Garage

The Mechanics have just got a New Office

One year after we’d brought Invoicebus to the world, we made the much needed change and moved to a new location

Some of you may remember our previous office located in Skopje, and although we loved that place so much, it always felt like it was improvised place to work at. So, few weeks ago we finally got the office we always loved in the magnificent town of Bitola.

Yep, a real shiny office, not that boring corporate gray cubicle, but a place fulfilled with warmth and happiness, a real stress-free environment where creativity can flourish. We even hanged our happy bus mascot on the wall to remind us every day why we do what we do.

Here’re a few photos that Alek, the sickest photographer on the face of the earth, captured through its Nikon lens.

We really had a lot of fun and laughter during this photo-session. Here’re few more crazy shots of the day along with some behind the scenes material :)

More Awesomeness – 5 New Features

Responsive Email Windows, Email Templates, Custom Placeholders, Email Preview and Multiple Recipients. Whew!

1. Responsive Email Windows

The old email windows were nice, but they felt a bit narrow when you were writing longer messages, so we decided to redesign them. Now when you open a window to send email, the whole area is bigger and cleaner with more space for writing and nothing squeezed-in.

The most awesome thing is their resizable and responsive nature. For example, you can change the size of the window to any dimension and all underlying elements will adjust accordingly. Also, at the top right corner there’s a little “Maximize” button that puts the window in full screen and lets you focus only on your writing. The white space is plenty enough so you can read easier with more enjoyment.


BONUS
We redesigned the window for entering payments as well. Now, it looks more appealing with beautifully organized data. Here it is.

2. Email Templates

Previously, you had the option to save default messages for your invoices, quotes, reminders and thanks notes, but the option to save the subject lines was missing. Now, we’re introducing the amazing Template feature that allows you to create complete templates including the subject, the message and the attachment.

There’re 4 different templates you can create, one for each email type:

  • Invoice
  • Quote
  • Reminder
  • Thanks Note

To edit the template, click the “Edit Default Template” link from the bottom left corner of the respective window.


Please note that from now on, the info that was auto added to your emails (see image below), can be customized from the Template.

3. Custom Placeholders

Placeholders are used when you create default template, such as email template, where Invoicebus should replace the variables with actual data from the document. You can also use them when you send non-template (unique) messages and need to include invoice data within the message context.

There’re many different placeholders you can choose from: client name, document number, total price, due date, outstanding balance etc. To insert a placeholder, just type “{“ (Left Curly Bracket) and the list with available placeholders will show. Ta-da! You don’t even need to scroll the whole list – we implemented search-as-you-type. Yay laziness.




4. Email Preview

We thought it would be awesome if you could preview the emails before sending, so we created the amazing real-time preview. You can even use it in the middle of your writing, preview the message and continue writing again, without losing a bit of your focus. To toggle the preview, just hit the “Show/Hide Preview” link and the panel will slide in/out (see image below).




5. Multiple Recipients

Also, we re-considered the option for sending document to multiple recipients. Now you can specify up to 5 comma separated recipients and send the document to all of them at once, just like you do with conventional emails. For example, into the “To” field you enter: fred@flintstone.bed, barney@rubble.bed, dino@dinostore.bed (see previous images).



We hope these features will improve your invoicing experience and make it more pleasant and enjoyable. And if you think there’s something else we are missing, don’t hesitate to give us a shout – we’re all ears!

Thank you so much for using Invoicebus.


Invoicebus Fun Facts

After the great birthday celebration and catching a little breath, I want to share with you some interesting facts collected during our startup journey

I’m going to reveal some extraordinary numbers and facts for which even we weren’t aware of until we started preparing this post. Sounds crazy I know, but it’s true :)

Time Spent

We haven’t tracked our working hours, but our estimation says more than 5.700 hours so far, or approximately:

  • 2.100 hours – design (Interface & UX, Mock-ups, Graphics)
  • 1.500 hours – development
  • 1.100 hours – copywriting
  • 1.000 hours – testing

Longest & Shortest Times

  • Longest time spent in the office – 19 hours
  • Longest time spent working from remote locations – 6 months
  • Longest time spent on crafting a simple sentence – 165 min
  • Longest time spent on staring at a same interface with no idea what to do next – 18 hours
  • Longest average time for customer support – 4 hours
  • Longest server downtime – 40 minutes
  • Shortest time spent on developing a killer feature16 hours
  • Shortest time spent on writing a blog post – 20 minutes
  • Shortest time spent on testing a new feature – 6 hours
  • Shortest average time for customer support – 15 minutes

Best. Worst. Hardest. Easiest.

  • Best decision ever made – The story behind our brand, the attitude, the mascot, the name
  • Worst decision ever made – Not taking too much risks from the very beginning
  • Hardest thing to do – Beat the blank state
  • Easiest thing to do – Mess the read-write permissions of the blog folder

Source Code

For the codebase we are using SVN source control versioning system hosted on Assembla, and to date we count totals of 671 code commits;

We’ve written about 52.243 lines of code from which:

  • 21.067 lines C# code
  • 12.717 lines JavaScript
  • 5.830 lines CSS
  • 12.169 lines HTML and
  • 460 lines in configuration files

All time system errors count – 130

Guys that Keep our Back Safe

These are few amazing services we cannot live without:

Miscellaneous

  • We’ve changed 2 different Cities and 3 Offices
  • We’ve eaten about 30 jars of pickles and 56 super delicious “pizzas vegetarianas”.
  • We’ve drunk up 1200 liters of water. No coffee at all yet.

Top photo credit: Kevin Dooley

Happy Birthday Invoicebus!

The team behind Invoicebus is pleased to announce we’re officially one year old

I can’t describe how happy we are today after one year of operating and supporting Invoicebus. In one year of ups and downs, struggles and hustles we managed to finish our first year with positive news. After one year of working we have grown at stable pace with thousands of happy users, and I can’t tell anything but we’re very satisfied with the results.

For anybody who doesn’t know what Invoicebus is, I’ll give you short history about it:

  • In October 2010 Stefan and Dimitar gathered together and started with brainstorming a product which will ease the creating and management of invoices.
  • In November 2010 the development started and in meantime we put our teaser web page announcing the arriving of the “bus”.
  • After one year of development and testing we launched our product on 30th November 2011, and that is how Invoicebus was born from our ideas, creativity and hard work.
  • Today we’re celebrating our first birthday.

As a young product this is a big achievement for us, and this motivates us even more to continue building Invoicebus in the future. We hope with the love and support of our users we’ll bring the invoicing closer to the everyday people, the freelancers and small businesses.

And what is a birthday without a surprise so we prepared one for you, just stayed tuned in the coming weeks. Oh, and if you don’t have account go on and create one, it’s completely free. Well I’m done for today and going to grab a piece of that cake and start partying :)

Photocredit: Will Clayton

Brief Updates

The Garage was closed for a month now and the reason for that is we just like to work behind closed doors. Just kidding, the real reason is we were super busy improving and enhancing our invoicing platform Invoicebus

You already know about the migration of the database in the cloud and the real-time updates of the activity history, but that is only a scratch on the surface in comparison what we’ve done in the last couple of months. Most of the updates are not noticeable for our users so maybe some will say, “guys, you haven’t done anything new”, and I can’t blame them for that. Anyway we made this changes and improvements because we believe they’ll give the end user more painless experience in his invoice management.

The biggest change we’ve made is in our marketing site so after few months of hard work we’ve reworked the site copywriting, and gave the site layout the simplicity it was begging for. The old saying goes “A picture is worth a thousand words”, so I’ll spear myself from explaining the changes and tell you to visit Invoicebus right away and I’ll be waiting you here. I won’t go anywhere, I promise. In case you haven’t saw our new tour and pricing page go on and see them too. Another change we’ve made is with this blog you’re reading right now. As you can see the design is reworked to be compatible with the rest of the site, and we decided to “rename” it to just Garage.

OK, enough for that. Now I want to tell you something very interesting, and that is… prepare yourself for celebration and cake. Did I have your attention? Hm? Well, both we, Dimitar and Stefan are very excited to tell you we’re celebrating one year of Invoicebus… yup this is true, we’ve made it. On 30th November 2011 we officially started the engines on our invoicing software Invoicebus, and after one year we’re very pleased to tell you where we’ve got with the bus. But I’ll leave the interesting stuff for the next post and if you’re afraid of missing the next post subscribe for news in the box below.

Photocredit: shawncampbell

Scheduled Maintenance

We’re upgrading the database servers, so we expect about 2 hours of downtime at Saturday, November 3th, 2012 12:00-14:00h CET

Date: November 3th, 2012
Downtime: 2 hours (12:00 – 14:00h CET)
Reason: Infrastructural upgrade + Software update

Infrastructural Upgrade

Invoicebus’ database servers are growing up! We’re super excited to announce the migration of our conventional MySQL database to Cloud Databases, a high performance database on the cloud that brings speed, redundancy and scalability as primary values.

The new Cloud Database service delivers faster applications on the first relational database service built on OpenStack. Furthermore, to protect the data against hardware failure, it has redundant storage with built-in data replication.
Very exciting fact about this technology is that it scales incredibly easy and fast. Practically, a few seconds are needed to scale up the server and apply the new configuration. Pure gold!

Software Update

We’re introducing the real-time Activity History timeline. We believe that negotiating with your client in real time has a crucial meaning. Therefore, instead to wait notification in your inbox, we implemented a way for you and your client to be able to leave comments and track invoice’s activity in real-time. You can call it a live invoice because it looks like a sort of chat. Also, all other actions related to activity history will appear in real time.

Photocredit: Drupal Association


Comments or suggestions? We’re eager to hear from you.

5 Ways to Engage Optimism in Software Design

Many times, we waste too much time worrying about things that may never happen instead of those which are likely to happen all the time. Leaving some of those worries out can lead us to happier team and better product

Estimated Reading Time: 9 Minutes

When you start crafting wireframes of an app, you create branches of possibilities describing the system’s behavior as it responds to requests that originate from outside of that system, also known as “Use Cases”. Since the beginning of my career as an IT professional I’ve always been trained to look few steps ahead and predict almost impossible scenarios in order to make the software behave predictably under unpredictable conditions.

“When you’re trained as a scientist or an engineer, first thing you think of is – How can I prevent the disaster to happen” – Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist

Even though it’s a reasonable way of thinking, many times it may lead to series of “What if” questions and promote worries that may never happen. Although, these kinds of assumptions are essential for building robust system architecture, yet their overuse might lead us to behave more skeptic than normal.

When we started developing Invoicebus’ architecture, we decided to try different and more optimistic concept; a concept that reframe our mindset to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. It was sort of experimental way of thinking, radically opposite from those we’ve previously been used to.

“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.” ― Benjamin Franklin

In real world, web-apps are used by regular users, under normal conditions and in most cases in the right way. Therefore, instead to review dozen of marginal outcomes for one use case, we decided to focus only on two: Positive (the flow that is most likely to happen, the Expected Case) and Negative (for all other cases, the Rollback/Backup Case), always prioritizing the first one. By exploring and implementing this concept, we drew few conclusions that might be useful in designing web based software.
Read the rest »

Fresh New Features & Updates

In the past couple of weeks we were working on a few improvements of the Invoicebus system. Before we apply them, there’re few things we believe you should know about.

Updated information:
The updates will take effect on 18th of July, 2012, 12:15h CET 22th of July, 2012, 15h CET.
Possible downtime: Less than 15 30 minutes.

During the development, we wrote a short log of changes, so I’ll share that with you and thoroughly introduce you with all changes.

Changelog

1. All emailed invoices/quotes can be accessed online in the browser by direct link.
The invoice/quote content won’t be shown within the email body anymore (Please consider notifying your clients about this change).

The link is automatically generated and included in the email right after your custom message. In order to open the link, the client will be prompted to enter access code (unique for every document, contained within the email as well).


Additional functionalities of the online document are:

  • Print option (with printer friendly formatting);
  • Download to PDF option;
  • Accept Option (only for quotes);
  • Decline Option (only for quotes);
  • Document Status;
  • Activity History;
  • Custom comments;
  • Email notifications (optional):
    – Document is viewed by client;
    – Quote is Accepted/Declined by client;
    – New comment is left (if you left the comment, client is notified and vice versa).

Other benefits of the online document are:

  • Improved overall experience;
  • Improved security;
  • Invoices/Quotes can be easily accessed from anywhere;
  • Invoice/Quote can be easily forwarded;
  • Resolved problem with email clients that don’t support HTML content;
  • Resolved problem with email clients that block images;
  • Resolved problem for ‘Document Viewed’ notification accuracy.

2. Plain text version of all email messages

  • Improved readability for email clients that don’t support HTML content.

3. Invoice Menu renamed to Invoice Actions

4. Quote Menu renamed to Quote Actions

5. Document View/Edit update

  • Direct link with unique access code is included at the bottom of the document, right above Activity History section (only for logged-in users)

6. Activity History update

  • Refresh button included
  • Comment notification checkbox (weather to notify the client about newly entered comment or not. Only for logged-in users).

Make Smooth Looking and SEO Friendly Headers

Web site headers are one of the most important parts of your copywriting and marketing strategy

Headers are the first thing your web site visitors will see, so you must be sure they look perfect. But not always the browser display big sized letters in good quality. To see what I’m talking about I’ll show you an example of the biggest text on the front page, and actually the biggest text of the whole site invoicebus.com. The text Fast & Easy Invoices as displayed in Mozilla Firefox browser looks like this:

You can notice all letters that are curved look pretty pixelated, so they are not so appealing to look at, and we need to find a way to display them smoother. The first think we got in mind was to drop a shadow for the text so the letter borders will become smoother, with the CSS3 property text-shadow. Although this property is not supported in all browsers that Invoicebus officially supports, we gave it a shot. After applying a text shadow with radius of 2 pixels we got the following:

The text got smoother but it also became to blurry, difficult to read, and painful for the eyes. On top of that the pixelated curves still were noticeable, so we had to do something different to fix this issue. The thing we got in mind was to replace all big sized text and headers with images, and after a couple of hours in photo editing software (Photoshop) with support of text antialiasing, we replaced our headers with images. The final result we got for the Fast & Easy Invoices was:

Looks better, isn’t it? This "fix" actually is nothing new in the web design sphere, but it is worth design trick. With this you’ll also have cross browser look of the text because you don’t have to worry about the browsers text rendering techniques.

But for every step forward there is a step backward so with this good looking text we lose one of the most important things in the internet world. That is the text scanning of the search engine bots. They simply can’t scan images and the text they contain, so the headers with images can’t be used for increasing of the organic search ranking.

That’s why we have another trick in our sleeves for you. The trick is to leave the text in the

<h1></h1>

tags and apply specific styles. The example is given below:

The header:

<h1 class="header"><a>Fast & Easy Invoices</a></h1>

The header class:

.header {
    background: url("fast_easy_invoices.png");
    text-indent: -99999px;
    ...
}

As you can see we put the background image to be our header, and we give large negative indent for the text of -99999 pixels, so the text won’t be displayed in the browser but the search engines bots can still scan the

<h1></h1>

tag and find the right text. This way you’ll ensure excellent SEO for you site and for even more SEO friendliness we wrap the text in

<a></a>

tag.

If you have some SEO and design tricks, use the comments section below to tell us, and if we find them interesting we’ll cover them in the next blog post.

Top photo credit: Anon DePlume

Creating the Bus Mascot

Short story about creation process of the bus mascot seen through designer’s eyes

This is a guest post by Izabela Stojchevska, the creator of the bus mascot. We kindly asked her to share some insights and experiences of the design process, including all exciting moments she spent to bring the mascot as alive as it’s now. She calls this a pleasant journey through the prism of design. You can read more about her at the bottom of this post.

Firstly, I’ve never imagined that I will write a blog post. Ever. Secondly, I’ve never thought that it will be about a process of me creating a mascot. And finally, I’ve never imagined that I will be the mascot creator who uses Adobe Illustrator. But, life can be surprising sometimes, and to be honest I love it!

In the upcoming post I’ll try to take you on a short journey through the creation process of the bus-mascot, how the idea was born, the obstacles I stumbled upon and all the things I learned along the way to get the remarkable look of our bus mascot.

Birth of the idea

More than a year ago, Stefan introduced me their concept about the coming soon page called ‘We Are all Waiting the Invoicebus’ – simple bus stop with group of people gathering and waiting the bus to come in a happy green environment. In fact, that was the moment when the idea about the mascot was born. The moving bus actually is a synonym of fast invoice, and at the same time transportation vehicle that brings up on board all the necessary options for creating and sending easy invoices all over the world.

Sketching

I used to draw years ago, but almost I had lost my sense of drawing. However, Stefan was big believer and encouraged me with motivation and inspiration. So, these are my first two sketches:

While watching these two buses, I realized that it would be awesome if the mascot could express some positive attitude, to be more friendly and a bit funny. Therefore, I quickly mocked up another one with more playful lines and edges, slight perspective and a bit skewed stance.

It looked just like a real cartoon character. I felt I’m on the right track, so I immediately jumped on the bigger task – Adobe Illustrator.

Read the rest »