Here’s a great slideshow I came across by 16 Ventures, from a recent seminar they held in Anchorage, AK. Great stuff, and real crisp and to the point. Having worked at a few software startups in the past and now interacting with lots of established software companies and startups at Apprenda, I would definately recommed you check it out if you’re thinking about launching a new software venture. They’re also holding another seminar next week on Feb 26th in Dallas, TX.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about more and more lately, is somehow enabling the next generation user experience for business software.
For far too long, business applications have been built for businesses, not for the people in the businesses that use them.
Rather than approaching the design with the goal of enabling the best, most enjoyable experience for the individual, many ISVs have kept their designs inside the box, and focused solely on the needs of the business.
I may be missing something (and I’m sure I’ve not seen nearly everything), but I’ve yet to see an application that really breaks the mold. One that presents data in a totally new way, or enables a totally new experience for the user. Or one that incorporates some level of fun and enjoyment in the mundane tasks of creating service tickets, accounts, invoices, activity notes, meetings…etc.
If we look at sites/apps such as facebook, twitter, youtube and others, the sites that’s user bases have grown virally at an incredible pace, the three words that immediately come to mind are: personal, networked, and addictive
Personal – All of the above sites present information to the user that is personal and important to the individual user. This is similar to dashboards we see in many business apps. However, that is one single place in the application that is personal. Some applications also provide themes, but not to the extent that some of the social networkings sites provide customization of the overall look.
Networked – All of the above are web based applications, that leverage their network of users to create their core value. This is something I’ve written about in the past, and now Salesforce is just beginning to take this to the next level with their new Salesforce-to-Salesforce capabilities.
Addictive – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube… they are all addictive. They have something that makes people want to use them. However, that something can be different for different people, but I venture to say that what ever that something is, it is a direct result of those applications leveraging the network of users as the underlying core value of their offering.
Aside from Salesforce’s recent moves, another great example that is more on the design side is Entellium, and their Rave CRM product. Paul Johnston, Entellium’s CEO talks about the “Gamer Influenced Design” approach here on his blog.
Phil Wainewright also talks about Rave, and the concept of gaming elements applied to business software here.
I’d love to hear what others think, and if you can point me in the direction of some applications that you think are truly breaking the mold, I’d greatly appreciate it.
Freshbooks is an awesome application.
It’s an online time tracking and invoicing solution.
I’ve played with it a lot, and used it briefly in the past and I love it. Though I do not have a use for it at the present time, I plan to use it in the future when I do, and I recommend it to anyone that does have a use for it.
Aside from being an excellent application on so many levels, Freshbooks the company is in my opinion a great example of an ISV who has leveraged the SaaS delivery method very well from a business model perspective.
I’ll use some screenshots to explain.
Initial Home Page:
Freshbooks uses the initial homepage upon login to:
1) Post simple announcements
2) Advertise special offers for their own, useful services. (Snail Mail Invoice)
As mentioned in a previous post, this is something that all SaaS ISV’s should do. It should be done in a way that is targeted as well, based on the individual user. I wonder if I actually used snail mail invoices, if that ad would go away for good?
Now don’t get me wrong, there is a fine line between providing relevant unobtrusive announcements and advertising and polluting the application with ads. It has to be done right, and I believe Freshbooks gives us one example of how to do it right.
Freshbooks gives their users a very easy way to refer their product to others, from within the application. Yet they don’t stop there. They also provide incentive AND a way to easily track the referrals you send.
Freshbooks gives their users a way to instantly upgrade their account from inside the application. They also provide access to their FAQ’s and prominently display their phone number on this page as well, to ensure that if someone is even considering upgrading, they have multiple ways to have their questions or concerns addressed right then and there.
Freshbooks gives their users a way to instantly purchase credits for a commonly used add-on service of theirs (Snai-Mail Invoicing), from within the application. They also prominently advertise their offer to allow users to test the service out on themselves for FREE on this same page.
Report Cards in Account Info:
From the account info section, Freshbooks provides a quarterly report card for their users.
As you can see, this report card provides aggregate benchmarks for some key metrics associated with the application’s purpose and function. It shows the user what their results were as well as what the average results were for the other users in the same profession.
They also provide the user with a score that can then be displayed on their website if they desire, and they ask for feedback as to how they can improve the report card system right on the same page.
Taking it one step further, they actually get feedback from their top performers about their business practices, and share them here on their company blog.
This is one place where Freshbooks REALLY excels, and does one of the things that many of us had talked about last week in the discussion originating over at SaaSBlogs.
They create a way for their users to gain value from each other.
In case you missed it, you can view my detailed post about this here
Last but not least, they ask for feedback at the appropriate time. When someone is logging out, in most cases they have just finished working with the application. This is a prime time to get honest feedback and gain valuable insight regarding how to continue to improve the product, as well as what things users like most about the product.
Bravo Freshbooks…Keep up the excellent work!