Strategies for finding potential customers for a tiny app


Background : I used to work for a software consulting firm. For obvious reasons, one thing that was critical to both our company and our customers was keeping track of the time spent on specific tasks. The trouble was it was a huge pain to enter them into our project management system. People therefore resorted to writing things down on paper, and entering their hours at a later point. As you can imagine that lead to other problems (people losing their sheets in the middle of the day, forgetting to write things down, forgetting to enter time sheets, etc.). We had the idea that if keeping track of time were easier, we would do it more and that would alleviate most of the pain.

It turned out to be an interesting side-project, so I started hacking on a web application that would make time tracking dead simple and easy. I'm close to a viable version 1 (something that would have solved my initial problems) that has almost no features - I've made it a point to invest as little as possible so far.

Problem : While in its current form, it is borderline silly, I'm curious whether this app would be useful to others as well. I want to take a conservative route of:

  1. Figuring out who my customers might
    be, reaching out to them, getting them to use the app, and
  2. Use this information to turn my side-project into a business
    if the opportunity is there.

I'd like to get advice on how to do number 1.

If you're curious, the current version is deployed here. It's free, but you will need a Google account to log in. Also, please bear with the design - like I said, I have not invested anything I did not have to.

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asked Nov 19 '09 at 13:50
111 points
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3 Answers


I'm skeptical about the viability of the idea. However, there's probably something unique about your app that I don't get yet. Thus, here's a quick howto to answer your question:

  • Find the substitutes :

    • Close competitors (eg. other Web-based time tracking applications).
    • Distant competitors (eg. pen and paper).
  • Find the complements :

    • Close complements (eg. productivity apps or systems like Get Things Done).
    • Distant complements (eg. invoice or accountant services).
With this information, you can do a search for people (or groups of people) who already use these. A simple way is by searching for web sites who already link to the web sites of the substitutes or complements. You can also access their size by using tools such as or something similar. This is time-intensive so don't be surprised if it takes a month or two.

This will give you an idea about your potential market segments (or target audiences). For example, you're likely to find "Freelance Web Designers" as a potential segment. But there are probably more out there. Theoretically, you may want to figure out what segments are profitable by estimating their size, willingness-to-pay, etc. Often, this is nearly impossible. Use your intuition if you can't find hard numbers.

With a set of market segments, you need to to check whether they are accessible and actionable. Here, this means finding out whether there's are places (on the web or in real life), your market segment frequents, so you can reach out for them. Usually, there are media of some sorts (magazines, journals, blogs, social media, etc.). If you checked, who links to your substitutes and complements, you should have a rather large list, already. But you can also use a behavioral approach by searching for keywords they may use. Another way is looking for existing organizations; many businesses (ie. segments) are organized in some sort of organization. Yet another way is collaborating with complement suppliers.

At this stage, you should know who to reach and how.

To get them to use the app, you need to make an compelling offer. An offer is compelling if something in the deal is unique and/or relevant to the market segment. This may be a really low price, a guarantee, special functionality, etc. Make sure your visitors get this in a few seconds when visiting your main sales channel (probably your web page) and how they profit (ie. their benefit).

If you find your segment doesn't get it (ie. your conversion rate is too low), learn what went wrong and try to change that. This may be the segment you've chosen or any variable in your marketing policy (ie. your product, your price, your promotion, or your place of selling the product).

Hope this helps.

answered Nov 19 '09 at 21:21
Claus Schwarm
1,599 points
  • Thank you for taking the time to provide advice. It's very helpful. I should point out I'm also skeptical. It's more of a "What if" rather than "This is it". Basically I built this thing and I want people to use it. Once that happens I want to try to profit. Thank you once again, I wish I could vote you up, but my rep is still rather appalling. – Lyudmil 14 years ago
  • Lyudmil, no problem. I'm glad you've found it useful. Note that even if your app turns out to be no big success, the experience alone may be worth your time. – Claus Schwarm 14 years ago


The idea behind making time-entry as simple as possible is a good idea, but it is what is done with the time entry data that is key. Think it through. Why do people have to enter time? How can I get these data into:

  • an invoice to a client
  • an accounting or payroll system
  • a report for a supervisor

Time entry is easy, its all the meta data we have to attach to the time: client, matter/project, bill period, Activity Type/ Grouping (Oh, and we like a drop-down list.), supervisor review/approval, etc.

Many applications make it easy to export/query their data, but lack importing data (Especially when they provide time entry and see no reason why you wouldn't do it directly inside their application.).

Your users may be happy just to get it into a spreadsheet (Attract as many of those as you can!).

answered Feb 19 '10 at 03:00
Jeff O
6,169 points


Be careful. There are a lot of time tracking apps available. And there are some really good Web 2.0 ones already up there with good followings. That is your competition.

See for example: "Five Best Time-Tracking Applications "

Normally, you need an App that is in a general category (time tracking is a good one), but it needs to have at least one special thing that it does that it's competition doesn't do, for it to have any chance of succeeding. That one thing must be something that people will benefit from (save time, money, convenience, etc).

So the question back to answer your question is: What is the special benefit that your program provides that the others don't?

That benefit is what you have to promote. That is what you have to advertise.

answered Nov 19 '09 at 14:13
1,471 points
  • That's a great point. I had a cursory look at that list (and others) before I started developing the app. I really do think I offer something better - remember I wanted to solve this problem for **me**. Here was the criteria I had for the solution I was going to go with: 1) Web based. If you need to download and install a tool, it's not worth it. I wanted to be able to track my time from anywhere, using my phone, my iPod touch, or a computer. 2) I wanted to be able to arrive to work late, sit down, and start tracking in about 30 seconds. I thought nothing offered that. That's the goal. – Lyudmil 14 years ago
  • Good. Then figure out how to package that into a USP (Unique Selling Proposition) and then get Bob Walsh's book "MicroISV - From Vision to Reality" and read Chapter 3: "Presenting the Product". – Lkessler 14 years ago

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