If you have a great idea but are unsure how to turn it into a full-time venture, we’ve got some valuable insights for you.
The EWOR Team had the pleasure of sitting down with Joshua Snyder, CTO of TimeNavi, a calendar and time-tracking app.
Read on to find out Joshua’s thoughts on launching a start-up and the concrete steps it takes to turn a bright idea into a successful venture.
From Idea to Full-Time Venture
Joshua studied maths at Cambridge and graduated in 2020, amid the Covid-19 pandemic. When asked how he got to start a business, he confessed he had applied to loads of jobs and got rejected from all. He smiled and said, “What better than to start your project or business when no one else will accept you?”
His wife Hania had started TimeNavi with her father two years back as a fun side project. Then the app started to gain a bit of traction. “People were interested,” said Joshua. So the team of three decided to try turning it into a full-time venture.
The TimeNavi app works alongside your calendar. It helps you calculate how much time you’re spending on different things. If you’re an entrepreneur or a freelancer, it lets you know how long you spend on individual projects.
We asked Joshua what made him realise this was the right idea to pursue. “It’s difficult to gain traction for apps,” he explained. The fact that TimeNavi was gaining attention in its very early stages was a good sign. “A good idea is to market your product to people early on, to get an idea of whether it’s worthwhile,” he added.
The team put TimeNavi on a marketplace where people could access it, to see if there was interest in it. From there, the feedback started rolling in. “That’s when we knew it was worth doing full time, not just something we found fun.”
The First Steps to Build a Business
We asked Joshua what the first steps were to turn TimeNavi into a full-time venture. He said he went from spending 4/5 hours a week on the project at university to gradually going full-time.
“The goal was to get something out there as soon as possible,” Joshua explained. The team went ahead and released an app with simple features. It has three smiley faces that smile or not based on how much time you scheduled in your calendar.
This is a good idea because you get visibility for your product and feedback from potential users. “Even if people came back and said the app was too simple, it was a chance to engage with them and ask: Okay, so what is useful for you; what are the problems you’re facing?” said Joshua. These insights are invaluable in the early stages of product development.
How did Joshua and the TimeNavi team know how to do that? At first, he confessed he had no idea how to start. However, he sought help from people who had been in that position before. “In the entrepreneurial community, everyone is keen to help because the odds are hard. It’s not easy to start your product, so people who have done it successfully are keen to give back.”
At university, he joined a club for people trying to start businesses. There were talks from entrepreneurs who had run businesses, and Joshua spoke to them about his idea. Some said it was great; others said they didn’t think the idea was that interesting and gave him the advice to refine it.
Hiring Advice to Scale Your Start-Up Successfully
Currently, TimeNavi is a team of four people. The start-up is in the Product/Market Fit stage: “We’re tailoring the product that we have to the market that we know there’s a demand from,” explained Joshua.
While the company is not at the scaling stage yet, it is considering hiring more people; Joshua shared some great insights on the topic.
“The key thing early on in your start-up is you’re not hiring someone who can do a specific job, you’re hiring someone who is a good cultural fit,” he said. “There can be some toxicity in start-ups about the subject of cultural fits,” Joshua warned. Many companies take that to mean someone who looks and is like the founder, which greatly reduces diversity.
What is important is your company’s vision. “If you’ve got someone behind that, that’s a much more important hire than someone good at the tech,” said Joshua. In an early stage start-up, you might hire someone for one job, but a few months later you might ask them to do something else. Thus, an all-rounder who shares the company’s goals and vision is a great hire.
When asked how to find the right people for a company, Joshua advised tapping into your network. “Hiring is a big decision to make,” he said. So asking people you know if they might know of someone who’s a good cultural fit is one way of reducing the risk of hiring a stranger. It’s hard to get insights from a single interview, so having someone you know’s a seal of approval is useful.
“Having a trial period is really beneficial for both the employee and the employer,” Joshua added. A probation period means you can check in with your new hire and see how they’re getting on, whether they feel it’s a good fit and whether they feel empowered. It’s also a good time for you to see where the employee’s been adding the most value to the business and guide them in that direction.
Advice For Anyone Looking to Turn an Idea Into a Full-Time Venture
We asked Joshua for his advice to anyone with a project idea who might want to turn it into a full-time venture. He was quick to reply with great insights.
“Don’t fuss about the idea, just dig in and get started.” When he was a kid, Joshua reminisced about when he played with LEGO, he didn’t think for ages to plan what to build. He just started making something and would show it to his parents. School takes that out of you, he said; when you’re an adult, you have the feeling you need to build the perfect thing all the time, or else you fail. “In start-ups, the idea doesn’t matter that much – you try to build something and if it sucks, you change and pivot. That happens in any start-up.”
“Also, identify a niche”. Many people start with a big Elon Musk-type revolutionary idea, but that’s not often how it works, Joshua explains. “The humble nature of start-ups is that you’re small and make a difference to a small number of people.”
Find your motivation to build your business. For Joshua, it’s hearing that people love using TimeNavi. “It’s so motivating to have something you’ve built that people are benefiting from using,” he said with a smile. “The big motivation isn’t financial, it’s in building something that makes a difference to people’s day.”