Zoho Expense - the glue that will bind users to Zoho

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett April 6, 2015
Zoho Expense is the latest in a burgeoning portfolio of business solutions. It will be the integration glue that gets users excited.

zoho expense mobile
Zoho Expense - mobile

Every vendor wants to find that magic solution that will both keep the user stuck to the company for a long time while allowing for an expansion of its solutions footprint. Zoho Expense may be just that glue. Here's why.

In the early days of SaaS accounting, I said that while Freshbooks fast growing list of integrations was a fantastic idea to help SMEs get into business applications, it wasn't sustainable. I said the same of KashFlow and have consistently believed that to be true. As a side note, both are doing perfectly fine but that's not my end user's perspective. Why?

The true cost of SaaS

The math of adding more and more applications doesn't make sense, especially as your business grows. With baseline application costs settling in the $10-15-20/user/month range, it doesn't take long to be paying $100-150 a month per user. The problem isn't limited to cost. Small business isn't equipped to handle complex dependencies and when anything goes wrong then whose throat do you choke?

You can make the case that large footprint apps like accounting, HR and CRM can sit alongside one another on a platform. That's back office only and might represent 30-40% of what you need to run a business but with so much more needed then what do you do?

Zoho has always taken a different position. It acts as both the platform for Google integration while offering a series of pre-integrated applications it controls. This is a much better approach IMO.

Deep integration

Zoho Expense is the latest in the long line up of 25 applications that fits into the portfolio. It could end up being the tipping point app that gets business to switch out of its current smorgasbord of apps and onto a single platform. Why would you do that when popular vendors like Expensify have been doing such a fine job with expenses?

I've made the integrations case but Zoho Expense takes this to a whole new level. You might feel good if it hooked direct into the back end Zoho Books. You might like the idea of approval workflows or dashboards and analytics. You might be ready to jump in at the thought of automated OCRd receipts. What if all this is available on mobile?

What if you could do all of that and also integrate to projects or tasks or the CRM pipeline items so as to get fine level reporting control or expense tracking? Oh - and how about getting reimbursed directly via Zoho Books? Zoho Expense does all of this. In multiple currencies. What's not to like?

That really only leaves one question - is the user experience good enough to wrench people away from whatever they do today? You will have to judge for yourself. From what I have seen so far on Android the answer is a cautious 'yes.' Everyone who has used a mobile expense application will automatically make the comparison to their existing application. They will decide in a heartbeat whether Zoho Expense meets their criteria or not. That could be a major hurdle. But...

Since Zoho Expense straddles both Zoho Books and Zoho CRM, I believe that the average user will find it hard to object. More stubborn users might takes some persuading but the added functionality you get from pre-integration to other apps should win the day.

My take

To say I'm impressed is an understatement. I've been watching Zoho for a number of years and always liked their purposefulness and belief in a model that goes against the Silicon Valley bubble. I've not always been so impressed with the UI but 'get' that functionality beats out 'pretty' any day of the week.

I like that Zoho has steadily carved out a solid market for itself without sacrificing functionality at the alter of marketing and sales. You can see where this goes. As Zoho continues to flesh out its portfolio of solutions it can bundle apps that solve the cost creep associated with SME SaaS. In the long term expanding or larger companies may well choose to pay $100-150/user/month for 'all you can eat' usage among some users. You'll get a lot for your money.

In the meantime, Zoho Expense starts at that $15/month price point...for 10 users. A no brainer IMO.