Personal CRM done right – Monica
Yuko and I started using the Monica Personal CRM a few months back. We find it useful. Today It has about 140 contacts and about 150 activities recorded. The number keeps growing. Let me walk through how we use it and whether it can be helpful to you.
TLDR: We like it but I don’t strongly recommend it because of its niche nature.
What Is Monica?
Monica is CRM, that is, an address book with richer metadata. You keep records of people with their names, birthdays, relationships (who is married to who, and whose parents are who, etc.), notes, and other attributes.
- In the parenting context, I tend to recognize other parents as nameless, saying, “Mike’s dad”. This is problematic in the first name culture, and not very respectful even outside the cultural radius. Monica helps me remember their names1.
- The birthdays of the child’s friend circle are important for gifting purposes.
- Some other basic attributes are also worth tracking: Their current and past jobs, where they are from, how we met them, etc. These are often mixed up if you don’t take notes, and such a mix-up can cause some minor embarrassment.
It is also a journal. You keep records of activities you did with these people: Went where with whom, who said what, who gave us which, and vice versa, etc. You can look back at these chronologically and it helps since:
- This is another form of metadata, but you don’t have to organize it in any canonical way. All you have to do is add a journal entry with people tagged.
- The memory of the conversation evaporates quickly if you take notes, and you’ll have to ask the same questions again and again. The activity log reduces that social awkwardness.
- You share the conversations with your spouse. Although you can do it over the dinner table, having the written records is a nice addition.
Asking Personal Questions
For me, one unexpected benefit is that I became more curious about other people.
I thought I was indifferent to other people and often forgot what they told me because of my indifference. This indifference has amplified my social awkwardness.
However, I realized that I was indifferent because I forgot. I was afraid of asking personal questions partly because I forgot what I heard and I had to ask the same questions again and again. I feard the awkwardness and the fear made me more indifferent to other people2.
Monica gives me a place to take notes, therefore making me less forgetful – I can just take note of what I heard. It becomes my assisted memory.
Once you unlock to ask personal questions, small talks become a bit easier. “How are you doing” becomes a source of a journal entry in Monica. I don’t say I become a more interesting person, but at least I become more interested in the other side of the talk. That does help.
Even better, it is also our assisted memory: I can share my findings with my spouse. This collective nature makes the memories more useful and robust.
Is Monica Worth It?
Monica isn’t for everyone. First of all, not everyone needs personal CRM. Some people are just good at remembering this kind of people’s details super well. Others are not, but they don’t care. You want something like Monica only if you’re in the narrow window of a “not good at this but do care” personality.
Even if you are in that window, adopting Monica can be a high bar:
- The membership is expensive – $9/month. Monica is open source and some people choose self-hosting because of the price.
- The UI design is outdated and some important features like full-text search are missing.
- They don’t have mobile apps.
They are working on a new version and I hope it’ll fix the feature parity and UI problems, but the price will be the same. Niche products are expensive.
Still, we will stay on Monica because:
- It allows sharing notes with family. This isn’t free with more mainstream tools either. For example, Notion costs as much as Monica ($8/m) if you want the collaboration bit.
- The dedicated UI is better than the generic UI (say, Notion or Spreadsheet).
- We know we use it somehow.
I tried other mainstream tools but none did suit well enough to stick.
I hoped there were less-niche options than this. In fact, we used to use Highrise from 37sinals. But they sunset it3 a while back. There are some others in this genre, but none are for families. Apparently, family-oriented CRM isn’t a big-enough market.
Overall, I wouldn’t strongly recommend Monica to anyone. It’s a bit too niche and too indie.
I’d rather ask other families how they keep up with the growing flow of relationship-oriented information. Am I just too bad to remember these relationship things?4
- Without asking my spouse about their names which are in her text archive.
- Besides the fundamental indifference I have. I have accepted that to some degree.
- To their credit, they’re still running the app. But no updates are available anymore.
- I don’t want to believe it, but I kind of know the answer.