Bootstrapping a start-up on fumes requires a level of quickness that joint-decisions often cannot afford.
Le-roy Staines is the founder and CTO of TimeDock.com. He’s a highly creative software developer with a huge variety of interests including wood carving, hunting, hiking, animals, and, of course, tinkering with technology and inventing new things. Le-roy began his career in the construction industry and pivoted to what he loved, software development and problem-solving.
Where did the idea for TimeDock come from?
To best understand where the idea came from, let’s take a step back before the inception of TimeDock and delve into a bit of background story.
Late 2011 I’d created a website QRCodeGenerator that allowed anyone to freely create a QR Code [those 2D barcodes you can scan with your phone to visit web pages]. It was a pet-project for fun with the humorous irony that I as yet didn’t have my own smartphone to scan these intriguing QR Codes!
Then, from there, an idea to create a URL-shortener was born. Why? Because long URL’s increased the density of the QR Codes and subsequently decreased the scanning performance. At this time, I had no knowledge that others, such as Bit.ly, were already doing this!
With my new URL shortener, dubbed ‘QRL’ and readily prototyped, I began to devise a bunch of single-page apps that could be great companions to this service that I was going to launch. Top on the list at the time was a star-rating feedback app where anyone could create this QR Code for customers to scan and record their rating of a service or product. Somewhere down this list, I had, of about 20 apps, was one for time tracking. The idea being that the QR Code could be used as an on/off switch for staff clocking in/out on remote job sites.
Originating in the construction industry myself I’d seen and known the pain of paper timesheets. And, looking around, the best applications at the time were clunky digitised spreadsheet versions of paper timesheets that required laptop access and IT prowess that many construction supervisors didn’t have the time for.
Then one day, after designing some basic artwork of how it should look, I presented my concepts to my out-of-school construction employer and then-client Warren Coogan. Warren was immediately excited of the prospect of this QR Code time tracking technology. His response was to the point: “How soon can you have it ready? I’d like to use it in an out-of-town project I’ve got kicking off in two weeks!”
Two weeks of crazy overtime later I had a prototype (and first customer) of what is now TimeDock.com!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day begins with coffee, and my productivity is directly proportional to the strength of coffee multiplied by the frequency and volume, divided by the number of hours worked.
Actually in all truthfulness, and perhaps a little bit too honestly, my day is usually extremely erratic and much less productive than I’d like! This is the burden of being a founder of a bootstrapped start-up and not having the human resources to delegate all the niggly bits and pieces too. And right now we’re smack in the middle of a growth period that is increasing revenue quicker and quicker but at the same time increasing costs and customer support are growing much earlier than our return on investment. So, right now, it’s a running race between us, the customers, and the competitors! Though I do hope the customers will celebrate with us at the end of the hundred yards.
That aside we’ve fortunately just hired our first developer, besides myself. This will allow me to focus just that little bit more on building the business and working with Warren [now a partner in the business] with driving non-organic sales growth.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Having the ability to bring ideas to life, for me, does not revolve around having the $$ but rather having a really awesome mix of the following attributes: Curiosity, Imagination, Ability to self-learn (quickly), and unrelenting perseverance.
When I have a new idea that I’d like to pursue I just start building it. Never mind that I’m not yet knowledgeable; I’ll learn. I have the confidence to know that I’ll be able to achieve whatever it is I set out to do, without yet knowing the specifics of execution.
A great example is our TimeTablet. It’s an NFC proximity-card time clock device I created to work with TimeDock as a static wall-mounted companion to our mobile apps. Without any prior knowledge of product development (in the physical sense) I sat down and began designing. I designed concept artwork of the end-product first, then began to break it down. First I designed a tablet housing and learned CAD software to design the layers that were then sent to laser cutters. I sourced components and designed packaging prototypes that were sent to professional packaging specialists. I also learned to strip Android OS to its bare bones and inject my own user interface over the top. Thus, over the course of a few months [part time], an idea was turned to reality. Nearly every aspect of which required extensive research and development. None of which would have happened if I’d tried to pre-learn everything before I began executing.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Bootstrapping cool technology products. It’s amazing to see what people are building in ‘out of their garage’ type scenarios with often very little money or prior knowledge. It’s very idea-driven and I like that. People are not feeling bound by what they know and there’s the trending confidence in bootstrapping awesome tech start-ups that inspire confidence to take a leap of faith. That cliché word ‘disruption’ that everyone’s talking about lately, a lot of it stems from people with crazy-awesome ideas with the curiosity and perseverance to bootstrap those ideas into reality.
Just as a side note I think the internet has really aided in this. Any man or woman and his/her dog can imagine new ideas and the content is right there for self-learning and research. I can’t imagine a world without the internet!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Staying up when everyone else has gone to bed! You get the quiet time without distractions combined with a kick of adrenaline from over-tiredness that can produce some amazing results. Of course, you want to be careful about the frequency you do this, and the type of work you do in this state, but for prototyping new ideas and features I find it amazingly productive.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I won’t mention names but there was this one company I did contract work for years ago that I found extremely difficult. No matter how hard I tried my [web] designs just weren’t good enough. I think we must have gone through over a hundred concepts and I’d blown my budget by many multiples (which they weren’t willing to pay for). It became extremely frustrating and toxic to my mood which was hurting the project even more.
What I learned in hindsight: You should demonstrate your capability and self-confidence well enough that either your customer either a) Trusts your design judgement, or b) doesn’t buy. And tell them up front that a quoted amount should not be an open book for unlimited concept revisions to aid their discovery process.
When they don’t trust you they’ll lead the design with their own ideas and then you’re just walking into an open arena to do whatever they ask you to do and, believe me, there will be a lot of changes in there. As a designer, you need to have the confidence to be firm on your advisory, or walk away. Once the customer becomes the ‘expert’, they’ll never be happy.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Retain authority for all decisions (through appointment or majority shareholding).
Bootstrapping a start-up on fumes requires a level of quickness that joint-decisions often cannot afford. Particularly if one of the partners has other ventures to tender to yet they refuse to allow key decisions without their input. Decisions get deferred to meetings with discussions that get deferred to actions which result in more meetings and so it goes around. It can take weeks or months to achieve a key decision or action that one person could make in a single non-fragmented session.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Testing. And actually, I haven’t been the best at this myself. But always test, test, test, test. Never trust that this little thing over here won’t destroy this big thing over there. It’ll cost you customers and reputation.
It can be very easy to fall into the trap of putting the mantra ‘release early, release often’ as an excuse barrier for minimal or even no testing before releasing a product to production. We’ve lost reputation and real customers because of it and it’s caused more frustration and anxiety than you can shake a stick at.
My best advice would be to find someone extremely methodical, bordering on O.C.D., who isn’t as intimately tied to the project whom you can entrust the task of testing. This could be a partner or friend with some vested interest, but not the same level of emotional attachment. Someone who won’t make assumptions based on their own ability or input.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Answering questions for anything and everything on Q/A website Quora is becoming a small but real return. If only, I’d discovered it in our initial days when we were still pining for first customers!
I’ve only been using Quora (a well-moderated question and answers platform) for a couple months now and it is already proving to be a small stream of leads. And all it required was my answering of a question or two on a daily basis from my phone right before I hit the pillow.
I’m not talking about spamming your content on only the questions asked about your particular offering. I’m just talking about quality responses for general questions. People become curious and click onto your profile and then your website. We’ve had at least one significant customer admit to this so far in the short time I’ve been doing it.
So for any newbie start-ups out there I’d highly recommend Quora as one of your smaller jigsaw pieces that’ll help get you a few first customers.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Ooh, tricky question. I don’t think I’ve had any specific failures as such. Sometimes achievements take longer or they take shorter. Nothing to me is a failure, only a point on the timeline to success. Some things are at the end of that timeline and others aren’t. Even if a success was short-lived, it was still a success!
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Ideas are a dime a dozen (it’s the execution that counts!). Here’s a few (please note I have not extensively researched whether there are competitors already out there, these are just ideas I thought of in the past that haven’t already landed in my lap):
1. A digital receipting and warranties API utilised by all the major banks and credit card providers so that when you purchase something at the store it’s automatically pulled into your accounting system and reconciled based on some reconciliation rules for types of products, stores, services etc. I had this idea about 7 years ago and there are some starting to play with this idea but there is yet someone to rise up and integrate with all the banks and accounting systems to truly automate this end to end. Eventually, someone will.
2. Gesture recognition app for augmented reality glasses, to aid retail sales people to better understand the customers they are selling to. There are many visual cues to a person’s gestures that can aid in the sales process. An app that lights green when you’re getting positive feedback or red for negative visual feedback would be awesome. Take an obvious folded arms gesture. It often exudes defensiveness – “I’m listening but I don’t really believe you or I think you don’t know what you’re talking about”. That’s an obvious one but there are many subtle clues, even micro facial gestures that many sales people are untrained to recognise consciously, that can aid in your ability to drive a sale by asking the right questions and giving the right information.
3. A community-driven qualified leads aggregator. Say I do some door to door sales. I have managed to get halfway through the discovery process for an organisation but then I lost them as a prospect (for whatever reason). There’s valuable information I would have learned that could be ‘traded’ on an open market. For example company size, key decision makers, software systems being used (or lack of) etc. It’d need to be carefully implemented and policed to help prevent spam and poor quality submissions but it’d be great to be able to log into my app and mine for local companies who meet specific criteria. I guess it would be based on a ‘credits’ system that could be earned by contributing valid data, or purchased for real money.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
My wife and I purchased a trampoline for our daughter for Christmas. It’s a mini trampoline for toddlers and cost us $99. It’s the best $100 I’ve spent in the last few weeks because she absolutely loves jumping on the trampoline and helps keep her entertained –especially since we don’t have a TV in the house!
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Quora.com is my top pick at the moment! I love the diversity of questions and how it gives you stats on the content you’ve contributed like daily reads etc.
I also have a whole plethora of web services we use for TimeDock. To name just a few: StackOverflow.com for software development help, testobject.com for mobile app testing, usabilityhub.com for concept feedback, and positionly.com for search rank reporting. They all enhance productivity significantly.
What is one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Rework”, by the founders of 37 signals (basecamp.com). Every entrepreneur should read this book. It has a lot of very thought-provoking mantras with highly valid reasoning that you’d likely consider ‘obvious’ yet you’d never really put proper thought into before. It is also a very entertaining read – definitely not boring like many similar books of that genre!
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I have many influences in my personal life that wouldn’t be known in the public domain but the one person I will mention here: Grant Cardone. I find his Youtube videos on sales technique to be extremely motivating. Here’s an entertaining example of how he turns a lost deal into an $80k over the phone:
Grant Cardone’s website:
TimeDock time tracking app for Android
TimeDock time tracking app for iOS
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.