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Adios, Excel

FreshBooks offers invoice templates, an MBA's smarts and a human touch in a slick--and affordable--Web 2.0 package.

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Though his 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 . 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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