Nutshell Building New CRM Software From Scratch, With A Big Focus On Mobile

12/20/10Follow @xconomy

For Guy Suter, starting from scratch is a good thing. At least when it comes to user interfaces, he says. His Ann Arbor-based startup Nutshell is building a customer relationship management software system from the ground up that he says offers a better user experience than what’s long been out on the market.

Suter first saw the problems with existing CRM software options while CEO of BitLeap, an offsite data backup and disaster recovery company that was acquired by Barracuda Networks in 2008. He found products like Salesforce.com and SugarCRM to be “cumbersome” and not particularly user friendly, he says.

Many of the biggest names in CRM got their start before the big modern features of the Web existed, says Suter, Nutshell’s CEO. Pretty important features, like Ajax, the Web development system used to create more interactive application on sites. Some of these long-time CRM brands have added layers to and tweaked their software to keep up with new Internet standards, but Suter says piling new features onto an existing, outdated platform still makes for a clunky user experience.

“That kind of leaves things lacking, it doesn’t feel as seamless as something you could start with a blank slate,” says Suter, who also works as a director at Barracuda Networks.

His 12-person team at Nutshell is putting a big focus on making the software systems for salespeople easier to navigate. Some features include: automatically refreshing the page when users update information, breaking up information so that it doesn’t read as one giant log that takes minutes to scroll through, and allowing users to grab data and move it to the appropriate place. The software also enables users to customize different steps and milestones of their sales process, offering different data entry variables and options for each step, Suter says.

Nutshell, was launched in 2009 by Suter and is internally funded—with no immediate plans to raise outside money. The company also has two staffers completely dedicated to developing the product for the mobile phone. “We want to build the best mobile CRMs in world; that’s where the world is going,” Suter says.

Right now, the iPhone version of Nutshell enables users to sift through their customer data and research leads, but in the future the company is adding geo-location features. One of the big problems for salespeople who travel is entering a lead’s or client’s information into the software system from a computer, and finding the Internet access to do it. With upcoming versions of the mobile edition of Nutshell, users will be able to enter information into the system “between the door of the client they just met with and the door of their car,” Suter says. The GPS features in the phone will enable the system to readily pick up a client location and enter it into the system.

The Nutshell software first hit the market a month ago, offering customers a free 30-day trial of the product, which normally costs $25 per individual user per month. Those first trials were just ending last week when I chatted with Suter, so now “it’s getting to decision time” for those first several hundred customers on whether they’ll stick with the product. The company attracted a mix of customers, but those in the Web development and design space were big, Suter says.

The first crop of customers will also determine the features and focus of Nutshell in the future, which could include mass marketing and enterprise resource planning, Suter says. “Ultimately Nutshell will be an entire business suite of software,” he says.

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