An open letter from FreshBooks founder Mike McDerment
August 21, 2012
Today I have a FreshBooks announcement to share with you. But first, a story almost 10 years in the making…
In January 2003 I was running a four person design agency. I was using Microsoft Word to create our firm’s invoices and I was pulling out my hair because Word simply wasn’t built to create good looking invoices efficiently or report on my business. One day I accidentally saved over an old invoice, and something in me snapped – I knew there had to be a better way. Over the next two weeks I coded up a solution for my clients, and eventually we turned that side project into what is now FreshBooks.
The road hasn’t been easy. It took over 16 months to bring a product to market. When we launched no one cared and 24 months after starting we had only 10 paying customers and revenues of $99 per month. We moved into my parents’ basement for 3.5 years. But despite all the evidence pointing to our failure, we carried on. Why? We loved our customers, our company and working together, and we’d discovered a passion to serve others.
Since those humble beginnings, over 5 million people have used FreshBooks to send and receive, print or pay invoices. Today FreshBooks has paying customers in over 120 countries. We are a rapidly growing 90 person company. We help everyone from the most fragile of businesses (many of them one person, first time owners) to the most vibrant businesses, collect billions of dollars. Today if we look at just North America alone, no one except QuickBooks Online has more online paying subscribers than FreshBooks, making FreshBooks the #1 cloud accounting solution designed for small business owners. But wait, isn’t FreshBooks the leader in “online invoicing”? What’s “cloud accounting”?
Indeed, when we began FreshBooks was built around the concept of invoicing. But not everyone is aware that for the last 4 years, we’ve offered expense-tracking capabilities. Additionally, we offer a Profit and Loss statement and other “accounting” style reports, as well as the ability to track time and send estimates to customers. What’s been very interesting to us is that, over the last 24 months, you – our cherished customers – have started describing FreshBooks as your “accounting system”, instead of just what you use for billing.
So here’s the news: from this day forward, FreshBooks is Cloud Accounting. We’re not changing our name, we’re just changing the way we describe our services. We’ve taken notice of what you are saying and we’re changing the way we talk about ourselves so it is more consistent with how you talk about FreshBooks. We’ve also taken notice of how your needs have changed. And while we have a culture of “show, not tell” at FreshBooks, I will share that our transition to “cloud” will deliver against some of your emerging needs and reinforce the “accounting” component of our evolution.
So that’s the story and the news. Nothing earth shattering. Keep reading if you would like to better understand what you can expect from FreshBooks going forward.
Does this mean FreshBooks is going to become complicated and bloated, trying to serve every kind of business and be all things to all businesses? No. We believe that in trying to serve everyone, you serve no one. We also believe that service-based businesses – people who get paid for their time and expertise – are the future of the economy. We know these businesses have unique needs that are hugely underserved, and we believe that the entrepreneurs who work hard every day to secure our economic future – by applying their time and expertise to other people’s problems – deserve cloud accounting purpose built for them.
So FreshBooks is not designed for everyone, nor will it be – we are going to stay focused on service-based businesses. So if you run a restaurant, or have complex inventory needs – you may enjoy using FreshBooks, but it’s not purpose built for you. But if you are a lawyer, a marketing or advertising agency, a plumber, an interior decorator, an IT professional, a therapist, an architect, a web professional – if you create value for your customers by applying your time and expertise to other people’s problems – FreshBooks is designed for you.
In delivering the cloud accounting you need, we’re going to stay true to our roots: saving you time billing your clients. When I built the first version of FreshBooks in 2003, I built an online invoicing service because 95% of my “accounting” time went to managing my receivables. It was no mistake I started there – it’s where the accounting pain lives for service-based business owners. So we know billing your clients – creating and sending your invoices, following up on outstanding invoices, waiting for checks in the mail, then filing them – is where your accounting time goes and we see many opportunities to help you save time billing and get paid faster. Our heritage is billing, and we are proud of that heritage – our focus will remain there.
And what about your accountant? While FreshBooks will always be designed for you, the business owner, we are going to make it easy for you to work with your accountant, and make it easy for your accountant to work with FreshBooks. So while your FreshBooks account won’t have all the advanced features that accountants need at their fingertips, and it won’t be mired in accounting jargon that’s confusing and complicated for you, we’re going to build bridges between your FreshBooks account and the complex tools your accountant needs.
This change is already underway. Recently we released the Account Overview. The page is a simple and straightforward financial dashboard for your business. It’s a step closer to accounting and it is the single most positively received change to FreshBooks we have ever released – 99.3% of you decided to make it your new home page. We have more in store in the coming weeks and months, over which time we hope you will see how cloud accounting with FreshBooks is great for you.
I wanted you to hear about our evolution to cloud accounting from me first. This is a subtle but meaningful change, again, almost 10 years in the making. You’ll see cloud accounting messaging on our website, in our app, and in our email communications. You will start to see new capabilities available to you from FreshBooks. But rest assured our commitment to serve you will not change – we’ll still strive to deliver the most extraordinary experiences you’ve ever had with ANY company you’ve ever dealt with. We will continue making product that is incredibly easy to use and intuitive for the way you do your work, and we will back up everything we do with extraordinary customer service that’s in your corner.
Lastly, you’ve helped us to become the #1 cloud accounting solution designed for small business owners and we are incredibly grateful for that. I promise we’ll work hard to continue our tradition of providing extraordinary customer service and building product that helps save you time, because we know you went into business to pursue your passion and serve your customers – not to learn accounting.
I know this note was long – perhaps unnecessarily so. I wanted to put it all in one place. If you made it this far, thank you for reading. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email, I’d love to hear from you.