Dave Nevogt is a 38 years old entrepreneur, who built Hubstaff, a time tracking software that is now making $316K/month. He, in partnership with a co-founder, and with a few developers, build the website in 10 months, and SEO, word of mouth and content were their three marketing strategies. However, during the process they have committed lots of mistakes. Learn from them!
February 21, 2019
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My name is Dave Nevogt, I am 38 years old and I live in Indianapolis, Indiana.
I have built a number of different businesses but my most recent venture is Hubstaff, a software that helps organizations track time.
Hubstaff is a time tracking software that helps people from all industries reduce waste and increase productivity within their organization. It provides a clear picture of what exactly is going on within your team, helping you understand what everyone is doing and providing the tools to keep everyone on track
I am the CEO of Hubstaff. I spend most of my time on high-level planning with my team, supporting the team in getting things done, building corporate culture and recruiting new team members.
We are a SaaS, customers are billed on a monthly basis based on the number of team members in their organization. We offer a Solo Lite package for single users, a Basic package with all the base features and a Premium package with all the basic features plus some.
I grew up always thinking that the best route was the one with no risk (completely the opposite of what I believe now) so after graduating college with a degree in finance I accepted a corporate finance job in Chicago thinking this was just the next move to make. This is where the road to Hubstaff begins. After 18 months of being cramped in a small cubicle and commuting two hours to and from work every day, I realized this was not the path for me. I quit my job and built my first online business where I sold instructional golf material.
I loved what I was doing and was finding great success in it, so much so that I thought it would be a good idea to scale the business and rent an office - it seemed like the next logical step. I realized shortly after being back in an office that this was in fact not the right move for me and all those feelings I felt in a corporate office came rushing back. The freedom I once enjoyed from my online business was dwindling as the responsibilities of managing an office and employees became more prevalent. Eventually, the stress and lack of freedom were too much and I decided to sell the business in 2009, it was a good run but I was ready to move on to something new.
After I sold the golf business I was given the opportunity to buy into an SEO company. I was excited about this new opportunity since I’ve always had an interest in software but never had the experience. One of the things that really attracted me to this opportunity was that it was remote, my office could be anywhere I wanted it to be. I learned a lot during this time but one of the most important things - and ultimately the thing that lead me to where I am today, was how to manage a remote team. I learned that a good project management software was key to running a productive and successful team.
I left the SEO business after a few years and decided I was ready to create something of my own, it was at this time I truly realized the benefits of a good time tracking software. I saw how important this kind of software was to me and believed that others most likely have this same need and that’s how Hubstaff was born.
This question goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. Before Hubstaff I started a few online businesses (e-commerce and software) and ran them for about 9 years before starting Hubstaff. The other businesses were successful but Hubstaff has become the largest venture to date.
My first online business was a golf business where I created and sold training material such as DVDs and books. At first, I was the only person in this specific niche but eventually, the competition began to arise. My brand was not strong enough to keep competition out and although competition means you have a good idea, my brand wasn’t at the level where it could maintain the monopoly. On top of growing competition, the advertising market was also changing at a rapid pace and prices for ad space was continuing to rise. As difficult as it can be to see a business fail, this particular experience taught me so much and I was able to take what I learned, especially about myself, and carry that with me in future business decisions.
There wasn’t a specific life event that lead me to start Hubstaff, in fact, it was quite the opposite. It was a series of events, trial, and error if you will, that lead me to where I am today.
The idea of Hubstaff was born out of my own personal pain points from managing a remote team. I came to realize that a good project management software was crucial to a successful remote business and when I was still with the SEO company we tried out several but never found anything that had all the features we were looking for. I started thinking up ways of how a SaaS could help manage remote teams, I decided to focus on time tracking with management aspects. I wanted the software to integrate with different project management and payroll systems so that eventually it would become the hub for your remote staff - and that’s how the name Hubstaff came to be.
The original idea of Hubstaff was to provide managers with the ability to understand what their team is working on without the constant need for follow up. Over time we’ve continued to work on growing our software and making it the best it can possibly be. We’ve also listened to what our customers have to say since their feedback is the most important. Now, Hubstaff has grown into a general time tracking application that helps companies of all shapes and sizes streamline their business processes.
I knew that I wasn’t the only person trying to figure out the best and most efficient way to manage their remote team. I felt there was a lot of value that Hubstaff could provide to other business owners that were building remote teams and I understood their problems deeply. I knew that this was a product that they would get a lot of value from on a daily basis.
My co-founder, Jared Brown and I started building Hubstaff in 2013. We first developed the applications and made them completely free. We wanted to get a real sense of what our customers had to say and measure the demand for our SaaS. Testing our concept was key to launching a successful startup, we needed to put the time and effort into the concept in order to shape the company’s direction down the road. Once we gathered enough feedback we decided it was time to launch our paid platform.
The entire process took about 10 months.
In the very beginning, we had two developers and myself doing the marketing.
The concept was based entirely on the past experiences of myself and my co-founder. We took the knowledge gained previously and put it into action for the development of Hubstaff.
The initial product looked really bad, it was very small and only performed a few actions - basic time tracking and screenshots of the team members. We’ve come a long way since then.
The biggest doubt we had when starting was getting the desktop application to run without any bugs. Like any software development, there is a level of trial and error but we wanted to roll out a product that was free of any major glitches.
The biggest obstacle we encountered was getting the bugs ironed out among all the operating systems - this was no easy task.
Building Hubstaff was the greatest challenge of my professional career but it was also the most exciting. It was so rewarding to see the increase in demand and people actually using the product. That being said, there was a ton of testing that was required and that was not a ton of fun.
In the beginning, we offered a generous free plan but we realized that this business model didn’t make sense for a SaaS company like ourselves. We learned that free plans cost more money than they make and that if people value your product, they’re likely willing to pay for it. We looked in the marketplace to get a better understanding of what others were selling for and we asked our users what they valued the product at. As we continue to improve Hubstaff we re-evaluate our pricing accordingly because we feel it is important to price your software according to the overall value it offers your customers.
We didn’t launch or publicize our product other than releasing to the database of users that we had built up over time.
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Since launching Hubstaff five years ago, we’ve been working hard to make our product the best it can possibly be. We’ve built a skilled and knowledgeable customer support team that listens to customer feedback which gives us the opportunity to create a product that meets our customer’s needs. Hiring the right people for our team has also been key when it comes to growing our company, we take time to hire people that are extremely knowledgeable in their area of expertise and once we hire them on there is a detailed onboarding process they must go through. Having a team that knows what they are doing is key to a successful business and we credit our strong team for the growth Hubstaff has seen.
Branding has also been very important when it comes to growing our company, it has helped guide us in our decision-making process and we continue to refine it as we grow.
SEO, word of mouth and content were the top three tactics that worked for us.
Content and SEO go hand-in-hand and we knew early on that a blog would be beneficial to getting our name out there. We produced regular content and made sure it was keyword based. We wrote about topics like time tracking, outsourcing, and screenshots which helped lead customers to our website.
Word of mouth was also beneficial when it came to obtaining new clients. People that were led to us through the blog were telling others about us which really helped us grow.
We knew that hiring employees who were specialists in these areas was key when it came to pursuing growth. We never rushed in to hiring someone but rather took the time to find the right person for the job. It was important to us (and still is) that we find people who are experts in a specific area.
One tactic that didn’t work for us is paid advertising, it never really worked and I don’t know why - I wish I did.
We started seeing traction from our free program almost immediately which felt awesome. Seeing such positive feedback so early on was the motivation behind sticking with the work of building.
Word of mouth has been particularly advantageous for us. The biggest thing is that people love the product and appreciate the way we do business, if they’re happy with that they’ll spread the word.
One of the biggest challenges we faced while building and growing Hubstaff was the technology, it’s very complex. We have one of the strongest platforms for time tracking in existence which is a great feeling and we’ve built it with a relatively small team but it was a very challenging software to build.
The biggest obstacle I’ve faced as an entrepreneur is figuring out where to place my resources, it’s kind of like a game of chess. I really enjoy the challenges of entrepreneurship but I’ve realized over time that it takes a lot of guts to go through with when you have a family and employees that are counting on you.
The biggest challenge in my personal life has been creating a work/life balance. It’s easy to get caught up in work, especially when your office is at home. I’ve learned that sometimes I have to disconnect and unplug. My goal has been to create a team that is equipped to answer questions and solve problems for themselves so that I can achieve a work/life balance that in the end will make me a better entrepreneur because of it.
My personal disadvantage is that I refuse to spend all my time working. I hate to say it because it’s not necessarily a bad thing but it can be a disadvantage when comparing yourself to other people.
Being a remote company has many advantages but there are also a few disadvantages. It would be nice to have the ability to get the team together in person, not only would it make collaboration easier but it would also help build a sense of community and culture. These are things that take extra time and effort when working remotely.
I can’t really answer this question because I’m not quite sure where we fit into the market yet - still figuring it out five years later.
There are no major disadvantages that stand out other than the fact that “time” is not in our name which would help when it comes to SEO.
The biggest mistake we made was offering a free plan. In the beginning, we thought this would bring in quick and constant revenue but in the end, we realized there was no benefit to this method. Free plans take up resources and don’t necessarily attract future customers but rather people who are merely interested in a free product. If we were to do it all over again, we never would have offered the free plan.
Spending time and money on developing the wrong features is a huge mistake. I’ve since learned to make sure that we are spending time on features that our customers are going to use every day.
Customer feedback is the most important thing and simple surveys can provide you with so much information. Looking back, we would have done a survey or relied on direct feedback before moving forward on a new feature.
If I could talk to my former self before Hubstaff, I would tell myself to only develop features that people need. I would also give myself a heads up that building a desktop software is very hard.
I wish we spent more time on branding and hiring. Looking back, if we would have given these things a little extra time we may have avoided some setbacks in the beginning.
I wish we spent less time testing in the beginning.
As I’ve mentioned before, customer feedback has always been number one. Hearing directly from the people who use our software on a daily basis has been extremely helpful when it comes to building a software that others will want to use.
I love these 3 books:
You should visit Hubstaff website here. And if you are an entrepreneur, you will probably find our blog really interesting, in which we share everything we have learned growing Hubstaff. Furthermore, you can check our metrics here.
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