Freshbooks vs Smartecarte

The above websites are all suspiciously similar — not made by the same person, but by the same culture: web developers. Fact:

  • All of them claim to be “the easiest way to send invoices online”.

I believe the logic behind developing these products must have gone something like this:

text{B2B} + text{web 3.0} = $$$$

Kind of like the underpants gnomes from South Park. I can imagine the conversations that went on as the designers were planning:

  • Designer 1: … but it will be really sleekly designed.
  • Designer 2: Yeah. Simple.
  • Designer 1: Simple, yeah, clean.
  • Designer 2: Elegant.
  • Designer 1: We’re going to make a million bucks.
  • Designer 2: We’re going to be rich.

Too bad not everybody wants to computerize every part of their lives, although web developers typically do — and are even willing to shell out $50 for a beautifully-styled Cocoa app (think Delicious Monster’s library app).

This is why applications on the web are mostly for people who work on the web

I don’t believe the invoicing applications were developed to solve a customer’s problem. How many people are really saying to themselves, “Gosh, I would be raking it in from big-money clients if only I had professional-looking invoices!” I bet a goose egg.

It is fun to play around on FreshBooks. Not gonna lie. But it can’t bring in revenue, so it can’t appeal to a B2B customer in a fundamental way. It’s more like hiring office masseurs — fun and maybe-practical-but-not-really.

Who needs this?

If you’ve already snagged a Fortune 500 client, you can afford an artist to design an invoice for you — or choose from a Word / Pages template — or just shoot off an email that says “That’ll be 25,000 bucks, please.” And attach a spreadsheet detailing the costs.

Tracking time

Time-tracking is a great feature. I would actually push contractors to oDesk just so I can track their work. But it’s only useful if all of your work is done at a computer, and you can get comparable results with pen-and-paper. Web designers living in their own world again.

I don’t mean to demean web designers on the whole. It’s admirable that people are beautifying things, simplifying things, and focusing on user experience. And design is really important in some places (like the NYT).

I’m just saying that I would have to significantly re-arrange my own process if I committed to billing and accounting this way, without a concrete value-add. Maybe if I’m flush with investor cash and high on the concept of “being an entrepreneur” I would do this.

Anyway, let me close with a counterweight. Instead of treating customers like idiots with money to burn, this company treats customers like kings who deign to do business with them.

No-Brainer for the customer

Smartecarte — those things at the airport. Know how the smartecarte company got their product into airports? They install the racks, have their own service-people, and pay the airport rent regardless of how much money they make.

That must be a no-brainer for the airport owner. Practically free money, which people seem to like. The smartecarte doesn’t take up enough space to block out other revenue-generating space like coffee shops and magazine stores. It also adds value for travelers — one group (of several) the airports want to please.

So smartecarte does all the work, takes the risk if their projections about usage and pricing are wrong, and stays out of the airport’s (customer’s) way. The airport keeps doing things the way it always did, just makes more money.

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