The other evening I spoke with Tate Holt, CEO of WorkingPoint, the rebranded NetBooks. He told me that while the concepts behind NetBooks were fine, the execution was less than perfect. As a result, the company has spent the last year going back to the drawing board, figuring out what start up and very small businesses need in an accounting cumbusiness application and going from there. That’s a refreshing bit of honesty and not something you often find in a software vendor.
Like many others playing in this very small business saas space, WorkingPoint wants to make it as easy as possible for business users to maintain a set of accounts that not only help them keep in compliance but hides complexity. “We’ve concentrated on what business owners need to do such as get invoices out the door and record expenses. All the same we can’t avoid the fact that double entry book keeping underpins accounts so we’ve built the engine but hidden it.”
Unusually for an emerging saas application, WorkingPoint wants to manage inventory. “Even a landscape gardener or home based jewelry business keeps some sort of inventory. It makes sense to help them understand what they’ve got and how that might impact their business,” said Holt. It’s a sensible argument even though Holt says the company’s solution is aimed more at the service based business. It also wants to create a rudimentary customer relationship management application: first shot is contacts. Useful enough but more will be needed.
WorkingPoint is hoping it will be able to build a community of users prepared to share their experiences. “It’s unlikely that businesses will come into direct competition with one another (at least in the short term) but the issues they face are broadly the same. We think those same small businesses will want to share what they’re finding as a way of helping each other.”
From the accountant’s point of view, WorkingPoint hopes that the ease of use built into its solution will allow accountants to concentrate on providing the advisory services clients need rather than refactoring mis-posted items. I’m not so sure. One of the things I look for in a new accounting application is the ability to ‘learn’ so that once a client understands what goes where, then it is less likely that the same mistakes will be repeated. Even so, I’ve yet to hear of any accountant who has been able to pick up a set of small business accounts and refactor them into the required reporting formats needed for tax (as an example) without having to do some checking that results in adjustments.
Holt says the company is doing well in bringing customers on board: “We’ve now got a free for first user model. We think that as businesses gain experience, they will want to bring others into using the application and it is there where we will take revenue.” In recent times there has been much debate about business models for the saas world and it is fair to say that no-one is really sure which model provides the optimum balance between value to users and a return to the company. Even so, WorkingPoint’s approach is nothing if not gutsy.
Today, WorkingPoint is a US only solution but expects to include multi-currency and other aspects needed such as correct sales tax handling for other territories. I suspect however its larger problem will come in differentiating itself sufficiently from other similar style applications. As in times past many vendors are entering the market in the hope of finding that killer formula that will see them turn into the next Sage or Intuit. It makes for interesting comparisions because this time around, invention and innovation in providing SMBs with help is still in the formative stages but with much broader potential to come up with a killer application.
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