Founder Lessons: Practical Startup Lessons From Mike Kulakov (Founder at Everhour)


Welcome to our founder lessons series. This week we have an exclusive interview with Mike Kulakov, CEO and founder of Everhour. Mike shares how the company started and lessons learned in the process and he encourages new entrepreneurs to keep to the lean approach,  be flexible, assign priorities wisely and go with the minimal expenses possible.

Everhour is a time tracking tool created to help overcome the negativity usually associated with timesheets. “Our app is nothing like a bureaucratic, formal, or “spy” system – we’ve initially designed it for our own team, so we’ve made it maximally simple and user-friendly so that everyone can actually enjoy the process.”

How have we achieved the ease of use? “Most importantly, we’ve added a single entry field avoiding the common practice of using check-boxes or drop-down lists that can be quite annoying. Besides, you’ll love the concept of project @mentions and #tags for specifying activities or referring to external tasks, e.g. on GitHub. It all makes it super quick to add a new entry and start tracking time for it.”

In spite of its ultimate simplicity, Everhour will surprise you with how powerful the reporting is. The app lets you get detailed time data, both personal and organizational, categorized by date, team member, project, task, time off. Company owners will especially appreciate having a quick access dashboard with the major company stats at hand.

– How I started my own business

My friends Sergei Staroverov, Yury Tolochko and I started our own web development studio Weavora 4 years ago. By that time we had already had experience in IT and decided to build a dream team in line with our vision to work on interesting and challenging projects. When we began to set up a proper working process, we knew we didn’t want it to be too official or involving any kind of pen-pushing. Among other things, it included an appropriate time tracking solution since time tracking is a vital part of a consulting business.

Since the moment we recognized the need, we’ve tried out lots of solutions and approaches from non-tracking time to Excel and Google Drive spreadsheets as well as many popular time management tools. Unfortunately, none has been a perfect fit for us. Apps we’ve used have turned out to be missing some features or simply unsuitable for our team’s culture. We’ve had nothing better to do except create our own tool, and that’s how we’ve launched our little Everhour startup within the consulting company.

– Lessons learned after launch

1. Overnight success is a myth. You’ll hardly have tens of thousands of users right from the start. Growth is mostly about hard work and persistence. Even if you manage to get your story published on TechCrunch or Mashable, unfortunately, it would be just a short-time surge of popularity most probably followed by a plunge.

2. Be prepared for disappointments. You won’t believe how often you can get rejected or ignored.

3. Save some money for marketing. No one cancels free blogs and sites and you should submit your startup there. But what if it still goes unnoticed? I suggest you spending $1K on advertising from the very beginning and analyze the results instead of waiting for the miracle to happen.

4. Plan your marketing. As soon as your product goes life, you can’t afford to wait any longer so make sure you are prepared for the promotion stage in advance. While still in alpha, attract early users via coming soon pages. If you’re releasing a new feature, get ready with a list of corresponding media and reporters, get in touch with them beforehand and have all the necessary promo materials at hand on time.

5. Measure and track everything. I recommend that you have detailed analytics set up from the very start especially if you’re going to spend money on promotion activities. It’s important that you know the source of traffic, churn rate, ltv, etc.

6. Keep to the less software principle. Remember that every new feature means time spent by your team. Also remember that even the coolest of them may in the end appear redundant. I think it’s a wrong path to satisfy every customer’s request on new functionality.

We’ve been often asked to add something to Everhour but we try to explain why this particular feature may not go in line with the app concept, and users usually accept our point of view. Don’t put off your release just because you’re planning to add tons of new functionality. Moreover, if you see that some features are ignored by the customers, don’t be afraid to remove them.

– Biggest challenges after the launch and how I solved them

There have been lots of challenges on our way as launching a startup is by no means easy. I guess one of the biggest problems is funding. We are a bootstrapped startup and strict budget limits make you feel quite pressured. But I see some benefits in such a situation as well since you get to value your time and money even more and allocate them wiser.

Besides, since Evehour startup was born within our web dev studio, it has been quite hard to constantly switch between a consulting business and our own product development. You feel torn apart and your plans depend not only on you but also on the team’s current workload. Since time and resources are limited, with any idea you have to think twice before deciding if it’s really worth your efforts.

The only way to overcome this is through working a lot. Sometimes we had to work all days long including weekends. At the same time, consulting acts as an advantage and reduces risks because even if it all goes wrong with the startup, we can always get back to our previous business.

–My advice for entrepreneurs chasing the start-up dream

The first and foremost tip will be to start fulfilling your dream and doing what you want as soon as possible. Even if you fail the first time (and most likely you will), you’ll be able to learn your lessons, revalue values and get more confident for trying again. Try to keep to the lean approach. Be flexible, assign priorities wisely and go with the minimal expenses possible.

Don’t do it alone. I’d have never built Everhour without my co-founders. Even if you think you can do it all by yourself, gather a team and learn to delegate. Don’t set money as you primary aim. Otherwise, you’ll hardly create anything worthy.