMB).

The firm, now in its fifth year of existence, has been working toward this goal almost from the very beginning. Now that it is close to being realized, Zaldivar spoke with CRM Buyer about his strategy to take over this particular SaaS (Software as a Service) niche.

CRM Buyer: When did you decide that this route — a SaaS suite for SMBs — was the one you wanted to take your company?

Carl Zaldivar:

Our first product was a CRM product for Exchange that used Outlook. So from the beginning we have been focused on CRM. We have always wanted to leverage the hosted exchange model for SMBs, and create a multi-tenant super suite on which smaller businesses can run an entire company. The need is greater here than among larger companies because employees at SMBs wear more hats and don’t have the time or resources to tinker with their software or hardware.

CRM Buyer: Tell me more about the product you will be releasing.

Zaldivar:

The beta we have completed is a super suite that includes everything from e-commerce, front office, back office, sales, marketing, support, surveys, accounting in the spirit of Quickbooks … the list of features just goes on and on. Basically, if you take QuickBooks and Salesforce.com and add e-commerce functionality to that, well, that is what BizAutomation.com looks like.

CRM Buyer: It’s also what NetSuite looks like, as you have pointed out.

Zaldivar:

Yes — what NetSuite originally looked like. That company started out as a product for SMBs but it has since abandoned that strategy.

CRM Buyer: How so?

Zaldivar:

By its cost. If you have less than 25 employees, you cannot afford to spend (US)$150 to $200 per employee per month for an application. We will be charging $50 per user per month with a $1,500 set up fee.

CRM Buyer: Your product is in beta right now and you plan to move to commercial in February. What type of feedback have you gotten from users?

Zaldivar:

They love the user interface.

CRM Buyer: Tell me what they didn’t love.

Zaldivar:

They didn’t like the fact that we are a relatively new company and don’t have a track record or references. Our SLA (service level agreement) is unproven too, and the users don’t like that, even though we tell them our servers are at major backbone data centers in downtown Los Angeles. And they don’t like the fact that we don’t have a redundant site, although a lot of the established SaaS vendors don’t have one either, or they have only recently established such sites.

CRM Buyer: How many firms are in beta right now?

Zaldivar:

We have a couple of dozen companies that have accounts.

CRM Buyer: Will you be partnering with other companies to enhance the product?

Zaldivar:

Yes, we are going to be partnering with Infusion to offer data migration (from other vendors) and online and offsite back up. This will happen within the next couple of months or so.

CRM Buyer: Do you think it will be difficult to launch a product in the SaaS space given how many companies are active in it?

Zaldivar:

The hardest part, I think, has been in educating the market about the all-in-one approach. CRM or accounting are just components of the suite — and while SMB firms understand those components they may not realize how they relate technically to other pieces.

CRM Buyer: What comes after this launch? Are you thinking about 2009 already?

Zaldivar:

Oh yes. We will continue to push the technology. We want to get into Web services, we want to deliver a workflow automation add-on. In addition we will be looking at providing support for global operations. Going global is essential for even SMBs now and their software has to match that.

CRM Buyer: Do you think targeting just the SMB market is enough to support you? I realize it is very big, but do you believe that on a transaction-by-transaction basis at such a low price point, sales will be enough to make your margins?

Zaldivar:

I have seen a statistic that Salesforce.com’s users originally were five to a company and now that number is ten. So yes, I think SMBs can support our product and the answer will be in the volumes — and in making people realize that what is on the market now is not necessarily the best product for their particular issues.

CRM Buyer: Are you planning on having people picket your competitors like Salesforce.com did when it first launched? It was one of its splashier publicity stunts.

Zaldivar:

(laughs) No. The ‘No Software’ campaign was effective for its time but the debate has moved beyond that now.

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