Inventing A Gadget To Help You Track Your Time

The Story of Time Flip

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi! My name is Pavel Cheshev and I’m running a startup called TimeFlip that we co-founded with my partner Dmitry in the Summer of 2016.

TimeFlip is an IoT solution to assist people with personal time management and productivity control. It is an app-connected polygon, designed to make time tracking as easy, intuitive and flawless, as possible.

There are many people all around the world concerned about their time usage and productivity.

Timeflip is a simple and user-friendly, “physical” solution to track time. Whether you’re an engineer, a corporate lawyer, a consultant or a freelance artist, this is a great and simple tool to measure time spent on a project, client or activity. * *

We’ve sold over 5000 units to the date. About half of our global sales happen in North America, where we are found on Amazon and with the plans agreed for Walmart, Best Buy and Home Depot in the nearest future.

inventing-a-gadget-to-help-you-track-your-time

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

As entrepreneurs, we had a long experience in contracting and outsourcing all kinds of work: from software development to industrial design, video production, web design, content marketing, bookkeeping, etc. We worked with a good number of individual freelancers and teams.

Focusing on too many things is the road to nowhere. Take one most important target (growing number of users, profitability, decreasing production costs, subscriptions, time to market, etc) and metrics for it and run tests to optimize it.

That means we have also witnessed the use of various time tracking software by our contractors and collaborators and tried it ourselves. There were over 100 software time tracking apps on this, rather fragmented, market. That only supported our idea that there is no universal, popular solution and the market is still in expectations of something that would be easy to use and adapt to.

As my co-founder had his roots deep in hardware product development he offered to think about a “physical” approach to the problem. Inspired by the success of fitness trackers and “Enchanted objects” ideas by David Rose, we started thinking about creating a connected device that would track time. The very core idea here was making something ultimately simple and user friendly and not attached to a computer screen, as we are already spending a large part of our lifetime watching all kinds of screens.

How TimeFlip works:

At the start, user marks TimeFlip sides with the tasks or activities he/she wants to track and assigns them once in the mobile app. Whenever one wants to start tracking an activity, he simply places TimeFlip with that side up and the device automatically starts clocking time for it.

As the result, you get time stats visualized in the app or web browser and it's amazing how seeing it right there can change your habits.

TimeFlip is not another “big brother watching you” solution. On the opposite, it is designed as a very friendly tool for the people who volunteer to take control of their time.

Contrast to other solutions, TimeFlip works offline and is able to store time logs equivalent to about 30-40 days of tracking. So digital nomads can bring it to the beach or mountains or other remote places with no network and it will work there just fine.

Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.

We received quite modest pre-seed funding from a pool of business angels, but mostly we have been bootstrapping TimeFlip from day one. That meant we needed to be as lean startup as possible.

To cross over the death valley most important was to build an MVP as soon as possible and start testing it with the first users. Thanks to our team competence in hardware engineering we were quick in designing and producing the core chip, equipped with an accelerometer and a bluetooth module.

Then we decided to produce TimeFlip with a case made of cardboard (we called it “TimeFlip Craft”), to quickly test functionality and collect first users’ feedback. We even offered three shapes for it in a package: 6, 8 and 12-sided polygons, that users would assemble themselves out of cardboard cutouts and then insert the chip inside. Kind of DIY product.

inventing-a-gadget-to-help-you-track-your-time

We even went further and offered first clients just the naked chip and 3D models they could download from our website and print cases of 3 types of shapes and any color they wanted using a 3D printer. Producing and shipping just the chips could be a perfect model for us, but 3D printing costs are still too high for the end user, so he/she would end up paying too much for a product.

inventing-a-gadget-to-help-you-track-your-time

These test, however, shown strong user preference for a 12-sided TimeFlip, so we have designed a foldable plastic casing ready for industrial manufacturing (molding).

Luckily, thanks to my co-founder elaborated network in China we had quick access to proven manufacturers in Shenzhen area and scaling up chips and casing production was pretty straightforward and flawless process. From that time on, we permanently have one team member located in China and responsible for manufacturing, closely monitoring the process and solving any issues with our manufacturing partners almost instantly.

Describe the process of launching the business.

We have raised small seed funding which was just enough to build the first prototype, all the rest we were essentially bootstrapping.

No surprise we started from a landing page. As we wanted to test as quickly as possible with the first customers we decided not to go to a crowdfunding platform, that requires serious time and resources to prepare for a campaign and collect long list of emails of potential future subscribers.

Instead, we announced pre-orders directly on our landing page, this was for the very first, cardboard version of the product (TimeFlip craft). We are still immensely thankful to all our first subscribers, without them TimeFlip would not be here today.

Of course, nobody would find us through our landing page, so we started looking for popular startup products discovery platforms to spread the word about TimeFlip. The most efficient one turned out to be Product Hunt.

There are a lot of articles and blogs on how to prepare for Product Hunt and make the most out of being featured there. But the crucial step, of course, is to find a “hunter” who would make a post about your product. Tech journalists are naturally among the best hunters and we have screened Twitter accounts of a number of them before finding one who was interested in the device and agreed to help us getting featured. As soon as he did, the same day our website daily audience catapulted to thousands.

We continued to contact tech journalists directly through their twitter/facebook accounts and some would put a short post about TimeFlip on their pages (which is truly helpful) but we still were not successful in making it to the major startup media until we came to CES this January.

CES 2018 was a real crunch point for us. We were selected to exhibit at CES Eureka park (startup zone) and did our homework to send invitations for journalists listed among CES attendees. The result was beyond our expectations: we found ourselves featured in a number of tech and startup media like Techcrunch or Mashable.

CES was also very useful in meeting and establishing potential sales partnerships and potential collaborations. For example, it is there where we met our current distributor for US market.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Being covered by startup media gives a major kick and helps with SEO.

We don’t believe much in email marketing, as emails are to disappear soon.

Product reviewers

We continue to leverage on independent reviewers and would provide all necessary support for bloggers specialized reviewing gadgets or time management tools on Youtube or their websites.

Deal platforms

Platforms like Dealspotr proved to be useful too, attracting users via special deals.

We discovered the Dealspotter platform which looks interesting (maybe there are other platforms of a kind) as it provides access to a number of popular bloggers that may do a review for a very modest price tag.

Amazon

We are on Amazon in US, but it is handled by our local distributor. It is a great platform, although I personally don’t like their user interface which really has a lot to be improved. You need to be there if you are selling a unknown hardware product, it gives your potential clients much more confidence then they might get just scrolling through your landing page.

On the other hand, you of course will lose significant margin through the whole (online) retail chain and need to have it big enough to accommodate interests of all players. Being introduced to Amazon through our reseller has its ups and downs. They do help with reaching bigger sales volumes, that would be nearly impossible to do for us ourselves but we also lose serious margin there.

If one of your team members happens to be an Amazon expert, it would be a huge asset for you, potentially saving a lot of money.

Google ads and Facebook ads

Google ads turned out to be inefficient for us. We experimented quite a bit but they work really poor for us. Facebook ads do bring results, although not instantly. Our audience are well-educated and tech savvy people and they rarely make a spontaneous purchase. We eventually managed to track down conversions from Facebook ads that happen about a week after initial impression. So, majority of our clients would see an add, then google about us, then probably discuss with colleagues and eventually purchase days after.

A/B Testing

We sure use Google Analytics to monitor our audience preferences and behavior. We’d run A/B tests from time to time to understand what we can improve in our webstore and product offering. For example, selling TimeFlips in packs with quantity discount proved to be very efficient strategy for our online sales.

Social media

Maintaining social media accounts and refreshing content there is absolutely crucial. It is the way we communicate with our customers and share news and teasers about coming updates and new features. It is also the mean of choice for majority of our clients to communicate with us and provide feedback. We work hard on having our response rate in green zone all the time.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We are not yet profitable. In the same time we are about self-sustained now, though we invest significant part of the revenue in further development. Hardware production also freezes significant capital, so we are looking for the next round of investment now to accelerate growth.

I would recommend having a stress-resistant member of your startup team fully dedicated to customer support from day one. Keeping your early clients/subscribers in a positive mood, involved and supportive is your top priority.

Our B2C business demonstrates positive and promising trend, we are going to be in offline retail in the US really soon, in chains like Walmart, Best Buy and Home Depot. We are also talking with new generation platforms like B8ta and their clones around the world. There is a list of resellers/distributors and drop shipping sellers interested in TimeFlip in Europe and S.E. Asia that we are negotiating with now.

Our next goal is untapping the B2B market. We’ve been selling TimeFlips to smaller teams or companies, but haven’t yet hooked a real big corporate fish. This needs a lot of work in integrating TimeFlip with the software that they use and maybe even doing some customization of the device.

We are willing and open to discuss partnership opportunities with time tracking/management or workflow or workforce management software developers. All these software markets are very competitive and an integration with a fun and user-friendly hardware device could bring a software producer serious competitive edge. This is our value proposition for them.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

  • *

I guess it’s no secret, but especially in hardware startups, you always underestimate two things: the amount of funds and the amount of time you need to bring your product to the market.

While the former is your problem, the latter means long wait for you clients and subscribers. We were focusing all our resources to have the product as soon as possible and undervalued the importance of soothing and supporting our first subscribers when we realized they would have to wait significantly longer than we initially promised.

I would recommend having a stress-resistant member of your startup team fully dedicated to customer support from day one. Keeping your early clients/subscribers in positive mood, involved and supportive is your top priority.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

  • Ecwid - to run our online store
  • Mailchimp - email marketing
  • Google Analytics – know your customer
  • Basecamp - for workflow management
  • Telegram - team messenger
  • Redmine - project management for software development

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Most recently I became very much interested in how our brain actually works, so I read various articles and watch videos about how much we are driven by emotions in our choices and how little we are rational animals, though we very much like to think the opposite about ourselves.

This has a direct impact on your business and the product you are building. Some things built with a very rational goal of “solving a market problem” are having hard time conquering the market or even fail, while totally impractical things like Instagram make a big hit.

I think there is a serious argument here at least to revise the conventional startup paradigm.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

#1 Focus.

Focusing on too many things is the road to nowhere. Take one most important target (growing number of users, profitability, decreasing production costs, subscriptions, time to market, etc) and metrics for it and run tests to optimize it.

#2 Be confident.

There will be moments when you’ll be very close to fail, every startup founder goes through it. Very often success comes after such moments, so you just need to leave through them. So many people quit at this stage. But also do remember that failure makes you an experienced and hence more valued entrepreneur. Do listen very carefully to your clients, but do not let yourself be too dependent on opinions coming outside your client pool. There are so many advisors around, you better check such advisor’s track record as an entrepreneur before trusting his/her opinion, especially if it is discouraging.

#3 Think of your work/life balance.

Especially if you have a family and kids. Agree with your loved ones on distributing time between your business and family. Do not let your startup to ruin it, as it will always tend to consume all of your time. You simply need to put some limits there. Do your best to control your time and remember that your productivity is not a linear function of your time spent at work. We all can only focus on a problem or task for a rather short period of time. Split your work into short time slots with strong focus, switch tasks, take breaks.

Where can we go to learn more?

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- pat-walls Pat Walls, Founder of Starter Story


Comments


Pavel Cheshev
8 days ago

Thanks Pat, awesome story! And a great idea of a story sharing platform overall. I read few stories you published - very helpful and I learned a lot.

I am open for comments on mine, if anyone has a question)

Best of luck,

Pavel

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