He does have an ace in the hole when it comes to getting people to buy his company’s product, however: a very deep technical understanding of how it works and how it can help their prospective clients.
“What we’re selling is highly technical,” he explains. “I’m talking to IT people all the time and you need someone who fully understands the actual software side of the business.
“You don’t have to be an outgoing, extroverted person to be in sales.” he says. “But you do have to be able to understand the client’s needs and to translate these needs into real-world solutions. ”
That solution is CleverAnt, an Excel add-on that connects to any system (workforce management, ERP, etc.) with a web service. Acting as a bridge between the two systems, users can pull data from any system and into a well-formatted Excel file that can be modified and then updated back into the system with the new data.
According to Maxime, their company’s eponymous software — and for all intents and purposes, their entire company itself — grew out of frustration with enterprise systems unable to support the web user’s need for a simpler and more efficient UI.
Maxime, along with his CleverAnt co-founder Andre Houde, were both software developers working for Kronos, a software company whose products are firmly entrenched in the time & attendance and payroll industry.
”I had taken some time off from Kronos to do my MBA and then came back as a consultant,” he recalls. “Andre was also a consultant, and we saw an opportunity in the market for the tool we’re providing now. We also realized that we could do so much more together, so we joined forces and started CleverAnt.
“It was your typical startup story, really,” he says with a quick laugh. “In the beginning CleverAnt was basically two guys working in a basement. Now, four and a half years later, we’re set to bring our 20th team member onboard by the end of the year.”
One App for Everything
Since both founders had started in the Kronos world of workforce management , their first big software decision after founding CleverAnt was to look for a system that would let them track their work hours, invoices, and taxes accurately.
The first tool they found was Freshbooks, and while it did well during the company’s first year, they quickly realized that they needed a new system once CleverAnt started growing.
“Freshbooks was good when we were starting out,” says Maxime, “but as we grew, we wanted to track other things like tickets and projects. After about a year we started to look at different solutions. That was when we found WORKetc.”
According to Maxime, one particular characteristic that drew CleverAnt to WORKetc was the sheer breadth of the app’s feature set.
“WORKetc really does have everything,” he says. “Everything is there. Some products are very good at ticket tracking, but they don’t have the invoicing part. Some tools are good with invoicing, but they don’t have project management. WORKetc had good features across every module that we were looking for.”
Focusing on Flexibility
“We also found that it was flexible enough to adapt to our specific needs and processes,” he continues. “That’s the other thing we found in WORKetc: great flexibility. Now, we keep and do everything in WORKetc: invoicing, ticketing, timesheets, projects, and of course maintaining our contacts. Even our accountant uses WORKetc for expense reports.”
CleverAnt has also made significant use of WORKetc’s API, to the extent that they can now seamlessly connect their own product to the system. Maxime also mentions that they’ve found a unique way to take advantage of the customer portal.
“Whenever we release a new version of our software, we put it on the customer portal so we have one centralized location where our customers can get it,” he explains. “And whenever there’s a problem, we can tell them, ‘Do you have the latest version from our customer portal? Let’s start from there.’
“WORKetc has definitely allowed us to manage a lot of our operations using just one app.”
Love It or Hate It
Excel has been around for over 30 years, and in that time has become nigh-ubiquitous. Users range from small mom-and-pop stores to massive Fortune 50 companies.
It has even become a very polarizing app. Online, there seems to be no middle ground when it comes to Excel. Users either love it or hate it. I mention this to Maxime, and he concurs with a laugh.
“Excel is practically everywhere, especially in our industry,” says Maxime. “Everyone is using it. Some people use it for scheduling. Some use it to calculate payroll. They track a lot of information in Excel, and this is true not just for our business.
“People who have to maintain data in large enterprise systems, they’re usually Excel power users. A manager with 10 employees, an account manager with many accounts, the person in charge of payroll, human resources — these people have a lot of data, a lot of information, and they need to build reports. These are the people that love Excel.”
Count Your Clicks
Maxime points to Excel’s easy-to-understand grid UI and its sheer flexibility when it comes to calculation and data manipulation as two reasons for its continued popularity. He does, however, openly concede that Excel isn’t — and shouldn’t — be the end-all and be-all when it comes to business software.
He uses CleverAnt itself as a case in point. As power users, they were always able to manipulate Excel to do things that a casual user could never have imagined. Still, there was something extra that they needed.
“It was very important to us that CleverAnt did not have a database,” Maxime explains. “With WORKetc, we didn’t need to have a database running in parallel. We can just push and pull information to and from the system.
“So a system like WORKetc, for us, remains the central database for all our processes, all our operations, all our information.”
Maxime also has one big tip for those who want to know exactly when they should start looking for another system to augment or replace their current systems: count your clicks.
“If you start to find yourself doing too many clicks or you’re entering the same information too many times, that’s when you have to start thinking about maybe adding to or replacing your current system,” he says.
“Every time it becomes an efficiency issue, that’s when you need to start looking for something else.”