|Have you ever spent a lot of time figuring out a critical part of your business? You probably have. Working through time-consuming challenges is common for founders.|
Keeping track of how you spend your time is important for founders, freelancers, and business owners. Daniel Alm wanted to get away from the start-and-stop time trackers and created Timing, an automatic time tracking app that records everything you do on your Mac. That way, you know exactly where you spend your time and you can increase your personal productivity.
Interested in learning how Audience Ops could take blog writing off your plate?
Solving Challenges as a Founder
Time is important to everyone, but when your product is all about productivity, you had better be paying attention to where your time is going! When it came to creating content, Daniel knew that he couldn’t update the blog as often as he’s like. He also knew that his time was better spent on other areas of the business so outsourcing content was a great way to protect his time for other tasks.
The Six-month Challenge
Sometimes things just take a lot of time, like when Daniel spent six months figuring out a critical part of his app that once solved, allowed his business to grow and evolve. Though this was an investment of time and energy, one he figured it out, Daniel had a new-found confidence in himself. Daniel shares how he stretched himself (with the feedback and support from a developer) and shares his tips for founders looking to grow.
Transcription of This Episode
Sara: Have you ever spent a lot of time figuring out a critical part of your business? You probably have. Working through time-consuming challenges is common for founders. I’m Sara Robinson, a manager here at Audience Ops and on this episode of the Audience Ops podcast we’re joined by Daniel Alm, founder of Timing.
Timing is an automatic time tracking app, so instead of starting and stopping like many time tracking apps do, it records everything you do on your Mac. That way you know exactly where you spend your time and it increases personal productivity. Daniel created the first version of Timing in 2011 when he was a student. He started working on it full time in 2016 and launched an all new version in mid 2017. Timing is a downloadable product, not a subscription, since it’s an app you purchase once there’s less recurring revenue but Timing is at a point where sales are constant month over month.
Daniel is the founder and developer and aside from working with Audience Ops for content, he handles everything else that pertains to his business. On this episode, he shares what it’s like to be the solo founder and developer in a niche software product, how his main marketing focus has been and continues to be content marketing and a few key tips for founders when it comes to growing your company. Stick around.
Sara: Daniel, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast.
Daniel: Thanks Sara for having me.
Sara: Well, let’s jump right in. What is the latest milestone that Timing has hit that you’re excited about? It could be anything. What’s been going on?
Daniel: So this August we finally launched a web app for Timing. Timing used to be only a Mac software that would run around only on your desktop, but of course there’s times when you want to record a time entry while you’re on the go. For example, while you’re in a meeting with a client or thinking about whatever your client, about your client’s project, anything like that. So far we had to tell our customers, just create a calendar entry for that and we will import the calendar entry for you, but now people can just download the web app onto their phones and then they just can hit start and stop on their phone to quickly record like offline time that hasn’t happened on their Mac.
They can of course, also record tasks retroactively, and another thing that’s is unlocking for us, it’s also connecting with other applications, because it’s not as easy to get times out of your Mac or data out of your Mac. But now with the Zapier app we have also created a, sorry with the web app we’ve also created Zapier integration, so now you can send your Timing data to hundreds of other services and the other way around also, send data into Timing for example, automatically create project inside Timing when you create them in your task management system of choice.
Sara: I love that. Your app is all about productivity. You have this product that helps us be more productive and we don’t have to start and stop, so it makes complete sense that you would make that applicable basically anywhere. And I know, especially for someone like me who’s a freelancer and on the go, it’s just so great to be able to still get your time tracked when you’re on your phone, and not have to make it a clunky process, or remember to do it later. So I think that’s a fantastic development that I’m sure everyone really appreciate that you’ve added in.
Daniel: Exactly. It’s all about reducing friction, and on the phone we even automatically show you the tasks that you’ve most recently started, so you can immediately resume them again. There’s just one less click to worry about.
Sara: Yeah. Let’s talk about being a niche software product. What has your experience been like as a founder and developer of a downloadable software?
Daniel: Yeah, good question. I think it’s not that different from software as a service. You develop the software yourself. Release cycles are a bit longer because you just can’t update your app live 10 times a day, but I still get to reap the rewards of being an independent developer and a solo founder. I can work from anywhere and I can work whenever I want, and also decide what to work on myself. I love that part about being an independent developer.
Sara: Absolutely. And I’m sure along the way you’ve had some interesting experiences and some challenges, so share about something that’s sort of memorable for you that sticks out along this journey.
Daniel: Yeah, so there was one particular challenge that I had after I built Timing 2 in 2017. Back then I already knew that I wanted to add sync capability to the app at some point, but building a sync into an app is a really challenging problem because you really want to make sure that you don’t lose your user’s data, and also that you don’t end up in an inconsistent state where one of your devices, would show one thing and another device would show another thing. That was definitely a very challenging problem, and I spent essentially a few years thinking about it here and there. Then at one point I figured I had a good enough understanding of the problem space that I could start to try and work on it. It did take me half a year of concentrated working on just that problem to fix it or to get the solve, but the result has been very well received.
The users are very happy about how the sync work, it’s very reliable, your data is just everywhere all the time and there are no hiccups, and solving this really tough problem given me the confidence that other problems might also be hard and they take time, but no matter what it is, I should be able to solve them. There’s nothing that’s just so complicated that I cannot build it. And the sync of course, also unlocked building the web app in this year, because without the sync you would not be able to use a web app with Timing as well. So that’s unlocked a lot of things for me.
Sara: Wow. Yeah. That was a long time spent on something very important and critical in the business and it’s you in this company. Did you bring anyone on to help you figure that out or was it just you kind of tinkering away and then figuring out how to make it work?
Daniel: Once I finally had an idea that I thought could work, I had a video call with a developer that I’m friends with, who is actually an expert in developing sync systems, just to have him sanity check whether my approach would be sound, or whether there would be any hidden pitfalls that I might have forgotten about, because this is a very large problem space, so I might as well just have forgotten about something that could bite me later on. Sync is also the thing that you want to do well and get right in the first time. You don’t want to have to mess around too much with that.
I had that call and essentially a consultation with that developer and after that I started working. I had to change a lot of the architecture in the app, and of course, build a service for the syncing as well, but after about half a year, it was finally done and working well, luckily.
Sara: Wow, that’s great that you pushed yourself to get through that and brought in an expert to kind of consult along the way. I can see where that would really boost your confidence moving forward. That you can handle other activities related to your product. That’s exciting.
Daniel: Yeah, it definitely helped.
Sara: Well, let’s shift gears a little bit. Let’s talk about marketing. What sort of marketing are you currently doing that’s working for you?
Daniel: These days I’m not doing too much marketing myself. I’m of course, still making sure that Timing is ranking well in search engines and then people can find us through Google Search for example, and we are also getting a lot of customers through word of mouth, and besides that it’s mostly content marketing these days.
Sara: Okay, great. Yeah, let’s talk about that. How does content fit into your marketing plan?
Daniel: Timing can be a quite a complex app, so having someone who can explain to the users how specific features work or what the app is all about, and how you can get more productive with it, and how you can use it the most effectively, is very important with a complex app like that. That’s definitely a topic where Audience Ops with their content have helped us along.
Sara: That’s great. What do you think about this idea that founders shouldn’t be bloggers? You have a lot on your plate, so I think a lot of people feel like, “Well, blogging should not be the thing that you do.” What do you think about that?
Daniel: I think that’s a mixed bag. They’re still very technical aspects of Timing that I want to write about myself because I’m the person who’s most familiar with the app. For example, I still write my release notes for new versions of the app, and a blog post to accompany those myself, as well as send out the newsletter about these new versions. But for your regular everyday articles like either be it more high level, less intricate articles about Timing, or about related topics such as productivity, and time-tracking, and freelancing. These are things that I’m very happy to offload, because I mean, I think I can put my thoughts down if I need to, and I do with the release notes articles, but it’s not something that I particularly enjoy. So having someone who can take that off my plate is actually something that I very much appreciate.
Sara: I see. So it sounds like it was fairly easy for you to let go of kind of those pieces that someone else could take over because you don’t necessarily enjoy the writing, but it was important to hold on to the more technical aspects that you understand so well because of your role in the company.
Daniel: Exactly. And with Audience Ops what also works very well is providing them with notes on particular points to highlight in the articles, and I’m happy that I can rely on those points being talked about in the article, so that I’m sure that the article is going in the direction that I want.
Sara: Absolutely. Well, we always love when our founders get involved and can share exactly what they envisioned for the piece because that just helps our writers really give you something that hits on exactly what you want. let’s back up a little, what actually prompted you to start thinking about getting outside help when it came to the content production?
Daniel: I had been hearing about that thing called content marketing for a while and writing all these articles, but with all my other tasks, especially developing the app and so on. Writing two articles per month was neither something that I had the time for nor that I would enjoy.
Looking into that had been on my plate for a while, and I think in 2017 at MicroConf Europe, I met a freelancer who I then hired to do the first batches of articles for me, she would write articles for me on a retainer, and I think after about a year she wanted to move on and suspend her business for a while anyway, so that was no longer an option.
At that point I decided to give Audience Ops a go. Before that, I had thought that they were an agency so they wouldn’t give me as high as a quality as somebody who I could work with personally, but quite the opposite has been actually the case. I would say that the quality of the Audience Ops articles and the work they do for me and the consistency is actually much higher than working just with a single freelancer. So I’m very happy that they can take much more off my plate now.
Sara: Well good. Well, we’re happy we can do that for you. Was there anything else you noticed shifting from a single freelancer to working with Audience Ops? Any other changes or benefits that you saw from shifting from a solo person to more of a company who’s backing you?
Daniel: I would say the most important one would be definitely that I had to do less micromanaging. I can just rely on an article being prepared every two weeks for me, and being published automatically, put into WordPress with the tweets being prepared, the newsletter being prepared. I still take a look at the end, at the final product, but I don’t need to guide the process through if I don’t want to. I don’t even have to come up with article ideas. I still like to provide the ones that are important to me, but overall there’s much less involvement required from me.
Sara: Good. Which I think is probably, it’s nice, right? It can feel a little maybe hard or scary for some founders to let go of it, and for you it was kind of nice to let go of it. Then once you do, you realize, “Okay, this can run and I don’t have to be as involved in this piece”-
Sara: … “that’s so critical to my business, but I don’t really have the time to do.” So that’s great.
Daniel: Yeah, it’s something that I just could not do myself due to a lack of time and motivation.
Sara: Yeah. Well especially since your business focuses on productivity, you need to know where to put your time. It’s important that you do the things, your productivity is focused on the areas that are most important to your business that you can really focus on. So since you’ve worked with Audience Ops, what sort of benefits have you seen or noticed?
Daniel: Hmm, so the most important one would be definitely the save time. With Audience Ops, just providing the content for me and me being able to offload that to them. I also enjoy and appreciate having content ready for about one newsletter per month just so to stay engaged with my customers and to stay on their mind, so those would be the most important ones I would say.
Sara: Great. For you, why do you think it’s so important to continue to focus on content creation? Do you think this is something that is worth continuing to spend time, and energy, and resources on even though it’s not you doing it, by continuing to outsource? Is this something that will still be important do you think?
Daniel: Yeah. I have no reason at all to quit content marketing, it’s going well and having an up-to-date blog with recent content, I think, is very important. For example, this summer Apple has announced Screen Time for Mac, which is their time tracking feature for Macs, and there were rumors about that already in April, so at that point I already decided that I wanted to try and own that topic SEO wise. Back in April already we started preparing some topics of Screen Time both for iOS with a guide for iOS, but also for Mac, ones that would be ready, so that we could cover the topic in a lot of detail. And I think we had three articles about that in total. I think things like that really helped to strategically be present on the topics where you need to be.
Sara: You obviously already had content creation going, so you’ve already got that juice, that SEO, so now that you’re adding in these other pieces, yeah, you’re getting in there before the big guys do. That’s exciting.
You said a little bit ago that you’re not doing too much marketing, you don’t spend a lot of energy there, you’ve got the content going. Is there a next phase of marketing for you? Do you see yourself doing more marketing for your product?
Daniel: Not right now. Things are fairly stable right now and they’re going well. I had experimented with paid ads for example, before, and those have never really worked well for me, so I’m not too interested in trying that again. But I’m trying to move a bit up market and also become more attractive to agencies over time. That would be less about marketing but more about opening a new customer group, if you know what I mean?
Sara: Yeah, absolutely. For any founders who maybe are in a similar position who are looking to reach a new customer base, do you have any tips or ideas? I know this is something you’re just getting started with, but any thoughts for our founders who are listening?
Daniel: I think one thing that’s really important about that is that the product actually needs to be there. It needs to be suitable for the new audience. That means that you might not be able to get by with your existing feature set, but you might need to add a few features to the product so that your new customer group can take full advantage of it. Or maybe even you need to adjust your positioning a bit in terms of who you want to market to? How you present yourself as the ideal tool for X or for group of people Y? These are things to keep in mind.
That doesn’t mean that you need to abandon your existing customer group. You could for example, have additional landing pages for your new audience or just in general try to address both groups at once. This is something that can be added on top, but you probably need to do adjustments of your product. You can’t just use the same product for a different purpose, if you know what I mean?
Sara: Yeah, absolutely. Great tips. Thank you. Well, I’m guessing some of our listeners might like to increase their productivity and might have some interest in you and your product and what you’ve shared. So where can our listeners find you?
Daniel: You can find Timing at timingapp.com and you can also find me on Twitter as a Daniel_a_a, so two times underscore A after my name.
Sara: Great. Well, thank you so much for your time today. This has been really interesting and enjoyable and thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
Daniel: Thanks for having me. I’m really happy to have you as my content partner.
Sara: We so appreciate that Daniel took the time to join us on the podcast and encourage you to check out Timing. If you’re looking for an easy to use productivity tool, if you’re interested in learning more about done for you content, check us out at audienceops.com.