Having gone to three major ZOHOLICS events (Pleasanton, Austin and Montreal) I was ready to try something new. After enduring several weeks of -20C weather, a friend who is a Zoho Premium Partner in Colombia suggested I go to ZOHOLICS Ciudad de Mexico (last week), the decision was an easy one.
What followed was probably one of the most productive (and enjoyable) business trips I ever made. Day one (Feb 13th) was the Partner Summit. It was dubbed "Zoho Inspire", not sure why they went for the re-brand, but I certainly got Zoho-inspired, so... mission accomplished, Zoho. ;-)
There must have been around 60 or 70 Zoho Partners from; Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico (naturally), Argentina and even Spain. To my knowledge Cloud Lion was the only Canadian partner, no US partners were seen. Some of Zoho's top brass presented NDA-confidential material, on upcoming trends, and on where Zoho is heading. Fascinating. Would love to tell you more but...
I particularly enjoyed watching Rajendran Dandapani, director of Engineering at Zoho. Among the many hats he wears, he is in charge of Zoho University an institution making a huge difference in the lives of youths in Chennai, a southern town of rural India where Zoho is based. Zoho has an amazing culture that fuels it, creating skilled and forever faithful employees - I wrote more about Zoho's culture in an article following last year's Zoholics Austin - worth a read if you are interested in getting an insider's perspective into what Zoho really is.
Rajendran explained Zoho's Workplace bundle, which is essentially Zoho's answer to G Suite. Instead of Gmail - Zoho Mail, instead of Drive - Zoho Work Drive, you get the idea. To be honest with you I always thought these apps were a bit of a joke, even though the Sheets and Docs felt fairly convincing when I did a demo during Zoholics Pleasanton 2017; Trying to take on Gmail or Drive seemed like a quixotic endeavor at best.
Anyone who knows me at all can attest to the fact that I absolutely love Google's GSuite tools, being Quebec City's only Google-Certified Trainer for GSuite, and being the founder of Cloud Lion, a Google Partner business should confirm this.
My love for G Suite (Google Apps at the time) started when I was a high school teacher in South-East Asia back in 2009. This highly-collaborative technology was so well designed, and made such an amazing difference for my teaching practice - there was simply no way not to love it. Besides, it felt good to rattle cages, and to "stick it to the man" (Microsoft). It felt refreshingly rebellious to use disruptive technology that was superior, and more accessible to the old-school tools everyone was used to.
I mean, who in their right mind would consider leaving GSuite? People move to GSuite, not away from it! Right? Well, times do change, and there is finally a serious contender in this space. I'm not talking about Office 365, though they are a huge step ahead of traditional Microsoft (non-cloud) Office. I am talking about Zoho Workplace.
Being a bit of a nerd, and a Star Wars fan, I've always seen Google as the Rebels, and Microsoft as the Intergalactic Empire. But as things evolve, and Google became Google-scaled, I have had to put this optic into question. The family-owned not-for-sale business from Chennai, India now seems so much cooler. The fact that G Suite license fees are going up by 20% worldwide as of this April does not help... whatever happened to Moore's Law?! Still love them, will still use their technology and continue to transform companies with their awesome tools, but lookout Google - Zoho's gaining on you fast!
After learning what we learned, we made the decision to get Cloud Science (another company I am involved with) away from G Suite, into Zoho Workplace, will let you know how that goes.
Another app in the spotlight was Zoho Analytics, a powerful gateway into syncing your local database with your Zoho environment, generating dashboards and reports in real time. Formerly known as Zoho Reports, this application gives you a more robust capability to generate reports from your CRM as well. Three weeks ago, a client of ours succeeded in connecting his SQL database to Zoho Analytics, quickly and painlessly.
Zoho Backstage was also mentioned - it is the app that Zoho uses to run all of its events. Backstage consists of a CMS (for making event websites) which is beautifully integrated with Eventbrite for ticket sales. The tool is structured to run the event smoothly, offering an app for attendees to download, so that they can sign up for different sessions or tracks of a summit-like event. Another cool integration Backstage has is with Zoho Showtime, which is an interactive slide-show app, which allows attendees to follow the slides on their devices, rewind to previous slides, and ask questions to the presenter in real-time. Attendees can also give feedback to the presenter. We beta-tested Zoho Backstage at Cloud Sur-le-Lac, back in November.
Zoho PageSense and Zoho SalesIQ were also showcased. They are both incredible for marketing purposes, and I could go on-and-on, but for the sake of brevity I won't. I will say that these are the most sophisticated tools of their kind I have ever seen. Picture this - PageSense lets you see a real recording of the actual mouse movements etc. that each visitor did on your page! Crazy...
Day2: ZOHOLICS MX 2019
The floodgates were opened to let the knowledge-hungry, non-partner public in. There must have been between 600-700 people. The level of knowledge of participants varied greatly, I met some companies who were seasoned, using several apps of the Zoho ecosystem. They had interesting questions, reflecting that they used these apps beyond the beginner or intermediate threshold. However, most folks were very new to Zoho, which reflects the market's growing interest in these products. People flocked, asking many questions, curious about how this magic pandora's box of SaaS Swiss-Army knives could solve every problem their businesses faced.
There were 2 tracks for visitors to follow (very Zoho), Sales and Marketing. Having seen most of this content, I was not really learning anything new - so I used this priceless opportunity to spend one-on-one time with Zoho engineers and to meet interesting Zoho Partners from the vibrant LATAM ecosystem. I have observed that Zoho has been better adopted by Spanish-speaking markets than French-speaking markets to date.
There seem to be more successful case-studies. The quantity and quality of partners is also very different, the average age of partners seems to be higher compared to the other Zoholics I attended. Being a very young company, we are in no position to bash anyone, but it is fascinating to benefit from the experience and advice of people who have been Zoho Partners for 10-12 years. And, being proud to consider myself a Latino, it was awesome to experience Zoholics in this flavor, which seemed closer to home from a cultural perspective. It was also a rich experience for Luis, the newest addition to the Cloud Lion family to be at his first Zoholics - you can see him in the picture above, where we posed with Devasakayam, a brilliant Zoho Engineer who plays a leading role behind one of Zoho's most important products - Zoho Cliq.
Devasakayam (AKA "Deva") explained things to us about the architecture behind Cliq, revealing the true power behind it. Fascinating. What may seem as a simple chatting app to the uninstructed, is actually much more than that - it can be the key behind important integrations between apps, like a hidden channel that unlocks tremendous functionality. Maybe this explains why so many people from Zoho have stickers of the Cliq logo on their laptops, like members of a secret club who know what's up.
On a personal note - I had to take a picture to show some love, being Valentine's day and all. Since my better half was not with me, I hugged the Zoho totem. Proved to be a bad substitute, with hard splintery edges, furthermore - it provoked some jealousy back home, but I never learn, so here it is for you to see as well.
*note on self preservation: always send a nice message to your significant other on Feb14th, especially if you are on a business trip.
Day3, Feb 15th
Went on much like the previous day, lots of product demos, two tracks, good food, a ton of people. Luis and I mingled, and learned from Zoho developers. Reflecting on all I learned and lived during these 3 days I made it a point to write a LinkedIn article reasonably soon after my arrival to Quebec.
I was asked if I would be going to Zoholics Austin, Zoho's flagship event in their new HQ. My knee-jerk reaction was - "absolutely, YES!" Wouldn't miss it for the world. But when I did a little online search I noticed something subtle yet bold:
Yep. You read that right. They have set the dates for Zoholics Austin for the exact same dates as Google Cloud Next (!). I doubt that is a coincidence. My first Zoholics was two years ago, at Zoho's Pleasanton campus (their previous HQ), there I enjoyed watching Google's Robert Kapanen take the stage and give an excellent presentation on the integrations between Google and Zoho. The message there was "Google and Zoho are better together". I even learned that at that point Zoho created more integrations to Google than any other company. What a beautiful marriage...
Two years ago Zoho was inviting Google to speak at Zoholics, displaying an image of unity with the tech giant. Today the dynamic between Zoho and Google looks a bit more like this:
I feel torn, but I have no choice, I will be at NEXT. Sebastien and Luis will go to ZOHOLICS. These two companies can get along - as they did here in Quebec at Cloud Sur Le Lac, last 15th and 16th of November - we had Zoho's Emily Sloan Pace, and Chandrashekar LSP speak right after the phenomenal keynote from Google's Regional Director David Beauchemin.
But business is business, and even if Cloud Lion feels like two of it's closest friends are at war, this kind of conflict can only be beneficial for the general public. After all, consumers benefit when tech companies battle, since times of war can bring out aggressive pricing and accelerated innovation from tech companies.
So while we wait to see how things continue to develop, I send a big gracias on behalf of Cloud Lion to Fernando Sotelo, Tamara Arruñada and the rest of Zoho's Mexico and LATAM team. We are excited to implement Zoho's amazing apps, and making them get along nicely with Google's G Suite, in order to transform the way our client's businesses function.
We look forward to hosting both Google and Zoho at our next Cloud Sur le Lac (2.0) event in Quebec this September, and please... no fighting in front of the kids!