Monica, the CRM to make you a better friend

Monica is my new favorite software. It’s a CRM to “organize the social interactions with your loved ones.” In the few weeks I’ve used it, Monica has done a great job proactively encouraging me to be a better friend.

Monica is also open source on GitHub with an active community. It’s clear how this has influenced what the product is. I’d love to see Régis Freyd (the creator) turn Monica into a viable business too. This would ensure its long-term sustainability, and also help solve for product gaps (e.g. hiring for design polish).

Monica’s features

At its core, Monica is a contact database with various fields for each person:

For me, Monica’s main value proposition is that it:

  1. Identifies the people I want to maintain relationships with.
  2. Helps me be proactive about spending time with them.
  3. Keeps track of their interests and what makes them tick.

It solves these use-cases in a few different ways.

Features I use

  • Avatars.
    For every contact I enter, I make sure to include their email address so that Monica’s Gravatar integration kicks in. If they don’t have a Gravatar, I track down and upload a picture. Having faces on contact cards seems like a key feature, because they add a lot of humanity to the software.
  • Birthdays.
    Probably the easiest way to be nice to someone is to wish them a happy birthday. It’s only once a year! When you enter someone’s birthday into Monica, you can also check a box to have Monica send you email reminders.
  • Activities / phone calls / conversations / notes.
    It’s confusing these are currently broken out in the UI. Activities, phone calls, and conversations are essentially variations of the same thing: log entries. For a forgetful person like me, log entries help you remember what you’ve done with a person and key details about each interaction.
  • Gifts.
    For the several people I give gifts, it’s really helpful to have a place to collect ideas throughout the year. One small suggested enhancement: the ability to indicate when a gift was given.

Features I’d change or improve

  • Unified interaction stream
    At their core, each activity, phone call, conversation or note is an interaction. Monica’s UX could greatly improve by unifying these into one stream with a standardized posting interface at the top.
  • Lightweight reminders
    Some people I want to connect with on a regular basis (e.g. bi-weekly). Other people are looser acquaintances that I’d be fine to say hello to every six months or so. With a “nudge” feature, I’d indicate how often I want a suggestion and then Monica could intelligently tell me “you should call this person” or “have you considered going running with this person?”.
  • iCal birthday feed
    My own address book is a mess. If Monica contains all of the birthdays I consider important, it would be great if I could subscribe to these on my calendar.
  • Decisions, not options
    Monica would benefit from “Decisions, Not Options” (see WordPress’ philosophy). Rather than having UI to disable features, it should have strong opinions about how it should be used. For example, “Tasks” seems to conflict conceptually with “Reminders”. I’ve opted for using the latter. Similarly, I’ve also disabled the “Documents” feature.

Monetizing open source

Because I’d like to see Monica thrive sustainably, I thought I’d offer some unsolicited suggestions around making money. My only qualifications are that I’ve failed multiple times to monetize open source.

What open source is

It’s important to understand that open source can either be a:

  1. Way to hack on a side project with random people from around the world, or
  2. Go-to-market business strategy and product development methodology.

It can become really awkward when you try to use open source for both. The tension can be unbearable when what the business needs is at odds with what some random person in the community wants. You can still have a healthy open source community as long as you are forthright about the business direction (and the community remains in alignment with this direction).

Money isn’t evil

Users paying you money is a good thing. And more money is a better thing. My favorite video to point people to is Jason Cohen’s “Building the Perfect Bootstrapped Business on WordPress“:

In this video, Jason describes a viable SaaS business as $10k MRR. Here are a couple ways you can get to $10k MRR:

  • Charge 1,000 users $10/month.
  • Charge 100 users $100/month.

Acquiring new customers is hard. It’s much easier to grow revenue by charging more (obviously easier said than done). Right now, Monica charges me $45/year. As a professional user, Monica is easily worth twice that to me — much closer to what I pay for other recurring SaaS services (e.g. Harvest, DeployHQ, etc.). And if I were a business user (multiple users sharing the same contact database), then Monica should charge me per seat.

Business users already have dozens of CRMs to choose from though. For professional users, Monica could be the antidote to LinkedIn.

Pick your audience

Monetizing open source is very, very hard. It’s important to decide whether you’re:

  1. Trying to monetize your existing open source audience, or
  2. Marketing to some other audience completely unaffiliated with the open source project.

I think the latter could lend itself to a more sustainable business because you aren’t competing with free.

With a polished iOS app (again, easier said than done), Monica could open up a greenfield customer acquisition channel. Alternatively, there may be some SMB use cases that Monica could market against (e.g. any business needing to automate ongoing relationship management).

Importantly, growing the business is more than simply building new features, and requires commitment accordingly.

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