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A Platform for Micro-Businesses

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I recently sat down with Ron Daniel, founder and CEO of SohoOS. The company's vision is nothing if not ambitious: it aims to "establish a new global micro-economy by empowering micro-businesses and freelancers worldwide with the management tools they need to flourish."

Here's an edited version of our conversation.

How would you describe the SohoOS to the layperson?

SohoOS is the free and simple way to manage a micro-business. It is designed to help users focus on what they are passionate about while daily administrative activities are fully automated by the SohoOS platform. We believe that in today's hyper-competitive market, a micro-business owner should be focused only on how to reach customers, build a product, etc. She should not be forced to deal with paperwork, marketing, accounting, branding, website maintenance, and an endless parade of other tedious activities just to keep on running. Users should be able to run their business while at home or on the road through the web or mobile devices with minimum effort.

You've said that SohoOS is trying to consumerize the management platform. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Sure. We believe that micro-business owners tend to behave more like individual consumers than business entities. I call it the "assistant test." If, like most micro business, you don't have an assistant, then you really can only rely on yourself. You want to make your day-to-day processes as simple and smooth as possible. Most don't want to spend precious time learning and relearning business applications and platforms. Those are best left for much bigger companies who, not coincidentally, have the staff to support this. As you write in The Age of the Platform, business platforms are designed with the organization as the key entity. On the other hand, consumer platforms are designed with the individual or consumer in mind. This is where we are focused. We put the business owner's needs front and center, understanding that this in turn will best serve the business.

Can you talk about future phases for SohoOS?

We envision SohoOS in three phases. These days we are finalizing phase one. We are making the simplest management environment on the web available for free to millions of businesses throughout the world.

We are now moving into phase two. This entails supplying a market for third parties to distribute fully integrated web services to these micro-businesses. To this end, we've build attractive and economical pricing into the product. This means that third parties can now integrate via our API and offer applications to the end user as part of the work process. There are only two conditions:

  • the services should be seamlessly integrated
  • the services should be relatively inexpensive (read: affordable to micro-businesses)

By doing this, we will enable our users to expand their capabilities. At the same time, they can enjoy cutting-edge services without any long-term, expensive commitment. This will also enable our users to experience how economies of scale can serve them. In effect, they can take advantage of being on a single platform.

Next year we will start rolling out phase three. We call this the virtual corporation. Basically users will be able to consolidate and split their activities on demand. For instance, one business will be able to sell products from another business's inventory. Also, several businesses will be able to work together and offer shared services and subscriptions. SohoOS will enable millions of businesses to seamlessly leverage a single database and share resources and information.

What do you think about the complexity of most enterprise software? Is your company's philosophy markedly different?

I think complexity is not a bad thing by itself, it is just a matter of context. Let's face it: Most big organizations need complex solutions that answer to a vast range of different needs. I think the question is not the complexity, but the usability. It is much more difficult to enable billions of people to communicate, like Facebook does, than to manage a hundred-person organization. Facebook provides an extremely easy user experience.

I am sure that enterprise software providers are starting to realize this. However, they can't change on a dime. The DNA built into their products is just too different than what it would take to create a user-friendly and efficient experience. Furthermore, today's technology has reached the point where complexity is no longer a good excuse for poor usability and tedious user experience. At SohoOS, we have separated the product department from the R&D department for exactly that reason. We want our product team to operate free from restraints. This will let those employees imagine the best possible product for the segment we are serving without being dragged into technology barriers.

So, what is the final vision for SohoOS?

SohoOS was started as a philosophical concept. We wanted to create a form of capitalism that serves well both the big players and the small players in the market. Our final dream is to turn SohoOS into the platform that delivers this vision. We believe that this will create a better world.