What does it take to go from 9-5er to full-time entrepreneur? Are there specific traits that all successful entrepreneurs share that we can learn from?
One of the best ways to forge your own path is to learn from those who have gone before you. As Isaac Newton said:
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
But all too often we read the stories of the Jobs, Musks, and Bezos of the world and think ‘sure, worked for you. But what about me?’ It can be hard to empathize with our idols.
But what if you’d met Jobs in the garage?
In this new series from Cloud Devs, we’ll meet founders on the rise and find out how they defied the odds and built, launched, positioned, and grew their own successful startups.
Meet Tim Chaves, Founder of ZipBooks
ZipBooks’ founder Tim Chaves’ entrepreneurial journey started early on.
Think the typical neighborhood lemonade stand as a kid followed by a ‘yard care’ business to make pocket money during the summer. But this isn’t an ‘I knew what I wanted since I was a kid’ story.
As a ‘responsible and studious student’, Tim puts his dreams on the shelf and started down the standard college path.
“I knew I’d want to run my own business someday, but thought I’d probably take the leap after already having some experience and a marketable skill set under my belt.”
That day would never come. While studying for the LSAT, a friend approached Tim about starting an iPhone cover company. (This was just as the first iPhone was being released). He said ‘why not’, thinking it would be a fun project for a few months.
By 2012, the company had been bought and Tim started his own small design and development agency. It was there that the first sparks of what would become ZipBooks first appeared.
“Because we were growing I had to pay my staff every two weeks. Payroll was a set deadline and I always had to make it. But at the same time we were taking on bigger and bigger projects and not getting paid for 30/60/90 days—whatever terms our customer needed. So even though we were profitable on paper, we were constantly running into these cashflow issues.”
Eventually, Tim decided to move onto something new. And in 2013, he finally gave school another shot, enrolling in Harvard’s MBA program.
But the idea of ZipBooks stayed with him.
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How did you validate your idea when you first thought of ZipBooks?
In my final year at Harvard I started thinking, ‘What if we could take this concept of 30/60/90-day terms and turn it on its head a bit and say when a freelancer or agency wants to get paid, that’s when they can get paid?’
I started working on ZipBooks the same day I had this idea. Because I knew it would have made a big difference for me running my previous small businesses.
I also spoke about it to several other entrepreneurs I knew, getting really positive feedback. After, I built the initial web-only version in a couple of months and took it straight to market (and to investors) to get real-world feedback.
We’re big fans of this MVP approach to validation at Cloud Devs. What would you say is more important: launching fast and iterating or perfecting your product?
It depends on where you’re at, but if you’re at the idea stage, launching fast is way more important than getting to perfection.
Humans tend to project their thoughts and feelings onto others; we often believe that what we think is what everybody else thinks.
Getting your product in front of people will disprove that really quickly.
We simply don’t know if our idea has any real merit until we get it in front of potential customers. And working on something too long before you do can be a huge waste of time and money.
You did this by outsourcing development. But lots of entrepreneurs are concerned about working with a freelance developer. Any advice for people on the fence?
The hesitation is valid because there are so many bad experiences people hear about.
This may sound like an ad, but Cloud Devs alleviated a lot of that for us because I knew there was a strong screening process. Not just anybody was on the other side of the marketplace from me.
Knowing I was picking from a pool of filtered talent really helped me take the leap.
I knew I’d do a good job with the web app itself. But I didn’t have experience designing and developing on mobile.
I was also wearing a lot of hats having just raised money and trying to hire an initial team, so getting the web site off my plate was super important in terms of freeing me up to keep plowing on everything else I had to do.
The online accounting software space is already super crowded, how did you position your product as something new and exciting?
We asked ourselves what small businesses really want out of their financial data, and the fact is, they want to see their business metrics climbing up and to the right.
The software itself doesn’t matter as much as the results it tells you about.
So we consciously prioritize features that we think will actually make a difference for people’s business, like our Instant Payments feature that gets small businesses paid immediately for invoices due in the future.
What have been the biggest contributors to your growth since launching?
Having a great product, especially in small business software, is absolutely essential.
If your product is great, people will gravitate to it.
Small business owners are very savvy about the products they use because their livelihood is on the line.
Our customers say good things about us online every day, and that’s irreplaceable for us—word of mouth has become one of our primary drivers of growth.
Lastly, if you could provide one piece of advice for new or aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
It’s so important to get the right team in place! That can be employees, partners, or contractors, investors—just people who are on your side.
Nobody can do it on their own, and if you do this one thing right, then it’s going to be exponentially more difficult to fail.
The first step is knowing what you’re good at and what you’re bad at, then filling all those gaps with (really) amazing people who are extremely good in the places you fall short.