10 Reasons Why Highrise CRM Sucks and the 1 Thing 37signals Could Do to Make it Rock

Highrise sucks, but I love Basecamp, a project collaboration tool also from 37signals.  My company has been using it for years.  It is stupid simple to learn and use, but has the basic features we need at a ridiculously low price. Highrise, the CRM solution from 37signals shares all the the above attributes and in almost every way is a pretty cool product for smaller businesses.  So what’s the problem?

FULL Disclosure:  Before I go on, in case you have not yet reviewed the rest of our web site, we are in the CRM business.  We are in a totally different market though, dealing with larger organizations with complex business requirements who have outgrown simple.  Actually, if 37signals were to address the issues in this post, we’d start offering it to small business as a great starter solution.  It would open up a new market for us.

Ok, so here are the 10 reasons Highrise sucks, and they’re biggies:

1. As a co-worker, if a customer calls in with a question or issue, I may not be able to access his or her record, even though they are in the database.

2. As a manager, I don’t have access to all of the customers and prospects my team works with.

3. As a business owner, I can’t take the pulse of my business because I don’t have access to the information about all of our customers, prospects, vendors or partners.

4. We can’t do marketing campaigns to our prospects because nobody has access to our full contact list.

5. We can’t do a customer newsletter because, see #4 above.

6. We can’t really do customer service because we only have access to some of our customers. We look pretty stupid when we tell the customer we don’t have any record of their history with us.

7. If a person leaves the company they are free to export their customers and prospects do what they wish.

8. If a person leaves the company they could delete as many contacts from the database as they wish, and nothing can stop them.

9. If a government regulatory agency legally demands to see the records of a specific contact in our database, my company cannot assure compliance, putting us at severe risk.

10. In a legal matter, see #9 above.

The One Thing 37signals could do to make Highrise Rock

1. Add security to their product.

Yep, you read this correctly.  There is no security in this CRM product.  Well,  that’s not totally accurate.  The security model goes something like this:

– Each individual has total control over THEIR contacts.

– Each individual decides who can see contacts they’ve entered.

– Who can work with them.

– Each individual can decide whether to delete or export their contacts.

– See, that’s the whole point, they are THEIR contacts.

“Nobody else at the company, including the owner or CEO has any right whatsoever to access MY contacts unless I grant them the privilege.”

Absurd, isn’t it.  The customer and prospect database may be the single most valuable asset a company has.

What’s worse, this is the intended design, not an oversight, or something they plan to get around to.  As 37signals CEO Jason Fried states in their user community site:

“If you think people are going to steal your customers or do something malicious because they’re able to export contact information, I would suggest not giving them access to Highrise.”


“We’re not forcing anyone to use our products. You are free to leave any time you’d like. You can export your contacts via the Contacts tab or use the API to get anything else out you’d like.”

Wow, I won’t comment besides retracting my statement above about partnering with them should they add security to Highrise.  Ok, one more comment – OMG I can’t believe he said that in a public forum!

Besides, it doesn’t sound like the plan to fix the one thing that could make Highrise rock.

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David Tinjum

Dave is Founder and President of Customer FX Corporation. We all feel sorry for Dave - he's a wanna be geek who can't write a single line of code. How pathetic! Lucky for him, he's surrounded by a whole team of Alpha Geeks. Dave has been an industry insider since 1987 and is called the "Godfather of CRM" by some of his long time peers. He served as Chair of the GoldMine Channel Partner Council from 1993-2000 and Chair of the SalesLogix Business Partner Advisory Council from 1998-2004.

1 Comment

  1. I have been using Highrise for almost a year now and although I continue to use it, it’s not because I like it. It’s because it is entirely cheap and easy to use. At my corporate day job, the org uses Microsoft CRM and I have to say I like it much better. Of course, we’re comparing peanuts to caviar here in pricing. In a start-up environment Highrise CRM does a good job at what it’s mean to do. I agree with Dave and some of the other commenters. It would only take a little bit to make this product better. Security and better role permissions would definitely help. The interface is also cumbersome without any flexibility. Overall, Highrise’s strength is it’s simplicity and it does well in the low-end CRM segment. If my company grew, I wouldn’t hesitate to move onto another product.


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