This is a follow up story for TIMEFLIP. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 3 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi, and it’s good to be back here! I’m Pavel Cheshev, the CEO and co-founder of TimeFlip. Our product is a user-friendly time-tracking device, which helps individuals and businesses to bill hours and manages productivity. TIMEFLIP is an app-connected polygon, that a user decorates with his/her tasks or activities and then logs time by simply flipping the device.
Just recently we launched the second generation TIMEFLIP2 time tracker, which we developed based on the feedback collected from our early supporters. We made this version much better in many ways: faster to connect, more flawless, and stable in operation. The new generation has embedded LEDs, so now the gadget can signal you back with light impulses. This is useful as a way of a notification, for example, in “Pomodoro” timer mode.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
We are alive and growing! With over 10k devices sold to date (all versions), we almost doubled our monthly revenue since last year to around $40k/month. This figure could have been much higher if we didn’t need to hold the horses due to a supply problem. We just could not ramp-up our production fast enough to match the growing amount of orders at the beginning of the year.
The 4th quarter of 2019 turned out to be an important milestone for us. In August, while we were building plans for a new product launch, TimeFlip was chosen among the winners of Poland Prize program for startups. The program included a 3-months intensive acceleration program in Warsaw by Huge Thing accelerator, alongside eight brilliant startup teams from all over the world. This was a major kick for TimeFlip for several reasons:
- We focused our acceleration time around customer development in the B2B space. The first generation of TIMEFLIP was built as a pure consumer product but attracted significant attention (over 30%) from businesses and teams of various sizes. We investigated this opportunity further, carried out quite a several customer interviews and surveys, and eventually produced a development roadmap for the B2B market.
- Set up a Polish entity (with the help of the program) to be present in the EU - another key market for us, besides the US.
- Finally, we extended our team with new members from Poland, including our current CTO.
Luckily, TimeFlip is one of those businesses benefiting from the world going on remote. However, COVID pandemics did hit our business quite seriously in the beginning, as it put contract manufacturing in China on hold for several months and significantly increased shipping time and costs. With production delayed, we accumulated quite a long backlog of orders and our early backers had to wait for several months before their device was produced and shipped. We are very thankful to the majority of clients who were patient to wait, yet the number of refunded orders was also sensitive especially for our business that is fully bootstrapped.
If you want to change something, take a chance to make it happen. For me, giving it a try and maybe failing is always better than not trying at all.
With a long backlog of orders, we had to pause such an efficient tool for us as Facebook/Instagram ads and relied on pure organic traffic to our website for a few months. That anyway continued to grow steadily, as COVID very much pushed the trend for all things related to remote work, time management, and productivity.
Now we are actively building partnerships in distribution and retail, especially what comes to online platforms, focused on innovative technology consumer products (gadgets). Being a quite specific device, TIMEFLIP is never a spontaneous purchase in a grocery store (we tested that already), but requires thoughtful marketing and targeting the right audience. For us, these are knowledgeable industry professionals, such as software developers, consultants, researchers, engineers, educators, etc. Our company has already signed partnership agreements with CWO distribution (US), Gloture (Japan), and Robotshop. Currently, we are in talks with Sharper Image, Interstellar goods (Singapore), and some other online retailers in Europe.
In terms of marketing, user reviews are indispensable for any gadget manufacturer. Some of these can be arranged with the help of distributors. We actively utilize Dealspotr influencers’ marketplace and plan to engage with Youtube brand connect in the nearest future. I would like to emphasize here, that we are always open for collabs with influencers that cover innovative gadgets or productivity topics.
One of the cool tools I came across recently was actually developed by our accelerator fellow startup called Vimix. They provide an AI-powered solution to analyze the social influence of user-generated videos. It makes it possible to screen and analyze all user-generated videos mentioning your product or brand on Youtube without the need to actually watch them.
Finally, productivity and the means to analyze, manage, and improve it (especially when on remote) - is a very trendy topic now. We want to contribute to this discourse and started a blog section on our website, where we welcome guest posts from the authors working in the field.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
I know, it may sound obvious, investing in proper customer support is necessary from the first day you start to collect orders or even pre-orders. Having a small team we were very much focusing on solving pandemic-related production delays, changing manufacturing partners and suppliers, etc. Swamped with that, we’ve missed or overlooked quite many customer inquiries about delayed orders that resulted in painful refunds. These could be avoided, did we have enough CS capacity in place. In 99% of the cases, all you need is to get back to your awaiting customers fast and be transparent about your problems. People would be ok to wait some extra time, they just need to be sure your business is not a scam or illegal.
While the trend for everything remote helped us business-wise, it has also proven that we are very resilient as a team in front of the challenges of “new normal”. Being a distributed and remote team scattered around the world, we have already had all practices and tools in place before the global lock-down. I can compare it to how much my friends and relatives are still struggling to change their “normal” working routines.
After reading many controversial accounts on whether one has to convert to an early bird to be productive or stick to the rhythm that he/she finds comfortable, I now experiment with the latter. In fact, this gives me some ideas for further product development that shall take into account a person's own biological rhythm for optimal productivity.
What comes to my personal life, I moved to Warsaw with my family for the acceleration period, but stayed for longer and still enjoy it here. We had rather low expectations but the city turned out to be a very liveable location. Poland does have many things to offer for the business seeking EU presence: almost all costs are either low or very low, compared to any other place, while tax policies and government institutions are supportive for startups. As much as Warsaw, I enjoyed very much every hour spent at Google campus for startups here, what a great place!
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
According to several surveys (e.g. by PWC, Gartner, and Slack) we are already in a new work reality, which will never get back to the (old) norm. For us, this means a great opportunity for solutions to quantify and optimize work time and productivity. It’s going out of a rather big but still niche market concentrated around software development to reach a much broader and less “digital” audience. We believe that such solutions will become widespread. TIMEFLIP is well positioned there, because it takes very little time and effort to learn and adapt, compared to pure software time tracking/productivity apps, hence it is more accessible for a much border audience. Generally, our plans for the future are along these two lines:
- Adapting TIMEFLIP for the B2B market, which means developing a certain set of features and integrations with project management and communication software used in business.
- Development from a time tracking tool with some analytics into a service that would actually provide feedback on a user’s work pattern and advise on practical steps to improve productivity and reduce stress. All based on the best bio- and psychological knowledge, currently available.
External VC funding would be pivotal in accelerating the a.m. development plans, this is the target for us to focus on in 2021, although the VC market is far from its best shape right now.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Atomic habits (James Clear), The Brain (David Eagleman), Sapience (Yuval Harari).
Various blogs and articles on productivity and brain science and how to use the latter in product development.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
I love “Screw it, just do it” by Richard Branson. At the end of the day, it sums it all for me. Satisfied and all-relaxed people do not become entrepreneurs. If you want to change something, take a chance to make it happen. For me, giving it a try and maybe failing is always better than not trying at all.
Most of the time, the life of an entrepreneur is uneasy and stressful, yet it is anything but boring. In Black Swan (by Nassim Taleb) one of the things really resonating with my feelings is that to deal with “black swans” one should expose him/her to situations where uncertainty is actually beneficial. Like going out and meeting many people increases your chances to meet a future partner, then staying at home (online dating excluded). Entrepreneurship is beautiful exactly for that, it’s like living an extra life. I learned so many things and met fantastic people I know now - all thanks to just a couple of years of doing business.
I suggest to be cool-headed and always have a plan B. VC money is hard to raise now, I would not count on that but focus on having traction the earliest possible.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Right now our resources are too limited for new hires unless we raise external funding anytime soon. If we do, most likely a data scientist will be my first hire.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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