Highrise: Another Great Web App from 37 Signals

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I’ve been a big fan of BaseCamp from 37 Signals for a while. We use it as an online, collaborative project management application to help develop effective Web sites with our clients.

Recently, I discovered that the good folks at 37 Signals have released an online contact manager and simple CRM application called Highrise. For a while we’ve been looking for an online tool to share customer contact info among our crew, so I was excited to test drive Highrise.

Despite a few surprising omissions, my experience with Highrise has been great.

I had been using two related programs called Now Contact and Now
Up-to-Date to manage my contacts and calendar. Unfortunately, the
programs crashed too often, the database got corrupt, and there were
simple problems that should have been fixed before it was released.
When I complained, tech support told me that I should buy their newer,
more expensive program, Nighthawk.

Importing my contacts into Highrise was a simple process. It plays
best with the common vCard format, but you can import generic CSV
(comma separated values) files as well. Unfortunately, my notes from
the previous programs weren’t copied over, but that’s par for the
course.

One thing I was surprised to see was that people and companies were
treated differently. In other words, if I imported John Doe from
MegaCorp, it would create two entries; one for John Doe and one for
MegaCorp. Unfortunately, the contact information (address, phone, Web
site, etc.,) isn’t carried over to the company. If I want the info
there I need to copy and paste it in, one field at a time. If I add
another contact to MegaCorp I need to copy and paste all that info in
again.

Your Contacts

Hrclient

Above is what you see for any of your contacts. You’ll see the
client’s photo, name, title and company. (For the example above, my
dad, there’s no title or company as he’s self-employed.) By clicking on
either a title or company you’ll be taken to a page of everyone with
that title or the information for that company, respectively.

You’ll also see the tags that you’ve assigned this contact. Tags can be whatever you make them. I
created Clients, Blog, TypePad, Ezine, Constant Contact and others so
that I could readily identify what we’re doing for each client. By
clicking on any tag I see all the contacts with that tag. Then I can
export that list and generate an email or snail mail list. That way, if
I want to contact all of my clients with TypePad blogs I can do so
quickly and easily.

In the right column you can add a task that’s related to a contact or even a specific note for a contact. By clicking on the add a task button you get the following:

Addatask

If you have set up other “users”  in Highrise–say your
co-workers–you can assign a task to them instead of yourself. You can
choose whether the task will be private or public (to other users, but
never to all of your contacts.) You can also choose from several
pre-determined categories, To-Do, Call, Meeting, etc., or create your
own. Your tasks can be emailed to you on a regular basis if you like.
Surprisingly, you can’t subscribe to them via RSS, although you can
subscribe to other Highrise elements–such as a particular
contact–through RSS.

Another sweet feature is how you can easily attach emails and documents to a client.
By clicking on the email address you generate an email to the contact,
but also a bcc to a special Highrise email that then deposits the email
and any attachment into the system. Unfortunately, any responses to
your email don’t automatically go into Highrise. You may need to copy
and paste those responses (or your notes) into Highrise manually.

There’s also a feature called Cases. Cases are like small projects
that you can bring a number of people into. I haven’t played around
with this yet, except to setup a series of back burner projects for the
flyte crew that we never seem to get around to, and forget about on
those rare occurances that we have down time.

Like all of 37 Signals products, this one plays nice w/the Mac. I
was able to quickly export my files into Apple’s Address Book that
syncs automatically w/my spanking new iPhone. In fact, it was Highrise
that pushed me over the edge to buy an iPhone. Knowing that I could
access and update my contacts from anywhere AT&T or wifi reached
was a big plus.

This is a fairly new product, and of course there are some missing
items that I’d like to see. There’s no automatic syncing w/other 37
Signal products. There’s no calendar program; I find myself using tasks
to remind myself of meetings and then putting them manually into iCal
(or whatever calendar program you prefer.) It would be nice if you
could have all events automatically output in iCal format, similar to
what 37 Signals already does in Basecamp.

37 Signals has been good in the past of listening to customers and
adding requested features. It also allows a ecosystem of products from
3rd party providers to sync w/their products. For example, we use Tick
in conjunction with Basecamp to track and bill our projects. The
downside of this is now we have two monthly bills rather than one. I’m
hoping that 37 Signals adds some of the basic functionality other CRM’s
offer quickly:

Wish List:

  • Better Tag Management: It would be nice to be able to assign a tag to multiple people at once.
  • Better search: It would be great to have a more advanced
    search where I could pull up all of my contacts that lived in Maine, or
    had a Texas zip code, or had a specific area code. That would allow a
    user to quickly target a specific audience.
  • Duplicate Contact: If I’m adding a new contact from a
    company in the system it should pre-populate the company information OR
    I should be able to “duplicate” a contact and then update name, phone
    extension and email.
  • Multiple Companies per Contact: I have several clients who
    work for different companies or do volunteer work for another
    organization. I should be able to attach them to more than one entity.
  • iCal Export: BaseCamp has a great feature where I can export my calendar (meetings, to-do’s, etc., that doesn’t yet exist in Highrise.

Compared to Other Products…
I’m sure you’d like to know
how this matches up to Act, Goldmine or Salesforce. Unfortunately you
won’t get that information here. I haven’t used Act! in years, and
don’t have any relevant experience with other CRM’s outside of Now,
which I’ve abandoned.

Although this isn’t everything I need (yet), the ability to share
contact info with my crew, access my information from any computer (or
iPhone) connected to the Internet, and sync it with programs on my Mac
makes this a great resource for flyte. I’m looking forward to the
obvious enhancements, but for right now this product is off to a great
start with an opportunity to become another essential product from 37
Signals.

Rich Brooks
Highriser