Many start-up or small business owners look for partners to leverage their business. Whether the butcher recommends the baker or the programmer recommends a designer, businesses work on connections. The Small Business Web is a group of software companies whose programs are connected to each other via a set of communication channels. These APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) in and out of the software platforms of 70 companies let them pass data from one program to another – giving small business solutions the capabilities of an integrated enterprise suite of applications at a small business price.
As a startup owner, you probably don't care about APIs – but you might care that putting your invoicing data into Freshbooks will let it flow into bookkeeping and tax solution Outright. Or that sending your business cards to ShoeBoxed means that you can add the data you get to CRM provider BatchBlue's BatchBook database as well as send it through sales lead provider Jigsaw.
Small Business Web co-founders Michelle Riggen-Ransom, Director of Communications for BatchBlue and Sunir Shah, "Chief Handshaker" of Freshbooks sat down with me at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival to talk about this many-company integrated solution. 'We want to work towards an Open Web platform because Open is the fastest way to build the biggest market,' said Shah. You can find out more about these companies in their directory, which was announced last week at SXSW.
The Small Business Web's 'Most Connected Customer' is Brandon Dunlap, Managing Director of Brightfly, a research based consulting company, focused on business management of audit and information security. Dunlap did about 100K miles in air travel last year, going to conferences and working with professional associations as well as clients. As someone who is never 'in the office,' he uses software from 7 of the Small Business Web companies.
'We're a decentralized organization, a virtual team. I was using another solution to scan business cards and receipts; it was time a consuming process. A colleague turned me on to ShoeBoxed at the same time we were having accounting software upgrade problems. From them we came across Freshbooks and Outright. Freshbooks let us do online invoicing, and integrate the receipt scanning from ShoeBoxed, which imports to our Outright financials,' said Dunlap. After conferences, instead of sending materials on CD ROMs, BrightFly started emailing folks with links. But keeping track of who was sent what was difficult. "Now we send cards to ShoeBoxed, they're scanned and uploaded to BatchBook. We can send people mail messages based on contact lists from BatchBook using MailChimp. Batchbook keeps track of whom we contacted, when, and where we met them." Contact emails come back to him, and he can use CRM in BatchBook to track connections. He's now using Survey Gizmo for data collection and Eventbrite for some of their upcoming live web events.
Google's Apps program recently announced a marketplace where companies using Google's mail and other programs can also purchase applications. Several of the Small Business Web companies are now available in the Google Apps Marketplace. This allows a single sign on for a small business – logging into their mail also permits login and connection to their marketplace apps. (Note: My Inc. colleague Renee Oricchio has some concerns about the marketplace.)
There are several categories in the directory where competitors are listed – such as online form builders FormSpring and WuFoo. However, the philosophy of the leaders is 'Hug it Out.' Riggen-Ransom of BatchBlue ran into the CEO of another online CRM company while with Shah of Freshbooks. Shah suggested that in the spirit of the open web, the competitors hug and talk business. Riggen-Ransom told me 'We have a lot in common with people making competitive products, and the friendly competition is going to make all the products better for our customers.'
Are you using integrated solutions from the Small Business Web, or other cooperating vendors? Let us know in the comments below.