Get Yer Invoice On(line)

BlinksaleWe need an upstart challenger to bring simplified, elegant interaction design to the consumer financial software market and, in no uncertain terms, to completely upset the dominance of Intuit. That company’s industry-leading software is powerful, useful and ubiquitous, but it’s also clunky, overly-accreted and no fun to use. I have a contemptuous relationship with their business accounting package, QuickBooks, whose menu item for closing an accounting file is labeled — I’m not making this up — “Close Company,” and I have only moderately more affection for its personal accounting package Quicken.

So I’m happy to see the talented folks over at Firewheel Design produce a product like Blinksale, a soon-to-be-released, Web-based invoicing tool for small to medium size businesses. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at its extremely well-designed interface, and picked up its basic principles in literally just a few minutes — five minutes from log-in to sending out my first test invoice. All told, it’s a beautiful piece of work.


Book Smart

Whether this product will truly be able to steal any market share from Intuit, well, I’m not so sure about that. There’s a class of small business owners for whom Blinksale will be too simplistic. One thing I learned in starting up Behavior is that the intricacies of bookkeeping can get fairly complicated fairly quickly, even in a tiny enterprise. At least in its current state, Blinksale doesn’t seem to suggest remarkable scalability, though there could well be plans to add more hooks and features shortly after launch.

Still, there’s at least another group of users for whom Blinksale will be perfect: independent contractors who create invoices on an ad hoc basis, sometimes turning out serially numbered invoices using programs as ill-suited for accounting as Microsoft Word or even QuarkXPress. These users basically improvise their own invoicing systems, and having the benefit of the coherent, elegant feature set of Blinksale is likely to be a welcome improvement.

Which makes Blinksale another example of designer-engineered software products, brought to life in part thanks to the power and elegance of Ruby on Rails. Blinksale was clearly developed neither by hardcore software engineers nor certified public accountants, but rather by design-minded individuals. It bears these origins in its limitations, but if you forgive those, it’s hard not to commend the fact that it’s a kind of software product that would have been impossible a decade ago: a superbly interfaced feature set targeting an under-served market. It may not beat the shit out of Intuit, but I hope there will be many more like it.

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  1. I’m really looking forward to checking out Blinksale too, but part of me wonders if its a good idea to entrust the online storage of my clients’ billing data to a company I have no prior relationship with? It’s not like online banking thats tied to your existing banking institution. I’m sure they’ve considered this and have privacy policies in place to cover the bases, but I wonder if others will have the same concern. Should they?

    I guess the crux of my question is whether an invoicing app is better suited on your desktop or on the web?

  2. That’s a legitimate concern. Blinksale does post a privacy policy, but it doesn’t go into great detail on liability issues. This is definitely an area they should probably beef up.

  3. The privacy of business information (especially that dealing with client information) is very important. From the outset of developing Blinksale we’ve made every effort to build a secure product that people would feel comfortable working with and, more importantly, trusting their information with.

    We’re very aware that some people will not be comfortable trusting data of this nature to a hosted service. And we’re okay with that. I certainly can understand their perspective. That said, our goal is to truly foster a trusting environment with Blinksale. Our clients’ privacy, as well as the privacy of their clients, is of utmost concern. It’s something we will go to great lengths to protect.

  4. I’ve actually been looking for apps like this for a while and I’m eagerly awaiting Blinksale. Other apps I’ve found: SideJobTrack (http://www.sidejobtrack.com) by R. Marie Cox is another online invoice-issuing app. Quite nifty too. And for OSX users, Khronos (http://crewoftheundead.com/khronos/) is quite nice and a desktop application as opposed to online.

    As for privacy issues — I think Firehweel will be quite okay. If the response to Basecamp and Backpack are any indication of what people in this field are willing to adopt (in terms of online hosted applications for rather private material), then Blinksale will probably take off quite well.