The last quarter has been the most transformative in our company history: just 5 short weeks ago we introduced a whole new company and product to the world with the launch of Accelo. Built on 4 years of lessons learned building AffinityLive, the new product and company name has been amazingly well received by our users and the broader market, with existing user usage up 15% month-on-month and cancellation rates down by two thirds. New trial requests were also up 14% in what is traditionally a slower time of year with Thanksgiving and Christmas as folks focus on family time and finishing out the year.
Looking ahead, we're incredibly excited about building on the new foundation of Accelo to make it even easier for millions of professionals around the world to do the work they love. To give you a sense of what's around the corner, I wanted to share a few of our priorities for the first quarter of 2016.
While we managed to ship the first half of these priorities yesterday, we've still got more to share around utilization and profitability reporting in Q1.
At its core, running a successful professional service business is about having great people who are focused on doing great work for clients. In a financial sense, this means having everyone as highly utilized as possible on doing profitable work, but today it is just too hard for managers to actually know what their team's utilization and profitability look like until the accountants do their work weeks or months after the fact.
These new dashboards will work hand in hand to help managers see the performance of their teams (including in the case of utilization forecasts into the future) so you can see what's going on in real time and around the corner in time to do something about it.
The most common negative comment we've received since the upgrade to Accelo centered around speed or the performance of the product.
For the non-technically minded of you, we've heard your comments loud and clear, and while we've been shipping numerous incremental improvements during the last few weeks, we're doing a lot of optimization work over the Christmas and New Year period (and into Q1) as a top priority.
For the more technically-minded of you, the biggest change in the Accelo upgrade was the move to more client-side workload - instead of having big pages that download most of the data for your browser to display (and your browser showing you a white screen while it downloads), we've now got much more lightweight (and much faster loading) pages which then pull in more of their data as AJAX payloads. This is then crunched and rendered in the browser using a library called AngularJS - and in theory it is much faster.
I've described the path of building a SaaS app like Accelo as a bit like building a road from A to B. When you initially cut the path through the trees and you've got a dirt track and rope bridges you notice and get frustrated by the remaining stump or two. When you upgrade the track to a 2-lane road and wooden bridges, the lack of overtaking lanes and rough surface drive you crazy. Then when you've upgraded it to a 6 lane motorway it is the potholes and torn tires on the road that raise your ire!
While we've long wanted to make improvements to the billing and invoicing parts of Accelo, we decided to take the time to get the user-experience across the product right, and by raising the standard, the shortcomings - or potholes in the analogy - of our current approach to billing has been exposed as more of a pain point, one that we're going to be throwing a lot of resources into fixing in Q1.
Some of the things we'll be prioritizing and improving include:
Quantities and Rates on invoice line items. This way, you'll be able to tell your accounting system you sold 20 widgets at $50 a widget, or 15 hours at $220/hour, instead of having a quantity of 1 and a rate that represents the subtotal. As one of the more popular ideas in our Ideas Forum, we're looking forward to shipping this in Q1!
Product list with Service and Material items. While we've had the ability to create templates for various products and services, the lack of a central, configurable list of services and materials that you can reference when you're building a quote, planning a project, working on a ticket or updating a retainer has meant frustration for our users and has limited what we want to do with reporting (imagine being able to see revenue and profitability by service or material type, etc).
Enhanced Expenses and Materials. We don't think it makes sense to have Expenses available on Projects and Tickets but not on Retainers. Similarly, having Materials on Projects but not on Tickets or consistent on Retainers doesn't make sense either. We'll be enhancing our various modules to ensure services (time), materials and expenses are consistent throughout.
Upgrading the invoice creation process. Currently when you want to create an invoice you've got a whole bunch of different pathways and user interfaces. This inconsistency - as well as the fact that some of them are very basic - isn't great, and we're planning on enhancing this in Q1 with an across the board improvement to how users can create invoices.
Introducing client-centric invoicing. For a lot of businesses, being able to easily create invoices for all of their clients in a batch process (often once a month) is critical, and the current way Accelo handles invoicing - per-project, per-retainer, etc - is something our users have expressed frustration with. In Q1 we're introducing a new client-centric invoicing flow which will allow you to find all of the work done in a certain time period and invoice each client easily. This will make it possible for the first time to have multiple projects on the same invoice (for example) and should make the tedious but critical task of doing your regular client billing streamlined and even delightful!
Enhanced publishing and itemization options. Building on our work last quarter (where we introduced PDF invoice publishing and enhanced invoice layout customization) we're going to continue enhancing the way invoices are delivered to your clients. The PDF format will become the sole client-facing invoice format and we'll be making sure the new invoice creation processes make it easy for you to create and update these invoices.
To facilitate these improvements - and other things we want to do next like automated recurring billing, for example - we're going to be completely re-building our billing back-end. As a result, the improvements above involve a lot of other enhancements behind the scenes which will position us well for even more around reporting and intelligence in the months beyond Q1.
While the Accelo web app had a massive amount of work packed into it in Q3 and Q4 of 2015, there wasn't as much bandwidth available to invest into our mobile apps. In Q1 of 2016 we're aiming to deliver a number of significant enhancements to our mobile apps, including:
Expenses: logging expenses is never fun, but it is a lot easier if you're able to do it when you incur the expense. By bringing Expenses into the Accelo app, you and your teammates will be able to quickly create an expense against a project, ticket or retainer and with a picture of the receipt from their smartphone camera they'll be able to create an expense directly in Accelo for later approval and billing.
Tasks: we never control when we remember something, but with our smartphones always on us making it possible to take that thought you have about some client work and get it into Accelo as a task for you or a colleague to get on top of will make both Accelo and our mobile apps much more useful. We'll also be introducing task editing and completion from the smartphone, so you can spend that time you're waiting for the bus or train at the end of the day ticking off the things you've done and moving work along.
Stream: the new stream, which we launched in the web-app in early November has been a hit, and the mobile stream - which shows you everything that's going on in one screen - has been a hit too. What we'll be doing in Q1 is bringing the individual streams - against companies, sales, projects, tickets or retainers - and dropping them into the mobile apps. Now, when you run into a client (or you're rushing into a meeting with them) you'll be able to make a couple of quick taps and catch up on everything that has been going on with their account, your previous emails and meeting notes, etc.
Another area of improvement we're prioritizing in Q1 is around our popular triggers functionality. Improvements include:
Exposing "company" and "contact" fields to other triggers. Because Accelo helps you manage all of your client work, we recognize that having details about the client as part of your trigger rules on sales, projects, issues and retainers will be really helpful. This way, if you want to have an SLA for any ticket being done for a VIP client or someone with a Gold support pack and send a reminder if their ticket is still in a certain status for more than 2 hours while having the normal escalation be one day, you'll be able to do it.
Extending Triggers to Formulas, Usage and Forecasts. In addition to the built-in and custom fields, the new insights through formula fields, budget usage and forecast budgets and profitability would be great to use as parts of your trigger rules. When upgraded, you'll be able to have triggers that fire when a project crosses a certain percentage of budget or the profit margin drops below a certain level, sending an email or updating a field so the ticket, project or retainer can be flagged for analysis in management meetings.
Timesheets are a critical part of Accelo, and we've been wanting to bring together the things our users love about our old workhorse the "Work Screen" with our new Timesheet functionality. This "Single Day View" is something we've had a few starts at but haven't pushed through to completion because we've wanted to spend the time to get it right and other priorities (like completely redesigning and relaunching the product) took the focus of our UX team.
This quarter our UX team are chomping at the bit to bring to life a whole new single day view so users can combine all the automation and signals from Accelo (open tasks, clients were activity is captured automatically) with a beautiful way to log time and work.
Today, there's too many places in Accelo where making a small (or even a medium sized) change still requires a full screen reload, making routine updates and changes longer to complete than they should.
We want to let you focus on doing the work you love, not laboriously updating contact records or the status of a sale through two or more full screen reloads, which is why we're working this quarter on making better use of in-line editing and dialog boxes.
Similarly to the improvements for creating, editing and changing status above, we're also going to be working on editing lists of items in Accelo in a bulk fashion. Obvious examples include adding a whole bunch of companies to a category like "VIP", or updating a profile field like "Follow up after" to be a particular date. We're aiming to introduce bulk editing for all lists of companies, contacts, sales, projects, tickets and retainers - watch this space for more details!
Another area of priority in Q1 is user engagement, and more specifically ways for our users to help their colleagues get more value out Accelo. These projects include implementing a new Invitation system so colleagues can invite each other into use the platform, and the ability for users to automatically get copies of activities or emails sent to them whenever they've followed or favorited the client, sale, project, ticket or retainer the activity is logged against.