On Feature Requests: Trust me, I’m a professional

August 13, 2007

We get about a million feature requests each day here at FreshBooks.

(Yes, that’s a highly accurate estimate.)

Most of them sound like, “why don’t you have this feature? So-and-so does it.” Or even better, “why can’t you do this? If you did, I wouldn’t have to use such-and-such anymore.”

Here’s why you should jump for joy each and every time we say “no.”

You’ve gotta keep ’em separated

Usually, any product that tries to be a single solution for all your needs winds up encompassing far more than what you actually need.

For example, take a look at a suite like Microsoft Office. Could you imagine if they tried to integrate all that functionality into a single application? The same with 37signals‘ excellent line of web-based tools; why would they force Backpack upon an unsuspecting Basecamp user?

They didn’t. They made them separate applications.

With FreshBooks, we’re going to gradually get into some simple expense tracking features with FreshBooks, but don’t expect to see us venture into the territory of full-on accounting. Most people don’t need all that stuff.

Everything to everyone? Not really

A lot of the time we’ll hear, “well, QuickBooks does it.” But if this were the true measure of the usefulness of a piece of software, wouldn’t everybody just be happy with QuickBooks? It does a hundred different things, and we only do a few. If you compared our features in a grid, we wouldn’t have very many checkmarks.

Yet we get a ton of people migrating to FreshBooks. Why? Because we do exactly what they need, and we do it well. We’re all about simple invoicing and time tracking. Yes, we’re adding new features to help people do more with it, but for full-fledged accounting needs, you’ll always need more than just FreshBooks. We’re not trying to be that.

Don’t fish with dynamite

I think most desktop-based accounting software has set a very poor precedent by trying to be everything to everyone in a single package. People need to start realizing a hundred features aren’t just pointless, they’re highly undesirable.

Start thinking of your business software as tools in a toolbox. Sure, there’s a few people out there who just want to buy a toolbox full of tools; but the ones who know what they’re doing buy the specific tools they need.

For instance: I own an RJ-45 crimper, an RG6 stripper and an RG6 compression tool; I don’t own a saw, a level or a clamp.

You probably don’t know what those first three are, while you might consider the last three to be essentials; not me. I live in an apartment, so you’re far more likely to find me crimping a network cable than building a shed. Everybody needs different things out of their toolbox, so everybody has different tools.

Do one thing, and do it well

If we put ledgers, granular permissions, or half the other commonly requested features into FreshBooks, “Stella’s Beanie Babies” or “Pablo’s Auto Repair” would run away screaming. They just wanted to do invoicing. They asked you for a toothpick, and you handed them a Swiss army knife. They’re more likely to cut off their own nose than successfully dislodge that poppy seed from their teeth.

We’re really good at logging and billing hours. The more features we add, the more difficult that will be. We’d rather spend our time being even better at one thing than being alright at a few other things.

Using separate tools isn’t some sort of a kludge; it’s the right way to do things. Maybe in an era of supercentres, diet pills and miracle cures, that’s a bit of an unorthodox approach. Maybe it’s even a hard sell.

But this is one Mom and Pop store that’s glad to stick it to the big boxes.

about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.