Starting a Business

Adios, Excel

FreshBooks offers invoice templates, an MBA's smarts and a human touch in a slick--and affordable--Web 2.0 package.
3 min read
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Though his business is 100 percent online, FreshBooks co-founder and CEO Mike McDerment is all about getting face time with his customers. Launched in 2004, the company offers a subscription invoicing and time-tracking service to freelancers, independent service providers and small businesses. But McDerment and his crew of 29 aren't shackled to their monitors: They spend countless hours away from their Toronto offices taking paid subscribers out to dinner in cities throughout the U.S. and Canada. "No one takes care of people in the client-services business," McDerment says. "Taking a customer who pays just $14 a month out to dinner is our way of doing that."

He knows how they feel. A former freelance website developer, McDerment devised his web-based invoicing system for personal use. In 2004, when he realized other freelancers were having the same billing problems, he and co-founder Joe Sawada, 35, created FreshBooks. His company now serves more than 800,000 people and has more than doubled the size of its staff in the past year. But FreshBooks offers more than just billing services. Its business benchmarking lets customers know how their business is doing compared with others in the same industry. "We give them a report card--a snapshot of their business through an MBA's lens," McDerment says. Try and figure that out on a spreadsheet.

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BrightCove: This video-integration specialist has added on-demand clips to the websites of major media outlets including Time magazine and Showtime. And it's fast becoming the web's de facto video platform.

DocuSign: DocuSign helps businesses sign on the dotted line faster, electronically moving and tracking contracts and other documents. Valid e-signatures mean faster document turnaround, reduced operating costs and extra room where the file cabinets used to be.

High Street Partners: This 50-person consulting group helps midsize businesses navigate overseas compliance regulations, tax laws and employment regulations when opening foreign offices can mean wading through piles of merde.

Innovation Exchange: IX uses a community of online members to solve challenges posted by companies or nonprofits. If an idea hits, the online innovator can earn sums as high as $50,000 or $100,000 per project.

LawScribe: LawScribe provides legal documentation services at a fraction of the price charged by a typical U.S. law firm. And now that the American Bar Association has given legal-processing outsourcing its seal of approval, the company can expect rapid growth.

MindTree: This IT consulting firm's "OneShore" concept means that, though your software may be getting coded overseas, a local team of engineers will be on hand at your office to walk you through any bugs or rough patches.

North-By-South: These open-source software advocates use a deep network of Brazilian developers to create custom software solutions, harnessing the power of nearsourcing and contracting with freelancers.

SugarCRM: SugarCRM software tracks sales leads, compiles reports and handles customer service electronically. But the real special sauce is its open-source configuration, which means the software is highly customizable and scalable for small and large businesses alike.

Volusion: One of the oldest and best shopping-cart coders, Volusion, which employs more than 110, offers templates or custom creates shopping-cart software for clients like major universities and Fortune 500 companies.

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