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Fresh Laundry

Highrise CRM, usability and why our love affair with this “great” cloud app ended

Before you get into this blog post, it’s important to share some background information and give transparency. We have been previous users of Highrise CRM – and many other cloud “solutions” aimed at digital media and creative businesses like ours. In the end we were so frustrated by the convolution, lack of cohesion and lack of overall business visibility that these products offered that we ended up building our own product. Effectively we built an application that worked the way we wanted to work and covered the areas of business that we needed it to. If you read this blog post and have had similar experiences and frustrations with the apps that you use, I’ll include a link to the product we’ve developed at the bottom of this post – you can check it out.

So, our experience with Highrise CRM

Early in 2011 we signed up to the hugely successful cloud based CRM application Highrise, to help run our growing digital agency, 96black, consisting of 12 employees. Highrise was developed by the excellent outfit 37signals, who are also responsible for web based productivity tools including Basecamp and Campfire. If you’re reading this, then chances are you’re either using Highrise CRM, have used it, or are looking to use it so I’m not going to go into the detail about what it is and what it does apart from saying that it’s a cloud based CRM application that has a huge number of users, is feature rich and – the kicker – is aimed at businesses just like us. So why did our love affair with Highrise end and the relationship breakdown?

Life was good!

Initially, life was good and enthusiasm for the product was high. Our Digital Producers and Account Managers went about their tasks entering data and keeping information and records on clients and potential deals up to date. We were tracking leads and opportunities and managing well with visibility over the pipeline side of the business.

Then something changed…

Time: The true test of an application

By about the third month the love affair was over. Entering data into Highrise was a chore and the quality of our data started to decline. The honeymoon was over, the wedding rings were off and it was time to look elsewhere. How Highrise didn’t fit with our business only became visible over time and it wasn’t until we were using the application day to day that problems started to show.

What Happened?

Why did something that started off with so much promise end up being canned? It came down to 3 main factors – process, bloat, and lack of business visibility.


Whilst the features of Highrise were great, a lot of them were overkill for what we needed as a business. We didn’t need cases, an activity stream, a list of recently viewed items and maps showing our clients addresses with background information. We knew that stuff. All of this added up to a lot of noise that slowed us down and made it feel, well, clunky when we wanted light and fast.

Process Fit

We’ve spent a huge amount of time refining process in the business, doing things right and ensuring that our jobs are efficient. From our CRM system, we needed process that was super quick and super easy and that as it turned out, wasn’t Highrise. Where we needed simplicity and speed we got convolution and slowness. We needed to be able to enter a new opportunity in 10 seconds flat whilst on a phone call. Any good application shouldn’t be a chore to use.

Business Visibility

Highrise covers only part of our business and to be fair to Highrise, it’s not designed to cover all activities of a business. That’s what other products come in and do. To cover the rest of our needs, we needed other applications. We needed a project tracking app, an accounting app and a time tracking app.

Unfortunately, for each application we added to the mix, we added complexity to the business with systems that talked to each other but had different UI and UX. What we were really looking for was one app to cover as many tasks of our web development business as possible, not just one aspect of it. What really annoyed us though, with all the apps that we trialled, was that none gave us real tangible business visibility or overview. We needed visibility on how the business was tracking – including future views, what our end of month invoicing was shaping up like, what our key projects are and who is working on them, what marketing activity is working and what opportunities were around us. Basically we needed to see good, solid usable information that really allows us to drive the business – in one place and one system.

In the end Highrise just didn’t work the way we wanted

Whilst Highrise is a good application and lots of companies love it, it just didn’t work for us. We had to find something that suited us better. Highrise, like any application, won’t suit all businesses and for us the fit wasn’t good enough to stand the test of time. We needed simplicity, speed, less bloat and more usable functionality. And the kicker? We needed business visibility.

It wasn’t that Highrise is bad, it’s just that it didn’t cover enough of what we needed and what it did cover was process heavy, convoluted and clumsy.

For more information on the application built by the team behind 96black, click here  or follow Roll on Twitter here.

One comment on “Highrise CRM, usability and why our love affair with this “great” cloud app ended

  1. A very long time ago – when Hi Rise was launched I reviewed it. The philosophy was to keep it all simple in line with 37 Signals approach at the time. Earlier this month 37 Signals changed their name to Basecamp ( which has 15m customers now) and HighRise is to be sold off as a separate product.

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