We are very big Basecamp users (we hover between 70 and 100 active projects at any given time). We’ve been waiting a long time for a 37signals suite. I’ve been curious to try Campfire seriously (which we can only do in the context of a large account).
Finally they delivered and the offer is pretty good. For Highrise for example, the account bundled in the $149 would normally cost $149 by itself. Of course, what we’d need or use would fit into the Plus at $49/month (although we’d be close with the 15 user limit). In the end, we haven’t said yes yet.
Value of the offer.
The Pro suite is equivalent of:
$99 Basecamp (100 projects)
$149 Highrise (50,000 contacts, unlimited employees: we’d need $49 separately)
$149 Backpack (10,000 pages, larger than any existing Backpack plan: we’d need $49 separately)
$49 Campfire (60 users instead of 75: we’d need $24, 25 users)
So for a single fee of $149, the paper value is $445/month. The real value if we used the services to the max with our existing staff and client list is $222/month.
The value proposition is great, with plenty of room to expand. But my main question is upgrading going to improve our business processes and our lives. I’m not sure yet.
Here’s my main concerns:
- increasing our dependence on 37signals: it’s always dangerous to put too much of your business process in the hands of any third party, as Microsoft customers have learnt to their peril over the years. Lock-in. Right now we are waiting on 37signals to improve the mobile versions to stop complaints from BlackBerry users.
- Backpack does not allow you to export pages to html (only Writeboards will go cleanly). That’s a nuisance as the source code is so messy you can’t just view source and move it over. I was thinking about using Backpack for the drafts of our documentation but we’ll just keep doing it as WordPress drafts in Foliopress WYSIWYG. So we’d be unlikely to use Backpack much, although our SEO department might go back to using it for collaborating with external writers.
Each writer could have his or her own page. We’d get all our documents then in standard format, ready for html. This did work really well for us at one point.
- Campfire will be great for quick chats, but I’m worried that a lot of coherent conversation will just end up in these quick chats and hence not be searchable from Basecamp. So Campfire is a plus and a minus. Currently we get by very well with Skype for this kind of communication. With this step, we could eliminate Skype from our workflow along with any IM service.
- Highrise. Really we’d like to use Highrise. We need a better sales process (one with less me in the middle of it, and it looks like Highrise might be the solution). We are still doing a lot of work with Relenta for outgoing group email and may manage to replicate our sales process in Relenta, but Dmitri and the guys have slowed down in terms of improving Relenta and before totally committing to Relenta, we’d like to see some new features and a faster upgrade schedule.
There’s a good chance we’ll eventually end up upgrading just for Highrise. If we do, then 37signals scores big as we’d be able to move our clients in real estate over to Highrise which has lots of great features for real estate (deals and cases).
Focusing on Highrise: Integration with external tools and even with Basecamp itself
Our main accounting and invoicing tool is Freshbooks. We love Freshbooks and did contribute a lot of tweaks to its development a couple of years ago. Freshbooks totally satisfies our sophisticated four currency and fifteen member team’s needs now so we don’t need to bother to ask for too many improvements anymore.
Highrise does integrate with Freshbooks. But frankly, integration with Freshbooks stinks. It’s a simple import tool really, with no information or links shared back and forth. On the other hand, JavelinCRM/CapsuleCRM (too bad about the forced rebranding guys) does full integration with Freshbooks, even fetching Freshbooks financial data automatically. As Freshbooks is now the center of our client contact data, I’d really appreciate better integration here before jumping on board. In fact, data sync is one of the biggest issues we have with the 37signals suite.
Even their own Basecamp doesn’t integrate with Highrise. The best 37signals now offer is importing Basecamp contacts into Highrise. The problem with this integration is that normally a contact would start in Highrise as a lead and only later move to Basecamp as part of a closed deal. Get ready for data reentry, 37signals user. Moreover, Highrise won’t sync with Apple Address Book or Google Contacts. I know sync is one of the worst productivity killers for app developers (burns up to 90% of programming resources), but some kind of working sync is really pretty important in this day and age at least for core contact information.
The generally unfriendly attitude of 37signals to sync (even among their own products) makes me very reluctant to upgrade to their suite or integrate Foliovision more deeply. Take another example: Backpack. For everyone I’d like to add to Backpack I have to do it by hand. Not the end of the world for the twelve core Foliovision employees, but I would think as a suite subscriber, there would be a shortcut allowing me to pick people from my Basecamp contacts or Highrise contacts.
Highrise: the competitive landscape
Highrise does very well against SalesForce (expensive), SugarCRM (free but complicated), ACT (difficult to use) and TopProducer (expensive and complicated). It’s more interesting to hold 37signals feet to the fire against similar best of breed web applications.
So in this case, whether I go for CapsuleCRM or Highrise/suite, I end up with no sync between my CRM and Basecamp. At least with CapsuleCRM, I do get sync with Freshbooks making that part of life easier.
The next issue we run into are todo’s. Our whole team has all of their todo’s in Basecamp so they see all their todo’s in one place. They can even order their todos with our new tool Ascent List. With Highrise todo’s this working system would be temporarily broken and they’d have to look in two places. We can fix that though.
Now we do get to a rub here. 37signals is great on volume pricing. With Basecamp, I’m limited by 100 projects in my current account but as many staff and as many clients as I’d like. CapsuleCRM would charge me $12 per staff member. If I wanted to bring the core Foliovision staff on board (most of them would hardly use it, but locking them out of our CRM is hardly the hallmark of a progressive organisation), I’d be looking at about $150/month. I.e. three times more expensive than the Highrise solution. With the Highrise solution, we’d also be able to keep growing with no incremental cost.
I can solve the cost issue by just adding sales and admin staff to CapsuleCRM for about $60/month. It would be great if CapsuleCRM would do some kind of bundles for small business like Freshbooks and 37signals, even if it means two levels of users (one kind can’t use the sales tools).
Highrise: Mailing out
37signals think of themselves a high-minded lot. The last thing they’d like to be bothered with are spam complaints and ISP relations. Hence there is no mailing functionality in Highrise. This is where Relenta shines. You have your contacts which you can easily place into groups. You can put them on email sequences when they arrive, or even later. You can send out mass emails to any group with the click of a button.
Highrise could make this all a reality by plugging into an external email provider. Unfortunately when they created their API, 37 signals left tags out. Meaning that it was very difficult to send to the right people with an external email provider (SendLoop, Newsberry, MailChimp, ConstantContact).
Only MailChimp has had the patience to come back now that the API has been improved and rework their Highrise sync. It actually seems pretty good now. Alas, I don’t care for MailChimp. Just a bit too funky and a bit too fiddly. Really like SendLoop when I tried them but no real Highrise sync. Advantage, Relenta (integrated). CapsuleCRM, neutral (MailChimp integration but a bit weaker than Highrise).
Returning to value: TCO
The 37signals bundle is a great deal for any small business. Maintaining these tools, let along building them, from open source software would be many times the monthly cost in time of using their suite. The suite even includes time tracking in Basecamp (again I must say we use the Freshbooks time tracking as it’s more robust for billing purposes and as usual with 37signals, the sync/integration is pretty weak) so apart from invoicing, you have almost all of your business needs met apart from an internet connection and a telephone line. You won’t even need to bother with local networking (always a hassle) unless you are editing video as the online network from just Basecamp is robust enough to fill all your needs.
With this suite you can scale up to 100 projects, 50,000 contacts and unlimited employees for just $149/month. That’s easily $1500/month of infrastructure for $150 when you count admin and IT hours.
Just fix the syncing and interaction with external tools and between the apps to be more robust and I’m on board. Yesterday. In the meantime, we’ll hobble along with just Basecamp and look elsewhere for our CRM solution to Relenta and CapsuleCRM.