Small Companies Do it Better

As posted on the FreshBooks Blog:

It’s ironic…when you are small you control your own destiny – but most people would not agree with you.  They think success in the market place is determined by bigger players who have deeper pockets and wield a bigger club.  There is truth to that.  But when it comes to projects, I’d say little guys have more control.  

Right now we are running a little behind with the delivery of our upcoming ground mail invoicing service at FreshBooks.  In software it is common that things arrive late.  At FreshBooks it is UNcommon.  Why?  We are in 100% control of our development process.  I get calls to off-shore our software development all the time.  No thanks.  I like being on time, and I like great design (the downfall of off shore development in my humble opinion, but that is another story), so I’ll pass on the “cheaper” labour that WILL COST ME more time and energy.

Anyhow, ground mail is late.  I admit it.  Without going into the details, our partner (read “larger company”) has recently experienced some turnover.  No problem, these things happen, but from my vantage point it is a bummer when the lead developer on your project checks out when your project is 98% complete.  As a fairly seasoned project manager I know that one of the best ways to make a project FAIL is to change the team leaders part way.  I also know you have to roll with the punches and that’s exactly what our partner is doing.

Things are under control and their staff is competent…At this point it is really only a drag that we’ll deliver late – tough pill to swallow when not 10 days ago we were tightening the final screws and looking forward to kicking ground mail out the door last Monday.  C’est la vie. 

If you are following at home I’d say ground mail is now about two weeks away which will be three weeks late.  The good news is we have been adding more goodies to the upcoming release.  Thanks for your patience – it will be worth the wait.

FreshBooks Goes Social

I guess technically we are going postal before we go social <grin>, but that’s beside the point.  The real point is we are solving REAL problems for businesses.  I am excited because we are shaking things up.

Here is a lengthy post of mine from the FreshBooks blog (I posted it this morning):

TITLE: Software Should Be Social Because No One Works Alone

Nobody works alone.

We have about 30 years of consulting experience here at FreshBooks and we’ve never worked alone. About eight years ago I started out as an independent consultant. Back then I worked with my clients. Gradually I built up a network of freelancers who I contracted work out to. Sometimes they contracted work back to me. Very quickly these relationships became complicated. The money we owed one another was hard to track. The time spent on each others’ projects was not clear. 

As the consultancy we built up moved from web design and internet strategy consulting into pure product development, we have kept a few of the relationships alive. Today I am busy running FreshBooks. Now more than ever I feel the pain of not knowing how much I owe a contractor or what amount of time has been applied to a specific project. That is about to change.

FreshBooks is going to redesign time management for these complex relationships – we are going to shift the paradigm of time tracking. How? We are going to facilitate time tracking amongst individuals by allowing them to plug into groups – seamlessly.

Let’s use an example. Let’s say a web designer, a developer and a copywriter – all independent practioners operating their own companies – work together at some point during the course of Project A and let’s assume each one has a FreshBooks account. In today’s FreshBooks environment the three parties would have to choose a FreshBooks account to use to track their time (let’s say they choose the web designer’s account because in this case she brought in the work).

Throughout the life of the project, each “freelancer” logs into the web designer’s FreshBooks account and enters their time. To do this, each one needs to remember a username and password and a URL. They then need to login to the web designers’ FreshBooks account and track their time. At the end of their project the developer and the copywriter will have to tally up their time spent on the project and invoice the web designer – from their OWN FreshBooks account. This is a problem. It’s wrong. Why can’t the developer and the copywriter just work from within their own FreshBooks account for the life of the project? That would be natural, no? YES. We’re going to make it happen and you are going to love it.

FreshBooks is about to introduce a new era for freelance and contract workers. In this new era each independent practitioner will have their own FreshBooks account and they will be able to SHARE timesheets with other FreshBooks account holders IF they choose to. What is the significance? Now each of these independents can stay within their own FreshBooks account and share a timesheet for the same project. Simple. Tidy. Afterall, they each have their own office from which they share the work load…it’s the same principle.

When you can collaborate on your relationships from within your own account, it really helps. Think about Project B – the one no one expected to come out of Project A. It’s a second project that involves only the copywriter and the developer (and not the web designer). Within the new FreshBooks paradigm, the copywriter and the developer can stay inside their own FreshBooks account and simply share a timesheet with one another, while seamlessly working on BOTH projects. Sounds about right, doesn’t it?

We at FreshBooks are going to help you run your business in a very natural, social way. That’s one of the reasons we design software. We believe it should help you work naturally. We believe that software should help you DEEPEN your relationships. You don’t need to log into 3 different accounts to work on 3 different projects so you shouldn’t have to.

You stay in your account. Simple. Hallelujah.

Levi At FreshBooks Has An Issue With AMEX

This post about the struggle with accepting AMEX in US funds was posted by Levi today on the FreshBooks blog, the title is: Why Operating a Web Service in Canada Sucks – Part 1: AMEX …

Okay, I admit right off the top that the title of this post is intentionally contentious to get you reading….I’m busted.  It doesn’t really suck to operate a web service in Canada, but there certainly are some limitations and difficulties.  One of which I came across earlier after many moons of back and forth with the “other” credit card company, AMEX.   

To put some context to this story, I should give you a bit of background on our business.  We are based in Canada, but have the majority of our customers in the USA.  We try to apply the 80 – 20 rule for everything we do online; in this case we wanted to make paying for our software very easy for 80% of our clientele.  Therefore, we decided to only accept payment in US dollars. 

As many of you out there know, getting set up to accept credit cards online is hard enough as it is just for Visa and MasterCard.  You need to first get an online merchant account which involves a long list of forms that require everything from your credit history to the rights to your first born.  After that, you need to decide and get set up with an appropriate payment gateway.  In our case we chose VeriSign because of its good reputation and the flexibility of its API.  Finally, you have to get your merchant account and your payment gateway talking.  Since we are based in Canada, we ended up having to get another account with an intermediary called Global Payment Systems.  Please don’t ask why our merchant account couldn’t deal directly with VeriSign in the US, and also please don’t ask how long it took for VeriSign to get setup properly with Global Payment Services.  Let’s just say I don’t think they deal with too many Canadian customers.

Okay, so after all the work we put into getting setup to accept Visa and MasterCard in good old-fashioned US dollars and get the money deposited into our US based Canadian bank account, we started getting a number of requests to accept AMEX.  I then started the application process with our merchant account to accept AMEX assuming it would just be a matter of adding AMEX onto our account. 

Remarkably in my first conversation, I was given an impression that it would be just that simple after filling out a few forms.  In a few days I realized it wasn’t going to be that simple.  Our merchant account came back asking for our AMEX account number, which of course I didn’t have.  After some wrangling I realized the AMEX is a completely different animal than Visa and MasterCard and I would have to go through an entirely different application process: AMEX Canada.

So, I started the process and everything seemed to be going fairly smoothly until I introduced the “dirty” acronym in the AMEX Canada vocabulary: “USD”.  Of course no one actually said that they wouldn’t accept USD, they started by saying that the money will be converted to CAD and that they only work with Canadian dollar bank accounts.  I thought “that kinda sucks because we will end up getting dinged with the AMEX conversion rates, but it’s worth it to make our customers happy”.  However, after about two weeks of getting everything setup just right, I then started the process with our gateway to introduce them to AMEX Canada assuming they would speak the same language. 

For some strange reason, I didn’t recall one of my first lessons I learned working as a young engineer in Calgary, never ASSUME anything! 

VeriSign insisted that their system will work as long as I could get them some ID number that they needed.  AMEX Canada said everything will work and eventually got me the number that they initially thought was not needed.  At this point I should have given up, but I thought it would all be worth it, once we are accepting AMEX.  I managed to get a small transaction to go through with Kathy’s AMEX card and after a week, AMEX Canada actually came up with the transaction in their online reports.  The only kicker was that it was the exact amount I charged except in CAD not USD.  I thought maybe it just had to settle before it was converted properly.  When it finally settled, sure enough the total converted amount was not in our bank account.  After sorting it out with AMEX Canada who initially thought I was disputing the charge and wanted the money back, I eventually talked to THE person who told me beyond a doubt that AMEX Canada does not accept US transactions.  It is not just that they convert it to Canadian, they just don’t do USD, period.

To make a long story short, my quest for AMEX was over. Unless I could get approved with AMEX USA, our business could not accept AMEX. 

Perhaps when Google expands their payment services, none of us will need Visa, MasterCard or AMEX.  Check out what Mathew Ingram had to say in the Globe today about Google’s payment services.