Open Source Communications

I’m in the Call For Help TV studio right now… I just did a segment on Tech TV about FreshBooks and I am about to do a segment on marketing software online.

In preparation for the show I did some research on the host, Leo Laporte, and came across this interview on Mad Penguin.  Leo talks a lot about open source platforms vs. Windows platforms and the IBM platform era that came before.  He does a nice job of explaining how the sheer POWER of having people working at something they love for all the right reasons (READ: open source developers) creates a better product than people who are working for someone else while someone else benefits big time (READ: Microsoft employees).  Okay… nothing new.

What got me going was how he equated the platforms to government (i.e. Democracy vs. totalitarian rule).  In this scenario he describes how countries like China are going to extraordinary expense to restrict their peoples’ access to the internet, and thereby not allowing them access to masses of information.  Allow me to reiterate: they are going to EXTRAORDINARY EXPENSE.  AND he points out that that carrying on like this is unsustainable: the model will break.   I agree.

So… let’s switch gears and think about corporate communications for a moment.  Traditionally corporations have been totalitarian states.  Remember when the only source of news was a newspaper?  Remember when the radio came around?  Then TV?  Gradual change.  Each of these are broadcast media where companies can control their message and basically their message was the God’s truth because…well…there was no other message…and they had TOTAL CONTROL over that solitary message.

Then the internet happened.

What is the significance?  The corporate message is now being shaped by users/consumers/fans/participants much like open source software.  Why is it like open source software?  Because people not companies are using tools like blogs and podcasts and web sites and email to create the message and shape the message…and there is no stopping them from doing it.  In fact you shouldn’t want to…you should be thrilled they are taking their time to even bother with you.  You should support them as much as you can, engage them when it’s natural and LISTEN to them – that is the big thing.

I was on a call with one of our customers the other day (we set up calls to talk to them because we value their input and take it to heart every day).  This caller referred to our users as our “virtual board of directors”.  Perfect, and absolutely right.  They are that valuable (i.e. like advisors).  They have that kind of influence (i.e. like a board).  The feedback they give us and the blog posts they write shape our direction and help us sculpt the communications we do. So…like the open source movement, which relies on remote software developers to craft the software, our remote users sculpt our communications in a very natural and organic way.

Open source communications is the way from here on in.  That’s a good thing.

Adwords Help from the Master

As part of our initiative to deliver helpful resources to our FreshBooks users, this Thursday at 1:00 PM I will be hosting a tele-seminar with Andrew Goodman.  Andrew is THE Google Adwords expert and the author of “Winning Results with Google AdWords“.

Any start-ups who are thinking of using Adwords, or looking for some guidance running a campaign, can join in on the call.  The call is free to attend (but you have to pay your long distance rate if one applies).  Feel free to tell any small business owners or web designers or service providers that you know about the tele-seminar, all that we ask is that you sign up in advance so we can gauge our numbers and buy the correct number of phone lines.  Thanks.

Here are the details and more information about Andrew.

Use Your Application, Eat Your Cookie

As posted on the FreshBooks blog:

One of the things I like to see when I subscribe to someone’s service is that THEY use their own service.  I call this “eating your own cookie”.

We are in the process of redesigning our timesheet.  It’s a great design project to sink my teeth into.  How to we start something like this?  We USE THE TIMESHEET.

Starting this morning everyone around here is responsible for tracking their time in 10 minute  intervals – this is going to force us to use the timesheet regularly and get in touch with the painful activity of accurately tracking your time down to the minute.

If you are building web applications, using your own product is KEY.  We built FreshBooks to help us manage our web design company and we still use it to manage the billing of a handful of clients we have not let go of…. And after three years, the cookie still tastes good, but with our upgraded timesheet, it’s about to get sweeter.

FreshBooks Gets 5 Stars

FreshBooks just got a 5 Star rating on

I found WorkHappy a while back…Carson (the man behind the site) has posted application and excellent literature  recommendations for entrepreneurs…I’ve read the majority of his literature recommendations…Anyway, it’s pretty sweet to get five stars from Carson and his users as I’m an entrepreneur and FreshBooks users are entrepreneurs…peer validation…very nice.

What is Social Software?…

As posted on the FreshBooks Blog:

What is social software?  It’s software that deepens relationships between human beings – at least that is my take.

I started thinking about this last night because of a conversation I had with a FreshBooks user.  He has a design studio and I was interviewing him as part of our on-going client outreach initiative.

I told him that we are going to socialize our timesheet.  He said, “Socialize your Timesheet?…Like put tags on it?”

This client is a regular reader of websites and blogs like Signal vs. Noise and A List Apart… He knows what social software is, but clearly it has lost its meaning.

Social software is not tags [you can go here to see some reasons why I think tags suck].  Tags facilitate a relationship, but hey do not deepen it. Presently, FreshBooks does an excellent job of facilitating relationships and streamlining billing and time tracking.  When we socialize our timesheet we are going to embark on a new era whereby we help people work and communicate like people, not like users of software.  We’re excited.

Go here if you want to learn more about how we are going to socialize something as mundane as a timesheet.

PHP Framework: PHP On Trax

As posted on the FreshBooks Blog:

Ruby on Rails has been getting a lot of attention lately – for good reason.  It provides a programming framework that saves developers huge amounts of time and helps them leverage useful technologies like AJAX and various JavaScript Libraries.

The trouble is, many developers have invested themselves in one technology or another (PHP, Java, Cold Fusion, ASP…) prior to the breakout of Ruby on Rails.  Switching programming languages is not something most developers want to do.

We have been primarily a PHP shop since 1999.  So, I was delighted to come across PHP on Trax recently.  Turns out one of the principal developers in a FreshBooks customer (he wrote us a note shortly after we could Trax).

Check it out, and if you can, spread the word and/or get involved with building up the technology – it’s open source.

Your Sexy/Unsexy Mix

It’s funny how once you start thinking about something you see it everywhere.  This morning I woke up thinking about how “soft” all this web 2.0 stuff is and how bubbley things seem to be getting.  Established execs are leaving industry leaders to pitch in at start ups.  Google is madly going after low hanging fruit.

SO, with this in mind I logged into BlogLines today to create a new account and I saw this:

Those titles are not the titles of the early majority – they are the titles of the early adopter.  The hype is building in the technology world, which is at once exciting and scary.  It’s a small world and you can wrap yourself in it like a blanket if you want to….I would not recommend that though.

I know we have always brought a slightly “old school” mentality to how we run our business.  I don’t even have a cell phone.  I think our old school thinking may prove to be a competitive advantage in time.  With things like customer acquisition and driving trial we have focused on unsexy little niches, not as much on the blogosphere and the TechCrunch 50,000.  As a start-up you want a mix, because the unsexy clients are the ones who actually PAY for your service, the others ones (for the most part) just talk about you.  The unsexy customers also act as YOUR PRODUCT VALIDATION because they prove you add value.

So here is some guidance to start-ups that I have said before: don’t expect hype to pay the bills.  Find your marketing mix – your sexy/unsexy mix.  Why?  Because as Paul Kedroksy mentioned in his keynote at mesh “it takes a lot of bodies to fill a swamp”, to which I’ll add, “and corpses are decidedly unsexy”.