QuickBooks Online vs. QuickBooks Desktop: Which Is Right for You?

In short, QuickBooks is “the accounting standard that accountants expect,” says Kerry Gallivan, Co-founder and CEO of Chimani. Often hailed as the #1 accounting system for small businesses, QuickBooks has indeed become the go-to accounting platform for startups of all sizes. That’s certainly the case among the Stacklist community, but for all its ubiquity, the general sentiment among our respondents is that QuickBooks simply “gets the job done,” with no bells or whistles, and not much to make it a user-friendly experience. A palpable sense of malaise is not uncommon among founders who have chosen QuickBooks: "We've been using QuickBooks for a long time. It covers what we need to do," says Howard Tsao, team lead at Muse Games.

QuickBooks: The industry standard
Signaling its prominent status in the accounting community, the most common reason we receive for startups choosing QuickBooks is that their accountants were already familiar with the tool. In explaining his choice, Dan Friedman, co-founder of Thinkful says, “We barely touch it—our bookkeeper picked it.” In general, startups report that it’s only their accountants who work with QuickBooks, with few others having to interact with it. It generally requires at least a working knowledge of basic accounting principles, making it a frustrating experience for those individuals lacking in this area, and it can also get pricey, which is why it’s often a more popular choice among Series A and B startups (77% use QuickBooks) than their seed-stage counterparts (47% use the tool).

But there are certainly reasons that justify QuickBooks as the industry standard (“All you need is there,” points out Mia Lewin, founder and CEO of Kontor), and once you’ve chosen the QuickBooks route, you’ll have to decide between QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop. While both platforms offer the same basic accounting offerings (creating invoices, tracking expenses, managing accounts payable, one-click sales and tax reports), there are some notable differences between the two:

  • The online version allows you to automatically schedule and send invoices
  • With QB Online, you can work from any desktop or mobile device at any time, making it much easier to collaborate and share information
  • QB Online includes integration with many other cloud-based applications, which is a big bonus in terms of automated data input
  • The desktop version can be purchased for a flat rate ($299.95), while QB Online has a few different monthly subscription options ($12.95-$39.95)
  • If you’re looking for multicurrency capabilities, QuickBooks Desktop is your option

QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Desktop?
When it comes to QuickBooks Online, one of the most salient features is the ease with which users can collaborate. “We chose QuickBooks online so that we can have internal collaboration, as well as collaboration with our accountants,” explains David Hassell, founder and CEO of 15Five. Others love its integration capabilities and its comprehensiveness. “It's nice because we're a pretty large company, and QuickBooks makes it so that we only need one accountant. I don't interact with it directly, but it's obviously very powerful,” says Ryan Vance of CreateLive. Dasher co-founder Jesse Boyes notes, “Every quarter, if one of our investors asks for a balance sheet, QuickBooks makes it simple and easy to pull. It integrates with our bank very smoothly, and it's all online, so you don’t have to worry about running software on your local machine. It's just good in taking care of something we don’t want to deal with.” 

As for downsides, the biggest complaints are insufficient reporting and analytics, a less-than-ideal user interface (though that’s been updated recently) and no multicurrency capabilities—the biggest reason that companies seem to choose the desktop version, in fact.  

Comparatively, the desktop version has many fewer users. In the Stacklist community, there are roughly 15 QuickBooks Online users to every one desktop user. Why the disparity? The desktop version “has capabilities that online doesn't, but some setbacks, like collaboration,” explains Nihal Parthasarathi, CEO of CourseHorse. And those who chose the desktop version seem to have done so reticently. Says Lionheart Software President Dan Loewenherz, QuickBooks desktop is “okay, but we can't use the web version of it, unfortunately. We had to download the actual application for our computer because the online version doesn't handle alternate types of currency. A lot of our customers pay in Euros.” Daniel Chait, CEO of Greenhouse, switched to the desktop version only when he hired a bookkeeper who preferred it over QuickBooks Online. For those who are in this position and who may desire a bit more breadth in functionality, Chait strongly recommends two tools to use in conjunction with QuickBooks: “I would recommend these tools to everyone. First is SaaSOptics, which does all the SaaS metrics calculations, including MRR, churn, growth, new accounts, renewals, etc. And second is Funding Gates, which shows you a receivables dashboard, and tracks all receivables activity, including emails and calls, who’s likely to pay, who’s in trouble, etc. The guys who started this guys were analysts in the collections agency space, so they are extremely knowledgeable.”

In summary, QuickBooks is a comprehensive, powerful tool that can handle most, if not all, of your accounting needs. The online version seems to be the real front-runner in the QuickBooks universe, though if you’re managing international customers, the desktop version would be your only option. Regardless of which version you choose, Stacklist users with the highest levels of satisfaction with the tool also report having an accountant who carries the brunt of the work. “QuickBooks just works, and if you have someone who knows how to work with it, as we do, I don’t know that there's a better tool out there. They've updated it recently so it looks nice, and it works across all platforms really nicely,” says Reboot founder Dan Putt, a happy QuickBooks camper.