Showing up–consistently–and just getting stuff done is, to me, more important than anything else.
Tim Chaves is a serial entrepreneur with two successful exits before the age of 30. Tim graduated from Harvard Business School with distinction in 2015 and turned down a job offer from Google to found an accounting software startup, ZipBooks. ZipBooks is free accounting software for freelancers, consultants, and small businesses. Tim is attempting to turn the traditional SaaS business model on its head by providing short-term financing to small businesses, leaving the rest of the accounting, invoicing and time tracking features free for everyone.
Where did the idea for ZipBooks come from?
The idea for ZipBooks came from my own experiences as a business owner. Before going to business school, I ran two different businesses, and I learned a lot firsthand about the headache that comes from managing the cashflow of a growing company. One common problem I saw was that as you grow as a company, projects get bigger but payments often get slower–and you still need to pay your employees every two weeks. It was ironic that even though we were looking better and better on paper, my cashflow headaches grew right alongside our profits.
ZipBooks is one possible solution to the daily struggle with liquidity. The app lets you do your accounting and invoicing in one place, which is convenient for small business owners. But the really cool twist is, if our users qualify and want it, we’ll pay them for their invoice right away with a single click, and they pay us back over time with low, transparent fees. Because we generate revenue on those transactions, ZipBooks is free with no subscription for unlimited use.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Since I’m ZipBooks’ primary developer, I spend most of my time right in the product. This won’t be the case for very long so I am gleaning insights now into what’s working well so we can continue to build on that success in the future.
I work hard, but I don’t work crazy hours. I have a family with three kids, and they’re my top priority. I’m a big believer in getting as much done in the work day as I can. When I am at work, I work.
How do you bring ideas to life?
One of my previous companies was a development firm for custom web and mobile applications, so I have experience capturing ideas. The nice thing about a small team is that there are not a lot of bottlenecks — if I have an idea for the product, I can quickly experiment with it. The downside is, I often subconsciously rein in my ideas because I think too much about the engineering that would have to go into it.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Electric cars and environmentally friendly technology. Couldn’t have been more excited about the Tesla Model 3 announcement, and I had to reserve one. Anything that can disrupt an industry like that–challenging incumbents by making something better, cheaper, or more efficient by an order of magnitude–is really exciting to me.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Eliminating as many distractions as possible. I delete my Facebook mobile app during the week, and use StayFocusd Chrome extension on the web. I avoid meetings like the plague and don’t schedule appointments throughout the day. If I have to schedule something, I try to cluster around it so the rest of my time is free to get into flow on important work.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I got a job as a web designer for an affiliate marketing firm, and lasted all of one day. I thought I’d be doing more technical work, but when I got there, my first task was putting together sleazy banner ads to sell sketchy supplements. The owners drove exotic sports cars and the place’s whole ethos was about making money, regardless of how. I came in the second day only to let them know I was done. I learned that if you want good people, and you want to keep them, you need to have a mission that your team can rally around, and you need to be doing work that you believe in.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
There’s so much. To some extent, I think the only way I could have learned what I have is by making the mistakes I did. But one specific thing I would have done with my first business (an iPhone cover manufacturer) is invest earlier and more heavily in inbound marketing. When you have a web app, there are so many channels that can lead to your site, and these can lower your acquisition costs on other channels. You want to be in a place where you could potentially turn all paid advertising and sales off, and you’d still have people signing up for the product. Inbound marketing gets you there.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I show up and work, every single day. I’m really consistent in just being there, and working hard. I try to guard my schedule very closely, and not let superfluous events leak onto my calendar. There’s a whole lot you can do that might feel productive (conferences, talks, meeting for coffee), but in many cases, they’re just not. I like to see the immediate impact of what I’m doing. And I know if I’m working on product, talking to customers, pitching in on marketing–I know that’s going to impact my business right away. Showing up–consistently–and just getting stuff done is, to me, more important than anything else.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Do your research. This holds true for pretty much every aspect of the business. For example, we’ve been careful to build our product based on user feedback. We try not to get too far down the road on any feature without it.
We also try to pick the best tech we can. It’s super hard to unwind once you have process around a particular product or technology. We’ve found Laravel has worked great for us as a framework. It’s very mature and well supported, which means it takes much less time for us to build new features.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
A business partner and I tried to become a distributor of SD memory cards, sourced from overseas. We got a couple big orders but the cards we shipped, despite passing our QA (long story), turned out to be duds. We had to do a massive recall and it killed the company. There wasn’t a magic bullet to overcoming it. In some ways, I think time heals all wounds. But again, consistency in showing up and working hard on something every day helps not only get you on the right track, but to leave failures behind.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
What about a site that offers sales and marketing articles but all the content goes through a peer-review process? You have a group of editors that review articles and keep the standards really high. Publishing velocity is low, but each article is the best article that you’ve ever read about the covered subject. There’s a paywall but it’s ad-free.
There’s so much content out there today. But a lot of it is bad–really bad–and it’s hard to distinguish between good and bad if you’re researching outside your core area of expertise. This takes care of that problem.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Kindle Paperwhite (though, admittedly, I didn’t spend the money, it was a gift–thanks Mom!) and this case. The new model finally has resolution where pixels are indistinguishable (300 ppi), it’s totally seamless from light to dark, and the display + the leather case really give you the feeling you’re not staring at a screen. I read a lot, and it’s almost all on my Kindle.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Intercom is amazing. It helps us create a much better customer experience than we could with standard chat or email support. We’re also really happy with KissMetrics, which gives us a lot of insight into what users do on an individual level, and of course, ZipBooks (shameless plug), which we use in-house and makes our billing really easy.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Road to Character by David Brooks. I imagine that the IdeaMensch community reads a lot of business books, like I do, and this book was nice to go in a different direction. It’s a series of condensed biographies about people who have led exemplary lives in one way or another, and I found it really inspiring. It really helped me refocus on not just being the entrepreneur I want to be, but the person I want to be.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
-Jason Lemkin, @jasonlk. Jason is the thought leader in SaaS. Everything he says and writes is just straight-up knowledge that SaaS entrepreneurs should take to heart and to their businesses.
– Clay Christensen, @claychristensen, legendary HBS professor. Clay’s observations and theories on both life and business are unmatched. He’s one of the few people whose insights, I can honestly say, influence my behavior every single day.
– Kurt Schneider, https://www.youtube.com/user/KurtHugoSchneider. This kid has built his own new media empire from the ground up, primarily by releasing high quality videos every week for years. The consistency, again, is inspiring and a huge part of his success.