Jared Brown is an entrepreneur, angel investor and programmer. He launched one of the first iPhone camera apps, which has been downloaded over 2.5 million times. Techcrunch and CNN have interviewed him. He’s written for Inc. and BusinessCollective. Most recently he started a SaaS time tracking business named Hubstaff making 7 figures.
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- Hubstaff – Jared’s SaaS company
- Techcrunch –a website where you can find latest news on technology
- Skype – what Jared’s team was using prior to slack
- Slack – what Jared’s team is using now
- LinkedIn & AngelList –websites where you can search for people
- Google docs – Jared’s Small Business Resource
- Getting Real by 37Signals – Jared’s Best Business Book
3 Key Points:
- Not everybody has been a hustler their whole lives –entrepreneurs go through seasons of development.
- Embrace your journey, don’t fight it.
- Evaluate ideas before getting attached to them—never be afraid to trash anything.
- ZipRecruiter: If you’re ready to start hiring, then ZipRecruiter is where you can find your perfect candidate! Try ZipRecruiter for free today at ziprecruiter.com/fire!
Time Stamped Show Notes
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [00:48] – John introduces Jared
- [01:22] – Jared’s personal life
- Working at a restaurant, scooping ice cream
- Jared’s parents were worried about him
- [03:29] – How Hubstaff generates revenue today
- Monthly & annual subscriptions
- [04:15] – Staff of 20 are mostly contractors
- [04:38] – From Skype to Slack
- Convenience of creating channels
- [05:27] – Worst Entrepreneur Moment –One of our app updates got rejected and we were shut down.
- [08:43] – Getting Techcrunch involved re: app shut down
- [09:20] – Jared’s Techcrunch interview yielded sales to his consulting business
- [11:22] – Entrepreneur AH-HA Moment – I got an email from a guy over on LinkedIn who became my an instant business partner.
- [15:44] – Researching people on LinkedIn and AngelList
- [16:01] – Biggest weakness –going too deep
- [16:23] – Biggest strength –attracting top talent and being able to work with different personality types
- [16:40] – What has Jared most fired up today –momentum at Hubstaff
- [18:07] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? –I never had a business with real traction
- What is the best advice you have ever received? – Evaluate your ideas first before getting attached to them
- What is a personal habit that contributes to your success? – I clear out my inbox by 9am and focus on something else, then do it again before going to bed
- Can you share an internet resource like Evernote to Fire Nation? – Google docs
- If you can recommend a book for our listeners what would it be? – Getting Real by 37Signals
- Imagine you awoke in a brand new world, identical to Earth, but you knew no one. You still have all your experience and knowledge. All you have is $500 and a laptop. What would you do in the next 7 days? The first thing I’d do –start networking.
- [21:44] – Twitter @JaredBrown
- [21:57] – Free 14 day trial – Hubstaff
- [22:15] – What Hubstaff is
- [22:47] – Find something that you love to do every day and make that your career
Jared Brown: Let's do it.
Interviewer: Yes. Jared is an entrepreneur, angel investor and programmer. He launched one of the first IPhone camera apps, which has been downloaded over 2.5 million times. TechCrunch and CNN have interviewed him. He's written for Inc. and Business Collective. Most recently he started a SaaS time tracking business named Hubstaff, which is making seven figs. Jared, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro and give us little glimpse in your personal life.
Jared Brown: Yeah, so right now if anybody asks me if I was a workaholic I would absolutely but it definitely hasn't always been this way. So I know my parents were probably pretty worried in the very beginning when I was in high school and got my first job. I was working at a restaurant scooping ice cream and pretty much worked my way into getting fired from that job – showing up late, giving way too much ice cream to everybody, just not following the rules at all. So they were worried about where I was going to go with things.
The one thing that stayed true was my love for computers. So the whole time I have always been super passionate about computers. I was saving up all my money to buy my first computer in high school. I spend thousands of dollars on software instead of buying a car and was able to turn that into a successful career by working hard at doing programming.
Interviewer: I want to be clear about a couple of things, Fire Nation. Not everybody has been a hustler their whole lives at everything they do. Jared gets fired from scooping ice cream. When I was growing up we had a neighbor to my left. We had a neighbor to my right. I used to mow the lawn of my neighbor to the right. I'd get $20.00 – loved it. My neighbor to the left said, "John, can you mow my lawn for $20.00?" I said, "No, because I only need $20.00 a week to do what I want to do, to take my girlfriend out to a movie. I'm done." No mas. I'm not going to work harder.
That was just me. I would always do what I needed to do to get by, and Jared, you didn't find that thing that you were nose to the grindstone with until you got into computers and programming. Fire Nation, we go through seasons as entrepreneurs where we bust our little hootie booties and then we can move forward into a little season of relaxing and go forth and so forth. You know, all Gary Vaynerchuk's going nose to the pedal every single day of the week. We can go through these seasons so, Jared, now that you are nose to the grindstone, let's talk about revenue. How do you in today's world generate revenue in your business?
Jared Brown: My business is Hubstaff and we're a SaaS-based tool for tracking time. It's got proof of work in there. You can do payroll. Our revenue is all generated from subscriptions so monthly or annual subscriptions and we've finally hit seven figures with it, which we're very excited about and basically all of that is coming through organic search and content marketing, so we're in a lucky position where we don't have to spend a ton on advertising. People are searching this sort of solution out and they're finding us and giving us a try.
Interviewer: Well, right now you're doing about the best content marketing you can do, brother.
Jared Brown: Yeah, absolutely.
Interviewer: What's the size of your staff?
Jared Brown: We're up to about 20 people. They're all basically contractors and we're living the remote lifestyle so all of us are working from home all over the world. The workforce keeps ebbing and flowing. It changes every few weeks but we're around 20 people right now.
Interviewer: What do you guys use as a communication system with the team?
Jared Brown: We used to be all about Skype and we've switched over the Slack and we're loving it.
Interviewer: That is such a common trait, Fire Nation. So many people have used stuff like Skype or other tools like that and when Slack became available and big, that transition just made sense. Jared, why do YOU specifically like Slack? What makes it make more sense for your team?
Jared Brown: I think it's easier to not let stuff slip through the cracks. You can create a lot of channels very easily in it where in Skype it just felt like you had too many if you went over 5 or 10. It has an unread messages feature in it so you can easily see when there's something in a channel you haven't read, almost like email.
Interviewer: So, Jared, let's kind of go back in time now. You know, I feel like we know a little bit about what you're doing now. We're going to obviously dive more into that in a little bit but take us to what you consider your worst entrepreneurial moment to date. Jared, I really want you to tell us that story in first person. Take us to that moment and tell us that story.
Jared Brown: I was very excited about the IOS App Store launching back in 2008 and my now wife and I were on a vacation and we're talking about hey we should do an app. You know, this was back when there were really only hundreds, maybe a few thousand apps in that store. We were talking about what should we do? We wanted to be a part of this. This seems like history in the making right here – mobile apps. We look around and everybody is taking photos. In 2008, you still had a lot of people that didn't have smartphones, just good cameras.
They're using point and click type (point and shoot cameras everywhere) so we look at that and say, hey, we need to create an app that makes it easier to take photos on your IPhone. At the time you could only tap on the icon on screen, which was a little bit awkward for us. We always felt coming from – we used DSLRs a lot. We always liked being able to hold it, have the shutter button, so my wife goes why don't we make it so you can use the volume up button on the IPhone as the shutter button. I thought that sounded great – a really simple thing to go make.
I started looking into it when we got back from vacation and it turns out they had no way for you to easily do this in IOS at the time. So we didn't let that stop us. We thought about what other features could we put into this app. What are some other things that we could definitely do while we continue to figure out how to do this really complex shutter button approach. So we contracted one of my friends who is a really great developer and got him involved. Within just a month of development we launched our first version is the App Store and basically all it did is allow you to tap anywhere on the screen as the shutter button.
So instead of just the little icon at the bottom to just tap anywhere, really simple feature and it almost immediately within the first three weeks started gaining some traction and started getting a lot of downloads so we knew we were onto something. We were able to just have more little features like that, like a rule of thirds feature, anything we could think of – little filters and stuff. It started to take off more and more. We had a pay-for version and then we had a free version. Most of the downloads were, of course, with the free version. But the problem here was that we were doing some stuff that Apple didn't really sanction in their SDK. We were using some of the gray areas of their API and so were all of the other photo apps at the time. I mean, you had to be able to create these photo apps back then. There were about 20 of them in the store at the time. Well, we got rejected with one of our updates when going through the Apple review process.
They said you're not going to be able to get this update through because of the fact that you're using these unlicensed, these unsanctioned API calls, in there. We were basically just shut down at that point. We were making a little bit of money off of it - enough to pay the mortgage every month and just having a lot of fun with it so it really caught us by surprise that they were going to shut us down like this. I tried thinking what is something good that could come of this? Maybe I could get somebody like TechCrunch interested in this.
Maybe they'll write about it. So it's Sunday night. I fired off an email to TechCrunch just to their main email address just telling them what’s going on here and that if we get shut down like this, the other 20 camera apps could get shut down like this and this is going to affect possibly millions of people who are using these camera apps. I didn't think much of it. It was just a shot in the dark. I wake up Monday morning and I've got a response from TechCrunch.
Jared Brown: They are saying how soon can we interview you about this and this was when it was really hot to talk about the App Store rejections. So they were all over it. I got featured on TechCrunch and got my interview on there. There was this great moment and I had a consulting business at the time advertising that I do IOS development. So out of the woodwork came all these people emailing me asking if I could give them quotes for their projects, can I work on their projects for them, and I thought hey, this is going to be great.
We're going to get tons of work out of this. I'll bring in some subcontractors. I was really excited about it and I guess I was too naïve to realize that I needed to vet these people a lot more, vet the projects a lot more so I started putting in a lot of time into doing the quotes and taking on the projects, getting some initial down payment and then doing a whole bunch of work with subcontractors. So I'm really on the hook for how much I'm paying all these subcontractors knowing that when I hit that next milestone I'll get the payday, I'll pay the subcontractors what I owe them. I'm going to have a nice tidy profit left over and I'm going to be rolling in the money. Nothing could be further from the truth. Basically all of those projects – there were about two or three big ones that I just got left holding the bag on.
I had to pay my subcontractors and just really took a loss, like into the tens of thousands on that. That was my biggest worst moment.
Interviewer: Biggest, worst moment, Fire Nation, but the reality is this. Even in these worst moments and this is why we dive into these first and foremost because here we have Jared who is running a great SAS business, seven figures right now. He's had his tough times. He's had those gut-wrenching emails of oh, you're shut off, like you're done and he was like what do I do next? He said hey, why don't I go to TechCrunch and that was working and then that moved to the next thing and then, you know, we have these starts and these stops as entrepreneurs and it's just part of the journey.
So, Fire Nation, just do this. Embrace the journey. Know there is going to be ups. Know there is going to be downs. Know that it's never as good as you think it is but it's also never as bad as you think it is. It's always somewhere a little bit in the middle. Just keep that close to your heart. Now, Jared, let's shift to another story. This one being an aha moment, an epiphany that you've had at some point in your journey and you've had a lot of aha moments, brother, but take us to one of your greatest ideas and walk us through how you turned that into success.
Jared Brown: It's not so much an idea. It's more of I get pitched a lot as a developer. A lot of people will come to me and say hey, I know you build apps. I've got a great idea. I have a million dollar concept. Let me tell you about it and see if you are interested and they're all expecting you to be interested. They want you to sign right on, you know, go – I don't even need money. I'll just take some equity in it. They get pretty excited. So I get this email out of nowhere from this guy named Dave Nevogt.
He found me on LinkedIn. He said the same sort of thing. I've got this great concept. I saw you on LinkedIn and you look like a good developer. Let me talk to you about it. So I set up a call. Usually what I do going into these calls, I'm just thinking I'm going to listen to what the guy has to say and then I'll try to recommend one of my other friends who might need some dev work right now and tell him to get in touch with that person.
Interviewer: Question – do you sign NDAs before these talks?
Jared Brown: No, I don't so if people are requiring that then I usually don't go forward with the call just because there's so many of them that it just wouldn't even be useful for me to spend the time to do that.
Interviewer: Good to know.
Jared Brown: I get on the call with Dave and he starts off right in the beginning just clearly explaining what the problem is, how he is trying to solve it, what the solution is going to be in terms of the software application. He talks about this trend of people working remotely and how that's a growing trend. Then he really surprised me by talking about a prototype. He's actually, at this point that he's talking to me, already built a prototype. He basically went out and found somebody else that had similar software, got them to white label it for him, so he paid them some money to do that and he did that so he could go out and start testing it.
He had a website. He had a way for you to swipe your credit card and actually purchase it. He had Google Analytic set up. He had done some marketing through AdWords, so he knew what the cost per click was going to be on the ads. He had all these metrics he's showing me and the whole time he is using the software himself. He's using it for his current team that he had at the time for his business. I loved the fact that he was eating his own dogfood is what they usually call that.
So he then really wrapped it up well by saying that he knew going into this it was going to be a software play, a real technology play and he needed a good CTO. He needed to have good technology baked right into the company and he just offered a 50/50 split.
Interviewer: I love that.
Jared Brown: Yeah, no negotiation – just I want you to be as vested in it as I will be. We are going to be working hard on this for many years. Let's just go 50/50. Then also the other thing that I usually look for is that you can start with a single feature so the app doesn't have to have 20 things that it does well before you can start selling it. It just needed to do one thing and that was track time with screen shots. That's the proof of work part of that and we can build up around that for years to come. So I was thinking in the beginning I'm going to recommend him to somebody and by the end of the call I was like yeah, I'll recommend you to somebody. It's me! I'll work with you on this.
Interviewer: I'll take 50 percent of this what is now already a seven figure business and the sky is the limit. Let's be honest.
Jared Brown: Yeah, absolutely. We think so. So I think the aha moment for me was listening to somebody come up with a concept because for too long I had banged my head against the wall trying to figure out what I could develop as a product. You know, being a developer I've got the toolset but it doesn't mean I have the great concept of what to go and build. So I would try and I have tried like three or four different products in the past and none of them would catch. None of them would get any traction.
So getting Dave to come to me – he's got a good concept. He had a good approach that I really liked to it and then having that partner in the business that's going to bring the different viewpoint, the non-developer viewpoint to the business, I think has been really key. So that's been the aha moment.
Interviewer: Fire Nation is listening right now. If they have an idea, potentially even a prototype that they want to work through but they know they need to find that developer, where do you recommend that they go? Again, this is just to the masses of the Fire Nation. Where would you recommend to start that search?
Jared Brown: I think LinkedIn is a really great place to go. It's got pretty much everybody on it. If you're willing to put the time in to do research on LinkedIn, you can find just about anyone. An Angel List if you want to post a job and see who responds. I think Angel List is working really well lately.
Interviewer: Jared, what's your biggest weakness as an entrepreneur?
Jared Brown: My biggest weakness is going too deep into one subject. I tend to just deep dive on something to the detriment of getting other things done and oftentimes that whatever the topic is or the feature, the discussion, it's just not going to be that – there's a real diminishing point of value and I go beyond that.
Interviewer: What's your biggest strength?
Jared Brown: My biggest strength is really attracting top talent and being able to work with just about any personality type. I've worked with a lot of very different people in my career and can get along with them and help motivate them to drive great results.
Interviewer: What is the one thing that you are most fired up about today?
Jared Brown: The latest thing for me is our momentum at Hubstaff. It just blows my mind to see how far we've come from the early days four years ago and how much revenue we're adding month over month right now is just crazy to me.
Interviewer: So, Fire Nation, speaking about momentum we've got some serious momentum heading into the Lightning Round but we're going to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors. Jared, are you prepared for the Lightning Rounds?
Jared Brown: Bring it on!
Interviewer: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Jared Brown: I always felt like an entrepreneur at heart but I never had that business that really had real customers or users that got any traction so the thing to me is just knowing what to build and knowing how to build it, what to build, and how to reach your customers. So I always had the how to build and not the other two parts.
Interviewer: What's the best advice you've ever received?
Jared Brown: Evaluate your ideas first before getting too attached to them. Take a moment to maybe come up with a list. Figure out a few concepts that you want to work on and don't just go with the first one and get super attached to that and think that that's going to be your million dollar concept. I think you really need to vet each of those concepts. If you have a few of them, you're going to be less likely to get too attached early to one of them.
Interviewer: What's a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Jared Brown: I like to start my day clearing my inbox out, so I have a goal of getting my inbox cleared out by 9:00 a.m. I get everything out of it, then I can focus on doing some meetings or working on some actual work like specs or code and then the other thing I do is before I go to bed I do the same thing – I clear out my inbox again so it's fresh when I wake up.
Interviewer: Inbox zero.
Jared Brown: I love it.
Interviewer: Jared, share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation.
Jared Brown: All right, this one might seem a little boring but I use it all day long and it's Google Docs. I love documenting things. I'm a big fan of doing upfront documentation, getting a clear plan together, and so I use Google Docs for all of that.
Interviewer: If you could recommend just one book for our listeners, what would it be and why?
Jared Brown: So I don't have too much time to read books lately unfortunately but the last good one that I did read was Getting Real by 37 Signals. I think it's in pdf form. It's free online and it's not too long of a read. It just goes through specifically for building web apps, exactly how you should approach that, and how you should start with something small and build from there. It just really covers all the best practices.
Interviewer: Well, here's an update on 37 Signals. They have shifted their entire brand to base camp because they found that one thing that was working for them and now that's all they do. Fire Nation, I know you love audio so I teamed up with Audible and if you haven't already, you can get an amazing audiobook for free at EOFirebook.com. Jared, this is the last question of the Lightning Round but man, it is a doozy. Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning in a brand new world identical to Earth but you knew no one.
You still have all the experience and knowledge you currently have. Your food and shelter taken care of. All you have is a laptop and $500.00. What would you do in the next seven days?
Jared Brown: The first thing I would do and I think this is the most important is to start networking, especially if I don't know anybody at this point. I want to go out and find the best and brightest people that I can, start seeing what they're talking about, what they're interested in, and seeing if I can work with them and just kind of let things happen naturally from there. I would use that $500.00 towards startup capital for when we started building inevitably some sort of software product. The great thing is it doesn't cost too much to get started in software today as long as everybody is working for free, the $500.00 goes a long way on an operational overhead.
Interviewer: Jared, we started on fire and I want to end on fire with a parting piece of guidance the best way that we can connect with you and then we'll say goodbye.
Jared Brown: You can connect with me on Twitter. You can find me at Jared Brown. That's J-A-R-E-D Brown. If you have any questions for me at all, feel free to reach out and I definitely will respond. We also have a special offer for Fire Nation. We're offering 20 percent off of Hubstaff for 12 months. All you have to do to get that offer is head over to try.hubstaff.com/fire to get the offer.
Interviewer: Kind of explain to us real quick. You did at the beginning but go through it one more time. What exactly does Hubstaff do? Who is it right for?
Jared Brown: Yeah, Hubstaff is aimed at people that have remote teams. It's a time tracking tool with proof of work, so it's really good at figuring out not just how long people are working but what they are working on. You can see screenshots. You can see activity levels. You can see how a person divides up their day. You don't just get a number for how long they worked in the day; you get to see it in ten minute blocks. So it gives you great insight to how your team is working.
Interviewer: And what's that parting piece of guidance?
Jared Brown: Find something that you love to do every day and make that your career. I know it sounds cliché but I'm fortunate enough to be able to be excited every day when I wake up to build this business and work on software, and luckily I'm not scooping ice cream anymore.
Interviewer: Fire Nation, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with and you have been hanging out with JB and JLD today, so keep up the heat and head over to EOFire.com. Just type Jared in the search bar and his Show Notes page will pop up with everything that we've been talking about today. You name it; it will be there. Of course, check him out on Twitter. He will answer you period @JaredBrown. Get your 20 percent off Hubstaff if it makes sense for you and your business. If you have a virtual team, it makes sense for you and your business, so give it a whirl – try.hubstaff.com/fire – 20 percent off for you, Fire Nation. This is not an affiliate link. This is 20 percent off for you.
So I just want to say thank you, Jared, for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today and for that we salute you and we'll catch you on the flip side.
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