TimeKeeper: The Story So Far

Customers often ask me about how TimeKeeper began or what pushed me to create it. Over 5 years have now passed since its inception, so I thought I would take some time to write the story down and refl...
Sean QuinnPosted on Sunday, May 7th 2023

Customers often ask me about how TimeKeeper began or what pushed me to create it. Over 5 years have now passed since its inception, so I thought I would take some time to write the story down and reflect on how far we have come.

Before Starting Out (Late 2017)

I was a 24 year old Data Scientist working at a reputable software company. Day to day I was working as a consultant with corporates; the work was good but things moved a little slower than I would have liked. I decided I wanted a change of pace. My criteria when searching for a new role was to work at a company where I could be closer to the customer and have a greater impact in the business. This led me down the path of finding startups to work for.

I progressed through a few job interviews but only one in particular made an impression. After several interviews I was offered the job, but unfortunately they couldn’t meet my salary expectation as it was "outside their band for a 24 year old at the time". It wasn’t an extraordinary salary expectation either, it was matching what I was currently being paid.

That’s when I decided if someone was going to be setting my salary, it was going to be me.

The Formation (Early 2018)

Biting the bullet, I handed in my notice to my employer and began the plans for starting my own software company. My idea was to become a software consultant and then build some products on the side for extra revenue. The company officially started trading on the 1st January 2018.

I had a contract lined up to start that January but also decided to my first product off the ground.

That first product was TimeKeeper (or as it was known at that time 'TimeKeepr'). I’d love to say I did heaps of validation before deciding to work on the product, but originally my thought was time and attendance systems are easy, lots of businesses need one and I’ll just build a cloud-based one focused for the UK and Ireland market - How wrong I was!

My thought process at the time was if I generate £500 revenue a month from this product, this will help support me while I was between contracts.

I knuckled down and cranked out the original prototype version in 3 weeks which showcased the basic premise of clocking in and out for an employee. Coincidentally, InvestNI had a programme starting on my 25th birthday. The Propel programme offered a grant of £15,000 and free office space to work on your product for a full year. I decided to apply and luckily got accepted onto the programme, helping me to work on further developing TimeKeepr.

Propel (Early to Mid 2018)

The Propel programme put me in a cohort with a lot of interesting people who were also building products. While I was working on TimeKeepr, I wasn’t consulting so I wanted to turn out a minimum sellable product as quickly as possible. TimeKeepr landed its first customer in June 2018 through a Facebook Group post and subsequent in-person visit to their business. This was a significant moment to get TimeKeepr’s first revenue on the board, but also provided reassurance that the product provides a solution to a problem for which businesses were willing to pay.  I’m delighted to say that that first customer is still with us to this day.

The more the programme progressed, the more it became apparent that its motivation was to first help products get off the ground and then prepare them to be ‘investment ready’, that is to take on seed capital from investors.

The Propel Pre-Accelerator Cohort of 2018

I decided this path wasn’t for TimeKeepr (for a variety of reasons); the goal of the business wasn’t to become a mega corporation but instead to build a side income that can support a small, independent business whilst solving a frustrating set of issues for small businesses at a fair price.

Going Alone and Changing Directions (Mid 2018)

To go without investment and instead relying on self-funding is known as ‘bootstrapping’. The stark reality about bootstrapping a product is that there’s no investment to fall back on. This is why most startups don’t go down this route as it’s insanely tough and typically means much slower growth over time. I decided to continue work on TimeKeepr through to the end of 2018 relying on my and my partner’s savings.

TimeKeepr v1

TimeKeepr interestingly wasn’t solely focused on time and attendance. From the beginning, TimeKeepr also tried to solve the manufacturing quandry of time spent on each stage of a job and the associated downtime. This attracted a few big-name manufacturing companies but none of them ever got into the implementation stage, namely due to it being a lower priority on their busy TODO list. This realisation and the lengthy sales cycle, meant we had to pare back almost half of all the features in TimeKeepr.

This made the product drastically simpler and, as a result, our positioning changed to being ‘Simple Time and Attendance Software’. This seemed to work as by the end of 2018, we’d hit the original £500 a month milestone with around 20 customers.

I was delighted to meet my goal but realised there was so much left to grow in this product and market.  I also realised one major differentiator to the competition was our focus on being customer centric. The goal was to solve the problem for every customer. This meant jumping through hoops to help get customers get up and running and solve any issues they were having. If TimeKeepr couldn’t solve the issue, I’d try to send them to the best solution possible. This helped build trust between us and the customers and has remained our key focus to this day.

Unfortunately, this modest revenue was not going to be good enough to cover my monthly expenses and saving up for a wedding, so tricky times were ahead.

Back to Nights and Weekends (2019)

As a buffer, I decided that I would go back to contract work during the day while continuing to work on TimeKeepr nights and weekends. This allowed me to bring in some income to pay the bills while also saving up some cash for my wedding.

It wasn't the easiest route, but it’s one I’d recommend for someone looking to get their product off the ground in a risk-free manner. The income from the contracting projects allowed me to build up some savings while TimeKeepr also grew organically through word of mouth.

Sean (Founder) and Niamh (Wife) at RDS Manufacturing Expo

There’s nothing exciting about this path though - there are no big investment rounds, startup prizes or anything like that; it’s hard work to do a full day’s work and then start again for round two in the evening. As your time is limited each day, one benefit is that it forces you to focus your efforts on only the critical issues in the product. It’s fair to say that sacrifices were made that year in my personal life as work took over.

One notable event this year was TimeKeepr was re-branded to TimeKeeper. The reason being people couldn’t find us on Google as it autocorrected ‘TimeKeepr’ to ‘TimeKeeper’. The domain was already registered, so after a bit of negotiation with the owner, we agreed a price for £800 and that has been our home ever since.

As 2020 rolled in, I continued to work nights and weekends on TimeKeeper. I felt the business had a lot of promise so my focus for the year was to eventually be in a position to go full-time on TimeKeeper and stop the contracting.

March 2020 was a scary time in the world and also for TimeKeeper. Employees were furloughed in the UK. TimeKeeper had grown steadily up to that point through word of mouth but now businesses were closing, there would be no need for time and attendance systems if employees aren’t in work!

I decided to pause all subscriptions for customers who were not allowed to open as a reaction. There was a lot of hard work to get these customers up to speed and I decided if we paused their subscription until their business was allowed to reopen that would generate some goodwill and hopefully retain them as a customer going forward. This impacted 50% of all business on the platform, so revenue overnight dropped by 50%. Luckily I could continue contracting to rely on revenue but I thought there goes my chance of going full-time this year.

Luckily, most businesses were allowed to reopen a few weeks later and we reactivated subscriptions shortly after. Counterintuitively to me, COVID accelerated digital transformation for a lot of business processes - one of which was the move away from paper timesheets. People were working from home, so they needed a system to submit their timesheets instead of handing them into a centralised office.

TimeKeeper Tablet running in the Belfast Office

In July that year, I finally went full-time on TimeKeeper and this was now my sole focus. It was a long and hard slog to get to this stage but now TimeKeeper was a solid, growing product and I had retained 100% control of the direction of the business.

Growing Customers and TimeKeeper’s first hire (2021 - 2022)

TimeKeeper continued to flourish due to the transformation onset by COVID. The product feature set grew and our customer numbers doubled in 2021. This trend continued through 2022, making a Customer Success Manager my new number one priority.

In June 2022, TimeKeeper hired its first employee, Penelope, to take on the challenge.

This was a significant milestone for the business. Things were so busy that I felt I was dropping the ball on providing the best customer experience possible. Since then, tasks that were getting dropped are now getting done and done better than ever before.

Growing from a team of one to a duo was a massive upgrade for TimeKeeper. This highlighted processes which had to be developed that would scale for a team as well as having a more brainpower to help level up the product.

Going Forward (2023 - Present)

We’re just 5 months into 2023 and TimeKeeper has grown to a team of three with the addition of our Business Development Manager, Florence, in January. TimeKeeper is now a global product being used across five continents and many different types of businesses.

Every day there’s more to get done between serving customers, developing features, fixing bugs and working on internal processes.

Like the last 5 years, I expect there will be ups and downs on the road ahead. We will continue to do things the way we always have; slow and steady growth while maintaining focus on providing the best possible product for our customers needs.

TimeKeeper is 5 years old but feels like we are only getting started!

Ready to save your
business time and money?