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Customer relationship management has started to earn recognition as a way to streamline customer programs, but quite often it does not come cheap. Free CRM believes in changing that statement.

Customer relationship management has started to earn recognition as a way to streamline customer programs, but quite often it doesn’t come cheap. San Francisco-based Free CRM believes in changing that statement. CEO Eric Stone chats about surviving the boom, the future of CRM, and why his product is free of charge.

How did FreeCRM.com get started?

Before and during the dot-com boom, I owned and operated a very successful e-services San Francisco. In early 2000, I launched two startups–a wireless company and a portal. Needless to say, the timing of my ventures could not have been worse, I had to cut back staff tremendously. My former technical lead headed for greener pastures, and I continued to fan the embers of my dying startups.

Sometime in 2001, my former technical lead began working on a call automation project, which fell through, and he contacted me having all this code to himself and no idea what to do with it all. CRM was just beginning to heat up, and the core of what he had developed was a unique set of functionality that itself was not CRM, but could be made an integral part of a CRM application. We began work.

What are the main features of FreeCRM?

The main features of FreeCRM.com are those that are found in most all of the applications in this space–contact and lead management, sales force automation, groupware/team-ware functionality such as shared calendars and communications, task tracking, call automation, support tracking, document sharing, email marketing and reporting.

We have so many features that it is really hard to describe them all, and we do go beyond the standard functions in these applications and deliver features that real people can use everyday. Functionality is absolutely the focus of our system–at the end of the day, I wanted the sales people, support staff and managers to all think that they were very productive and effective by using my tool, and on a daily basis, that’s the feedback that we get from our users–easy to use, easy to learn, and something that is now an integral part of their work operations–we get lots of thanks and kudos.

Why do you feel there’s a need for what you provide?

SMBs worldwide have been aching for this technology–but the pain has always been the price and therefore there has been a huge obstacle for these companies to automate their businesses with CRM tools.

There are 200-300 million small businesses worldwide that can benefit from this technology, and if the barrier to access is low, they will adopt like crazy. I’ve seen it over the past year, in this respect, I have nailed the market and the need, and others have been following us quickly, specifically on the front of open-source CRM technology. We all understand the need on a global basis.

How are you able to offer your tools for free?

Everyone asks us how we do it for free, and I can say that given the maturity of open-source technology today, we could not have done this 4 or 5 years ago. It’s the architecture that I have developed and the years of experience that I have. I have learned a few tricks, and these tricks mean incredible savings while maintaining a hugely scalable horizontal infrastructure.

If we have any secret sauce, it’s in our infrastructure and approach to scalability, which translates into extremely low per-user costs and the ability for us to offer equivalent services for 90 to 95 percent less than the competition, or free.

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