Timing

Daniel Alm highlights the marketing techniques and distribution channels he's used to reliably generate $2000 a month from his time tracking app.

Who are you and what are you working on?

I'm Daniel Alm, and I'm a full-time indie developer. My current products are Timing and PocketCAS. Timing is an automatic time tracking app for Mac. It automatically tracks which apps you use, which documents you edit, and which websites you visit. That way, you can rectroactively figure out where the heck all your time went. So it's useful for productivity geeks and freelancers.

How'd you get started working on Timing?

After building initial versions of PocketCAS, I wanted to estimate an equivalent hourly rate based on my profits divided by the time spent. But for that, I needed to figure out how much time I had actually spent on PocketCAS! Using a "classic" time tracker with start/stop timers was out of the question for me — too much hassle for a simple nice-to-know" stat — so I ended up developing an entire application instead. (Speaking of hassle...)

I knew there were automatic time trackers for Windows (I had been using ProcrastiTracker), but there was nothing available for Mac that blew me away. Other than that, I didn't do much validation. I just figured that the normal way of time tracking sucks enough that there should be a better option.

I started developing the app in January of 2011, with a first version on the Mac App Store in July of that year. I started with the "helper" app that actually tracks the activities, then built and polished an interface that would actually display that data.

How were you able to fund yourself?

I was a student at the time, and the revenues from PocketCAS sustained my (still) modest lifestyle, which allowed me to work on Timing next to my studies.

How have you attracted users and grown revenue?

In the beginning, I just put the app on the Mac App Store, where it organically attracted a few users. I started sponsoring some blogs (e.g. shawnblanc.net) soon after. I also pitched a few bloggers and got a few reviews from there as well.

Promotions like AppyFridays and Two Dollar Tuesday also helped drive sales. All of these promotions were very "burst-y" and not sustained, so I didn't do much marketing for a long time after that, with revenues fairly constant around $1000 per month for several years.

At the end of 2015, I decided to quit my job of two years at Google and go full-time indie. That motivated me to do more marketing again. Specifically:

  1. Lots of more blog sponsorships
  2. Pitching more bloggers
  3. Posting on Quora and apple.stackexchange.com
  4. Improving the design of the sales website
  5. Keyword-optimizing the sales website slightly for SEO
  6. I'm also trying Facebook ads, which look promising (but it's too early to tell)

I'm also selling the app outside the Mac App Store now, which has helped, as it lets me be more creative with custom discount codes and join app bundles. At first, I used FastSpring for that, but later switched to Paddle. In exchange for switching, they offered to feature Timing in one of their promotional emails, which was a nice boost. I really recommend them! In case you are interested in using Paddle, ask me for an affiliate link so I get a small kickback ;-)

I've also steadily raised my prices, which seems to have helped boost revenue. Profit has increased to ~$2000/mo in recent months. At the moment, roughly 10% of people who download the trial end up buying the app.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

I would have spent effort on the app more continuously rather than have it sit in limbo for several years. The competition in the automatic time tracking space is much more fierce now, and I think I missed an opportunity there.

I recommend Start Small, Stay Small by Rob Walling — it is packed with a lot of information I wish I had known earlier. I found myself nodding a lot while reading it.

What have been your biggest advantages?

Joining the Mac App Store before sandboxing became mandatory has helped, because I got quite a bit of visibility from there. Also, my apps tend to be more complex than simple CRUD apps, which lowers competition (but over time there will be competitors anyway).

What are your goals for the future?

At the moment I'm hard at work on Timing 2, a complete rewrite of the app that should launch next year. That should make the app much more beautiful and approachable, so I have high hopes for it.

After that, maybe a web version? That would also make it easier to charge for a subscription rather than just a one-time fee.

What's your advice for aspiring indie hackers?

First, make sure to validate your idea. You really don't want to end up building something that nobody wants or is willing to pay for.

Then, try to really focus on the "essence" of that idea. In the beginning, you can leave out a ton of bells and whistles and still get a few customers, especially if what you are doing is really innovative. You can still build on that later, so don't over-engineer your product before you even have customers.

Where can readers learn more about you?

I have a simple blog at danielalm.de. I publish quite infrequently, so you can subscribe to my newsletter to never miss a post. I'm also active on Twitter and in the comments below. In general, I love to exchange ideas with other entrepreneurs, so feel free to reach out to me no matter the topic!

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