Mavenlink co-founder and CEO Ray Grainger makes a bold claim when he says, “by combining expertise, technology, and a customer-first mindset, we are enabling professional services firms around the world to grow and scale confidently.” From this, and other statements on the company’s website, it seems like Mavenlink is on a mission: to provide a tool which can service everyone from small tech startups with teams of three to much larger companies like VIZIO and the San Antonio Spurs.
From the beginning in 2008, Mavenlink was known as an ally to the small business person. Mavenlink’s product aimed to allow entrepreneurs to bring their business to life with the power of technology. Grainger, along with Roger Neel and Sean Crafts, came up with the idea for this software while working at InQuira and Oracle and it was launched to the public in 2010. Since then, Mavenlink has grown astronomically, earning high marks from the likes of Google, Intuit, and Digitized.
In this increasingly internet-dependant age, businesses experience a rapidly altering flow of demands and need a tool that is equally flexible. Thus, Mavenlink’s goal is to provide a service that allows users to communicate internally, talk with clients, keep projects on track, manage schedules, and generate invoices all in the same place. All this while maintaining a steady stream of updates, ensuring the software does not fall behind current trends in design and functionality.
Web-Based (Saas) or On-Premise:
Mavenlink is web-based software. It does not require installation, and updates automatically.
Mavenlink has a pretty wide array of features available, but in order to access all of them, you have to be willing to shell out the cash. There is no longer a free version of Mavenlink, and the “Teams” subscription only includes the most basic collaborative and project management features. To see a full rundown of Mavenlink’s pricing, click here.
- $19/month for 5 users
- File Sharing
- Public and Private Messages
- Task Management & Scheduling Tools
- Gantt Charts with Dependencies
- Project Plan Templates
- All “teams” features
- Time and Expense tracking
- Budgeted Projects & Tasks
- Time Cards & Expense Reports
- Invoicing & Online Payments
- Contact for Pricing
- All “Professional” features
- Hard and Soft Resource Managing
- Real-Time Availability Forecasting
- Resource Shaping
- Real-Time Analytics
- Contact for Pricing
- All “Premier” features
- Custom Reporting
- Trend Analysis & Forecasting
- Data Visualization
Like many of their competitors, Mavenlink offers free trials of its software. When I tried to sign up, though, rather than sending me straight to the program (like every other project management application I have reviewed), I received a call from Mavenlink to make sure I was getting the right thing. I was glad to see the company was willing to make a personal connection like that, but there is something to be said for letting customers try out the product privately, too.
Ease of Use:
I have to be honest, my first impressions of Mavenlink began not with the program itself, but with the company website. At first, I was impressed by the snazzy graphic design, the smooth transitions between pages, the fact that the company “Philosophy” is one of the main menu items. However, as I continued my research, I began to feel as though I was not actually learning much about Mavenlink and how it works. I think the thing that best exemplifies my problem is this video, the same one linked above, which is supposed to introduce you to Mavenlink but instead is just a distracting array of jump-cuts of CMO Sean Crafts’ face. There seems to have been lots of attention given to making everything look good, but in the end it is mostly style with little substance. This focus on aesthetic over utility makes it difficult to learn much, even in the “support” section.
The software itself greets you with a bevy of options when you open the program. Coming off the relative simplicity of applications like Basecamp, Producuteev, and Redbooth, the number of functions here was kind of overwhelming for me. Fortunately, Mavenlink’s interface is pretty well organized, and after a little clicking around, I was able to begin understanding what everything was for. Most helpful for me was the left-hand menu, which makes it pretty easy to move around the site. With quick access to my projects, the global task list, and Mavenlink’s Dashboard, I was glad to have a predictable method of navigation amongst the sea of options.
My main criticism of Mavenlink’s ease-of-use is that it is just… complicated. I am not sure quite how else to explain this. There are so many ways to get to and from each of Mavenlink’s many features that I continually felt like I was navigating a labyrinth without the benefit of Perseus’ golden thread to guide me back out. The main menu is great, but there are lots of other ways to navigate to each of the menu items hidden around the program. Some might consider this a sign of flexibility, but, to continue my labyrinth metaphor, all the twisting and turning options left me feeling like I might encounter a Minotaur at any time.
I don’t want to downplay any of Mavenlink’s great features because I think they are all useful and well thought-out. However, the way Mavenlink has linked these features together makes them feel like a Jackson Pollock painting. Everything is piled on top of everything else in a chaotic riot of color; it’s nice to look at but is too abstract to understand quickly.
Customer Service and Support:
Mavenlink has a pretty dedicated user base which sings the praises of the program’s support team. I saw plenty of reviews claiming rapid help was available when needed. However, I also saw a number of reviews decrying Mavenlink’s support, calling it slow, unimaginative, and unhelpful. In fact, more than one of the recent reviews I read said service had declined in the last few months. Here are the support features Mavenlink makes available to their users:
- Live Chat: Mavenlink offers a 24-hour live chat support service, and are so proud of it that it got a plug in nearly every support video I watched. When I tried it out, the service worked at a snail’s pace, and answers were few. I have used plenty of customer support chat services, and this one is one of the slowest. Worse, I felt more like a task to be completed than a human being who was asking for help with a product.
- Email Tickets: This is a pretty standard service, offered by most tech companies. Enter the problem you are having and the support team will evaluate it. Submit a customer support ticket here.
- Video Tutorials: Mavenlink currently has 26 video tutorials and 15 webinars available for your viewing pleasure. The videos are a little on the short side, and almost every time I finished one I felt like I still needed more instruction on the given topic. They are all fewer than two minutes long; if they were extended to at least a five-minute duration, with a little slower pace and more detail, the videos would be more effective. Also, some gave conflicting information about how to use Mavenlink. The webinars are more helpful from my standpoint, with an in-depth overview of their topic and then questions from users. You can sign up for the monthly webinars here.
- Knowledge Base: This is the place to go for all of the support and tutorial documents that have been published by Mavenlink. Once you enter the Knowledge Base, all the articles are arranged in helpful categories, though it does feel like there are a lot of options when you first start looking around.
- Changelog: For a service (like Mavenlink) that is updated often, a developer changelog is a great, helpful idea. This regularly updated log helps you keep track of the changes that are being made to Mavenlink. If you use Mavenlink, it would be a good idea for at least one member of your team to keep themselves familiar with it; it can be found here.
- Developer Docs: This list of documents is available if you want to develop an extension using Mavenlink’s API. How that all works is a little above my head, but the database looks pretty comprehensive from the perspective of an absolute layperson.
- MavenOps: This new support option is effectively a subscription service for onboarding Mavenlink. The web page dedicated to describing this service is full of nebulous statements like “we are changing services as usual,” and “services designed to elevate your performance.” They use these and a number of other business euphemisms to explain that, essentially, they are offering strategies to help you get the most out of Mavenlink. They then proceed to not tell you how much it will actually cost to use this subscription service. If you think this kind of thing is worth your time, you can go here to schedule a call.
*Mavenlink have removed links to their Knowledge Base and Video Tutorials from their website. The links posted here still work, so we have chosen to keep them up. However, as of today (21 December 2016), they are not accessible from the Mavenlink website.
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
The most common negative comments about Mavenlink are related to their recent price increases and spotty customer service. Understandably, Mavenlink wants to address these concerns and I found them to be pretty active on the various forums I used to research this review. However, the slow service complaints were pretty common, which is concerning.
Another complaint I saw fairly often was that Mavenlink updates its program more frequently than the support page on the website can handle. Having a support page full of obsolete articles is certainly not helpful to users, and does not speak to the “customer-first mindset” Mavenlink claims to believe in.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
I should point out that most users appear very happy with Mavenlink. The software has over seven million users on the Google store, and its rating there is a very solid 5/5 stars. Here are some things users love about Mavenlink:
- Full Integration with Google Apps: Many businesses use Google these days, and it is pretty convenient to be able to sync all your data with a compatible project management solution.
- Flexible: Mavenlink is applicable to so many different kinds of industries – people like the versatility of this software quite a lot, especially folks from smaller operations who need to use project management software for other purposes, like billing.
- Efficient: There’s no doubt that Mavenlink is a time-saver. Some businesses estimate that Mavenlink has increased their available working time by 20-25%.
- Easy Collaboration: Many users comment that Mavenlink allows for painless client collaboration, and note that their clients and contracted employees genuinely enjoy using the program.
- Ideal for Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses: Mavenlink was specifically designed with the small or medium business owner in mind.
The following are excerpts from satisfied customer reviews:
I have been looking for a way to organize all my project communication and collaborate online with clients and subcontractors all in one place. My goal is to work smart, not hard. Mavenlink gets me there.
Mavenlink is affordable. It is simple. Clients can log into it easily. It serves several business purposes and does not complicate the process with features I do not need. It contains the essential functions I need to work efficiently with my clients. For a small business, it is an affordable solution to case or project management that engages all participants.
The functionalities are awesome and they improve every day. It’s a low cost solution that’s the total package. Invoicing, milestone tracker integration, etc…just try it!
As I have indicated before, Mavenlink can be pretty powerful (depending on how much you are willing to pay for it). In my test, I had access to all of Mavenlink’s features, many of which are only available in the “Premier” and “Enterprise” plans. Keep that in mind while reading about the following features:
- Dashboard: Most project management applications include a feature where users can easily see any projects they are part of, recent activity, and upcoming tasks. Mavenlink calls this feature the “Dashboard,” and it works about as well as any I have seen. Front and center is an activity feed (the better to keep in touch with your team’s continuity), and also prominent are links to all of the projects you are part of. This makes it easy to quickly survey overall progress before diving into specific projects.
- Timer: Starting at the Professional plan, users have access to Mavenlink’s timer, located in the upper right of the UI. Pressing the start button will get the timer moving on whatever project you last logged out on. It is pretty simple to switch projects and tasks within those projects in the Time & Expense section of the main menu. The Timer & Expense section is also where you can view timesheets, weekly schedules, and expense reports.
- Projects: It wouldn’t be a project management program if there wasn’t a way to create projects, generate task lists, and assign employees to them. Mavenlink packs a lot of capabilities into its Projects section, with an Activity page, Task Tracker, and Gantt chart page available to all users. What impressed me most about Mavenlink’s system, though, was how it was easy to communicate with employees and clients. No other program I have seen makes it as simple to include clients in chains of communication than Mavenlink. Fear not, though: should you want to keep a conversation private to your team without the client, this is also easily accomplished.
- Task Tracker: Mavenlink’s task tracker is up there with the best I have used when it comes to creating tasks and subtasks. Tasks can be designated as a “Task,” “Deliverable,” “Milestone,” and “Issue.” This makes it easy to see exactly what each task is really about. Further, depending on your subscription, budgeting tools are built into each task. Mavenlink is also by far the easiest program I have seen for creating subtasks. This might not be necessary for some, but I like being able to break down my tasks into smaller parts.
- Master Planning: This is another feature only available in the “Premier” and “Enterprise” plans, but I can see it being extremely useful in the context of larger teams. This easy view allows you to see how many hours an employee has worked, how many hours employees are scheduled to work, or both at the same time. This has obvious applications for making sure all employees are being used as effectively as possible.
- Analytics: Mavenlink’s analytics section is possibly more robust than any other software I have seen. With many options available for each report type, Mavenlink will analyze your invoices, expenses, accounts receivable, margins, WIP, project details, time tracking, and utilization.
- Templates: Mavenlink comes with three ready-made templates, ready for use immediately. If these do not fit your needs, you can turn any project you create into a template for the future pretty easily.
Integrations and Add-Ons:
- Google Apps: This is a very useful integration. For example, items from your Mavenlink account will directly populate your Google calendar and vice versa. Also, Google Docs may be embedded within your project workspace.
- Quickbooks: Using either QuickBooks Desktop for Windows or QuickBooks Online you can track the time and expenses associated with vendors, customers, employees, jobs, and project items. Synchronizing Quickbooks and Mavenlink makes accounting processes much easier.
- PayPal: Invoicing is easy with Mavenlink, as you and your clients can set up a system to pay all bills directly through a PayPal link on your account. Some businesses may even be eligible for a discounted PayPal business rate of $0.50 per transaction (on payments up to $10,000).
Other integrations include:
- Apple Calendar
- MS Office 2013
Mavenlink protects its users with reasonable security precautions, including:
- SSAE-16 type II Certified Data Centers: These facilities are located in Seattle and Washington D.C.
- Frequent Independent and Internal Audits: Mavenlink conducts annual independent audits of their facilities, and performs internal audits every 6 months.
- Permission Settings: Personal permissions may be set for each user, task, and file to ensure that only authorized users have access to potentially sensitive material.
There is one word that helps describe Mavenlink well, and that word is “scale.” If you are a small business needing a bit more organization but little else, there is a version of Mavenlink for you. If you are a growing firm needing to get on top of employee scheduling, there is a version of Mavenlink for you as well. If your business has reached the size where you need detailed reporting from your teams, Mavenlink has a solution for you too. Mavenlink is designed to scale with you as your business grows. This is certainly an admirable pursuit, but it makes for a difficult-to-understand application. After all, is it really fair to claim to be an all-in-one when only one of your four subscription plans includes all of your features?
Like I have said before, all of Mavenlink’s features work well on their own. They offer details that are on par with or better than other project management software I have seen. I genuinely like the task manager, the timer, and the communication tools. However, because the features are all jumbled together in the same place, I continually found myself feeling lost and a little confused, though I don’t know how my experience with Mavenlink compares to the lower level subscriptions: the “Teams” and “Professional” plans.
Maybe that confusion is the kind of thing that would pass with time; it is possible that with practice, Mavenlink could become the most valuable tool of its kind. I certainly understand the appeal of an all-in-one business solution, but I am concerned that piling too many features into the proverbial crowded bus might make it just that: crowded. And when it comes to strictly project management tools, I think there are better ones out there.