Last time I was in Cape Town, I was hanging out with Vinny Lingham, founder of Yola, a service that allows small businesses to create a site in about five minutes. He was incredibly spazzy about some big deal he was about to close that would have a material effect on the company, but he wouldn’t tell me what it was. That’s OK I think I found out anyway.
I asked Lingham about the screenshots, and he said he couldn’t comment aside from confirming he had a “relationship” with HP and that it’s not limited to the US. He wouldn’t confirm which countries but did say that Yola will soon be available with seven payment currencies and in six additional languages: Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian and German.
HP’s sweet spot is not-so-tech-savvy small businesses, and now they’ve got a Yola install icon on their desktops. I hear that Yola beat out large competitors like Intuit’s Homestead to win the deal, not to mention other startup competitors.
While digging, I also heard that Yola has signed a distribution deal with AOL to be part of AOL’s Product Central along with other third party software providers like McAfee. (It’s not on the site now, because I’m told it kicks off in 2011.) Lingham confirmed that deal too, but wouldn’t give me any more details about it.
Yola’s market is a hard one to reach but a surprisingly juicy one. Believe it or not, nearly half of small businesses still don’t have a Web site. At some point that will change; the big question is how long it takes. Small businesses are notoriously late technology adopters. For more than decade Intuit’s biggest competitor for products like QuickBooks has been pen-and-paper and basic Excel files. That’s why distribution deals by brands small businesses trust are the only real option to build a larget company, aside from amassing a huge feet-on-the-street sales force. Considering Intuit is one of the most trusted small business software brands on the planet it’s surprising and impressive that Yola beat them out for the HP deal.
It’s possible that the wave of Groupon-like coupon sites and services like Foursquare could push Web-holdouts online faster in the next year. And unlike Yola’s Israeli competitor Wix, Lingham bet on HTML-5 over Flash— a crucial differentiator in the iPad/iPhone world. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a venture round for Yola in 2011 too.