NetBooks pushes revamped small-business app suite

The company is relaunching its cloud-based application set as WorkingPoint

Startup NetBooks is making a second run at the nation's millions of small-business users with a new company name and revamped on-demand suite.

The San Francisco vendor's software, now renamed WorkingPoint, includes functionality for invoicing and accounts receivable; expenses and accounts payable; contact management; inventory management; financial reports; cash management and double-entry bookkeeping.

Down the road, the company will add time tracking and an iPhone client.

A single user can tap the application's base features at no charge. Beginning Aug. 1, additional users will cost US$10 per month.

Users can store "as much data" as they wish in the service, which is hosted on Amazon Web Services' Elastic Compute Cloud, and there will never be a separate charge for data storage or hosting, according to the company.

NetBooks was first formed by Ridgely Evers, who is credited with playing a key role in the development of Intuit's popular QuickBooks accounting software.

The initial NetBooks software, released in 2007, was developed offshore and "unfortunately, it did not perform," said current CEO Tate Holt. Evers has since moved on from the company.

But there is plenty of continuity, as Intuit's cofounder, Tom Proulx, is chairman of NetBooks' board, Holt said.

However, the company has scrapped the old application code in its entirety, rewriting it in Ruby on Rails.

It was also necessary to change the product's name to avoid confusion with netbook personal computers, which have come into vogue during the past couple of years, Holt said.

WorkingPoint is not meant as a replacement for QuickBooks, according to Holt. Instead, the company plans to target the many brand-new companies formed each year.

"We believe that if we focus on companies that are just starting out, that is when a business is at its most cash-critical stage," he said. "Why not be free? Why have a barrier to entry?"

NetBooks is hoping to hook entrepreneurs with a no-charge product, and then gain subscription revenue as their businesses mature and they add users, he said.

WorkingPoint will grow along with them, with new features delivered every month, according to NetBooks. The vendor is getting plenty of suggestions from beta testers, such as support for multiple currencies and UPS/FedEx integration.

Meanwhile, NetBooks is aware of the challenge it faces in the days ahead, Holt said. "There are many, many people that have gone after the small-business market, and there's a big graveyard there," he said.

One of the biggest tombstones is being engraved for Microsoft Money, the Quicken competitor that will no longer be sold after June 30.

But NetBooks believes its revamped offering has a shot given its range of functions, growing interest in SaaS (software as a service) and the ubiquity of broadband access, according to Holt.

The notion of having a full small-business suite online, where it is easily accessible from anyplace with an Internet connection, is "very appealing," said Lisa McWaters of the Fortuna, California, company Dine Art, which sells a range of upscale accessories to restaurants, hotels and bars.

Dine Art took a close look at WorkingPoint earlier this year, but didn't move to actually use it because at the time the software's inventory features were lacking, she said.

However, now that the product is out of beta, "we might look at it again, because we're just about to upgrade QuickBooks," she said.

McWaters is not concerned about potential security risks involved in on-demand software. The company already takes orders online and hasn't "had any bad luck" overall with online services, she said.

But McWaters, like other early users, would want assurances that her company's information would be quickly retrievable in the event WorkingPoint "totally crashed," she said.

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