Marketing Wins from the Great White North: FreshBooks

This is the first post in a series by Jordan Behan highlighting the successful marketing practices of Canadian startups. Behan is the Director of Marketing of Strutta and knows a thing or two about the topic.


Throughout this great nation of ours, juxtaposed against the grandeur and natural beauty of our landscape, hundreds of technology startups toil away in their modest office spaces and basements, building a better internet. One glance at PEER 1 Canada Startup Index, and it’s clear that many of these companies have built world-class technology solutions, and are putting money in the bank because of it.

FreshBooks is one such company; their software is a modern, web-based solution to the classic business problems of bookkeeping and accounting. But while their product is on the cutting edge technologically, they favour a more traditional approach to marketing.

I talked by phone with Michael O’Connor Clarke, VP Marketing Communications, to discuss one idea that has worked especially well for them. With an emphasis on staying in touch and in front of customers, FreshBooks CEO Mike McDerment and other team members jet-set around North America for speaking appearances. While in town, they invite as many customers in the area that they can reach to join them for a meal. “We basically just take them out for dinner and drinks,” admits O’Connor Clarke. “It’s a very old school, traditional marketing strategy in many ways.”

The results, however, can be measured in more than just goodwill. Loads of Twitter love, blog posts, testimonials and most importantly local referrals come pouring in after each of these meals. O’Connor Clarke says that an unmistakable spike in referrals always happens in the area of the event following these dinners. These impromptu socials have been nicknamed the Freshbooks “Supper Club” (the company’s email newsletter shares the same name), and with  dinner guests from a broad range of industries, these supper clubs become de facto social events for entrepreneurs as well. “Some great networking happens,” notes O’Connor Clarke. “Great sharing of insights happens, and people stay connected afterward. It rekindles their enthusiasm for why they started using Freshbooks in the first place.”

As an extension of this supper club approach, and to represent in Canadian fashion at the recent SXSW Interactive Festival, Freshbooks was handing out strips of freshly cooked bacon on the streets of Austin, TX. Bacon! Several mornings in a row, I enjoyed a strip of delicious, crispy goodness on my way to the Convention Center. Not surprisingly, I tweeted about the experience.

Freshbooks is clearly onto something, emphasizing a genuine care and concern for their customers first, and reaping the benefits on the “books,” as it were. It seems to be no coincidence that they do this through our bellies, much of the time.

Bacon Photo: John Biehler