Turning user feedback into useful features with Toms Blodnieks from DeskTime
Are you struggling to collect, enter, print, and validate user feedback to ship new features that people actually want and will use?
Today’s guest is Toms Blodnieks, COO and Head of Product and Business Development at DeskTime, a time-tracking SaaS for teams. Toms shares how DeskTime’s framework inspires and turns user feedback into useful features.
- What’s DeskTime? Time-tracking, productivity tool to manage time and progress at work
- Why build DeskTime? Out of necessity for one company and now sold worldwide
- Target Audience: COVID impact on working remotely and managing work/life balance
- What DeskTime outsources? Content, SEO, paid ads, videos from marketing agencies
- Why listen to customers? Strategic vision to solve problems and know what to do better
- Feedback Sources: Emails and surveys sent to gather quantitative and qualitative data
- Feature Requests: DeskTime plans to shift to specific industries to meet specific needs
- Data Point Decisions: What to build, what problems to solve, and what to prioritize
- Lessons Learned: Possible to fail even when in 100% agreement on everything
Read the transcript:
Victor [00:35]: Toms welcome to the show.
Toms [00:36]: Hi, thank you for having me. Glad to be on the show.
Victor [00:40]: Yeah, my pleasure. So you work at Desktime, right? What does that do in specific and how did you end up at this wonderful company?
Toms [00:49]: Yeah. Desktime is a time tracking and productivity tool. It basically started for our own company, which is, it was in need of time tracking, that people can easily understand how much time they spend during the working hours. What time they come, to see what time they can go home and stuff like that. So basically to manage their own day and they shouldn’t type on the paper, how much they have worked on during the day, on which project on which tasks and stuff like that. So we needed something for ourselves. And now we have 10 years later when we are selling this for all the businesses all around the world and offering this nice tool, so everyone can manage better their time, follow the progresses and keep an eye of productive, healthy, effective workday for ourselves.
Victor [01:52]: Do you have like a specific target group? Because obviously it’s not the only time tracker out there, but you must be doing something really right for a specific group of people.
Toms [02:02]: Yeah. That’s one of the hottest topics at the moment in our business, in our company, that we are trying to shift the business to a smaller group of the audience because previous, like first 5 years was pretty intensive of building it and keeping the product live for customers. But still making several versions of it to make it better working. And now the last 5 years when I joined the company, I started to work with the last version of it and we are now building the business. And we needed a much more businesses customers to use the tool so we can see how it really works and benefits people and businesses.
[02:52] And the last two years was the COVID 19 years, which was actually good for our business because people now in our businesses understood that they really need a tool to understand what’s happening in the businesses. What’s happening with people, that employees themselves can follow how much they work and how long they work and to make a better work life balance. Because working from home really can take you in all day working and then forgetting about the family and stuff. So this is something where time tracking comes in and helps to manage time and shows when you have finished to work and your effectiveness is like going over time. So you need really to finish if you’re not meant to work overtime today, it’s a regular workday.
[03:47] So yeah, now this is the time we need to shift the business and to make it more specific for some user groups for businesses that really is coming for our tool, for our features. Because you are true. There are a huge list of the tools similar to desktime. And I want to say similar because in one way we can read a list of features. This is all the same, but if we see how it works actually, what’s the details of all product then they’re totally different. Of course. And yeah, now we are shifting the business from this year starting, going more deeper in our users, in going to understand our users and businesses who use desktime to solve their problems and make better product for this specific user base.
Victor [04:53]: Cool. That’s actually very interesting. Did I get that right? That this tool is almost 10 years old because 10 years ago you decided to build that tool internally basically to serve your needs. And then it was turned into a product, but then the company hired you to essentially really spin it off and turn it into its own business. Is that correct?
Toms [05:17]: Yeah, basically it’s correct. Because we did for ourselves, we tried, we built it and then there was first version, second version, third version. And then when the third version was done, then the hiring in the product started. Somehow it started with project management which I was starting, doing all the things with starting from IT project management, finishing up with the customer satisfactions and customer management. And then, yeah, we have grown in these last five, six years, like six, seven times now. And now we’re like a stable, still small company but stable and with all the departments doing their job. And yeah, now we feel that we can really shift the business and go deeper in the business, in competition.
Victor [06:11]: Cool. That’s interesting because I think there’s a lot of people out there who scratch their own niche, do something within their existing business and wish to turn that possibly into a SaaS products. That’s really interesting. And then I assumed that that was really bootstrapped on the side from within that existing business. Or did you ever take on funding?
Toms [07:17]: We have a fully [07:17 inaudible] business, and we are lucky that we have our business owners and other businesses that were successful in the beginning. And then they just made the money out of those businesses and invested further and further ideas. And in the beginning, maybe it was meant for internal tool, but as we all know, or maybe a lot of people know already the story about Slack, how it just started for internal need, for communications, through people who are developing the games. Then desktime was a very, very similar story that we needed our tool for ourselves for our businesses. But then we realized that no, there can be developer and customer success manager and IT project manager who can take further and try to sell this and make it in the SaaS business for the tool.
Victor [08:14]: And what does your team setup look like today? I understand that this has really grown, right? Maybe out of interest, what we’re like the first roles that we’re hired? I assume that’s kind of product right development. And what does the team really look like today? How did that evolve?
Toms [08:31]: Yeah, you’re correct. So we had one very experienced developer, which is now, 10 years later he’s CTO. And then yes initial the first was co-founder and our current CEO [08:49 inaudible] who is making the product in the first years. And then I joined as an IT project manager, as a customer project manager and was doing all the necessary stuff that startups usually do. And then the next roles was developers, of course. We were growing on the same side, the customer side, the customer project managers, customer success was growing as well. And then as of today, our largest team is the development team, which is with [09:32 inaudible] assurance specialist of developers mostly of course.
[09:37] And then we have two IT project managers and then it goes along. But we have divided the product team, business product and businesses together, and the development is separate. And then we have each other of teams, like marketing support, success, sales, UIUAX, has each of three people. So somehow three people of each of the core teams and development is 10 people in a team. And then a bunch of outsourced agencies for less or project based works that we use monthly, basically. So that’s the setup at the moment.
Victor [10:23]: That’s not actually that small at all. I think this is, as you’ve mentioned, a very stable and already validated business, for sure. Interestingly, since you’ve just mentioned that, you have a core development team, but you say you outsource project-based to agencies. We see a lot of people use agencies for other resources very differently. So it would be interesting to understand what your decision matrix is like, what do you outsource specifically.
Toms [10:51]: At the moment, actually we have stick with marketing sided agencies, which is content, SEO, paid advertising, and then yeah, video if needed. This is what we do month to month from agencies. But we have tried when the product was growing.
We have tried of course development, outsource development. We have tried out also the UX from the outsource to try to make product onboarding and stuff. But somehow we have pretty quickly understood that we need that in a team inside the building.
Victor [11:36]: And you actually work within one office, right? You’re not distributed, not remote first, you’re within an office mostly?
Toms [11:44]: Of course, no, we have like the hybrid workspace and stuff like that, but like, I mean, we needed full time people, and this is what we have hired. And the agencies are like 20 to 50% of the hours spent monthly.
Victor [12:04]: Thank you for that, for going in into that one. I think that’s super helpful. Now to maybe move more towards our main topic, which is I think super relevant because at first, you built your own tool for yourself. So you literally had to deal with yourself. You knew what you wanted, you built it. But obviously once you want to validate or actually market that you need to become more customer centric, listen more to your customers. And maybe a great question here. I’m not sure if you know that, because I’m not sure when you joined specifically, but do you know if there was like a vision on what to do better?
[12:43] Like, Hey, we really do time tracking better like this, or was it more yes scratch your own niche and then, well we need to find that vision, is that maybe also, and I think another follow up question on that, do you think that companies who scratch their own niche might have a vision problem because they didn’t start with the vision, but rather with their own set of problems? That’d be super interesting to elaborate.
Toms [13:08]: I guess, from desktime’s experience, I can say that it is more a strategic side or maybe experience side why companies don’t try to get into the details of customers right away. But trying to, as you say, scratch the edge. So I think there are two ways and desktime did it in purpose to build the product and make the product as it was decided in the beginning. And then yes, after we have created the product we knew we want to create. We saw the problem and it was selling good in the first years. So now we see that actually competitors are growing as well, of course. And everything is growing and businesses are growing and the pandemic hit. And now it’s the competitors working hard, seeing that there is a lot of business as well.
[14:15] Now we now need to think more customer centric. And this just comes within the time that we understand that really it should be a key. And I can’t tell the desktime side why we haven’t tried that. Hopefully it will be positive and if we go the strategic side from the book and see, I hope it will work as it should work. Then yes. Then more, I would say it’s a strategic side why businesses or people in the teams don’t go straight away from that strategic side.
Victor [14:55]: Now let’s see how you are actually getting that user feedback. What are your sources to gather feedback data, quantitative and qualitative from users?
Toms [15:08]: The quantitative, we try to get the feedback as much as possible. Of course we have set up for automated emails for satisfaction rates, also via email, also in the product. We try to get, when our customer success or support teams are on the live chat, we try in the end when the problem is solved and everything is fine, they try to get the final feedback and to understand where’s the customer, and what’s the problem. And what are the next steps? And what’s the view from the customer. And then we try to analyze that all putting together.
[15:46] Of course, we try to go from the feature side as well. We try to gather the feature request needed things. And that works well as well from the emailS that they [15:58 plain text] answer, or they fill the surveys, or we have a feature request page on our website that they can upload and add new feature requests. So this works fine, but what we needed is that summary and then go to quality interviews with the customers, which is not so easy to get the customers on interviews. And maybe at the moment ,at this point, the problem is that we have many industries that are using desktime.
[16:36] And we are still trying to specify our top industries that we know we want to focus on. And yeah, we’ll see, we are in the process. So that’s why I can’t tell you the exact outcome at the moment, but when the process will finish about industries and we’ll see how the interviews go. And if we will be able to go the industry specific business side and shift the business for some specific needs. But the key thing, yes, you need to get and gather the feedback. You need specific things together. The best way is if there is users that can give you a usability suggestions, that’s great that we love those users who can give specific things. That’s much easier to talk in the interviews as well.
[17:35] Yeah, it probably depends on what kind of type of business or system you have, how to get that feedback from users. Maybe 5 years ago, or 10 years ago, it was much, much easier. At the moment when the days are full with entertainment and everything, and questionnaires and surveys and information is coming in all the time, your emails are lost. Your browser notifications or something are lost and unread. So it’s a really hard time we are living to get the user feedback. So that’s why we also of course participate user testings from the outsourced companies that are not our users. But we try to validate and get user tests outsourced using the different type of tools that have users who test and give feedback for us.
Victor [18:33]: That’s super interesting. So obviously the first step is some sort of trigger, right? Whether that’s a feature request or some sort of feedback during customer support, you need to find the trigger to understand, Hey, there’s something that we need to either improve or build or whatnot. And the second stage as much as possible, even though it’s tricky to get users to talk to you. But the second stage is then deepening that, learning more about that, interviewing people. Maybe hire an outside firm to do the customer interviews or user testing. I’m not sure what your price point is of your SaaS solution, but do you think there’s a correlation between the pricing and how much interaction you can possibly have?
[19:23] Because obviously when you have an enterprise contract for thousands of dollars, then obviously even before signing, you will have even a lot of touch points with the client in a direct line, possibly. Although I don’t know, maybe I’m just exaggerating the grass is greener somewhere else. And you can’t reach anybody post signing anyway, or pre even, so I don’t know. But do you think there’s maybe that correlation?
Toms [19:46]: Yeah, that’s an interesting topic that actually I think we haven’t really discussed as much as we would do in the future because yeah, we haven’t talked in such side. Although our users mostly are small account users, up to 100 user accounts, businesses, like the small businesses is our top clients.
Victor [20:14]: But that’s already not so little, that’s quite a few accounts already, like even going 20 plus.
Toms [20:20]: Yeah. So I can’t compare what would be the difference right now with larger accounts, like enterprise accounts you mentioned. So it’s hard to compare at the moment.
Victor [20:33]: Sure. Do you also gather any quantitative data from onsite tracking or usage statistics or anything like that?
Toms [20:41]: Yeah, of course. We use tools for tracking, like actually before we used the Hotjar. At the moment, we have switched to Microsoft clarity, which seems to be a little more detailed. So this is where the UX hours goes and spend time. Of course, a lot of Google analytics events and data of usage and what’s been useful. But that’s something we do weekly. We compare, but that’s what we have done in the past years, is more about creating new features, than this doesn’t go along anymore. But at the moment when we are more focusing on the business setup for specific industries and stuff like that, then this will be definitely more time we will spend on looking how the product being used through different tools, in a different way than we have done in the previous years.
Victor [21:51]: Alright. Cool. So you have some sort of data point that launches you into an investigation. You have some more information about what to possibly build, how to do it, what problem it solves for the client, how do you decide then what to build and in which order, basically how do you guys prioritize?
Toms [22:09]: Yeah, that’s also a good question. And probably we have gone through all the options. The first option is that we just know what we want and where we should move our vision. That’s the fastest decision, That we have made. And don’t need any approvals. Then the next one, when we introduce those feature requests and stuff like other options that users can add, then this already says a lot of things. When we see that the top requested feature in our case, like for example, few years ago was a screenshot option.
[22:55] So then users just needed automatic screenshot solution. And that was like uploaded in enormous results. And there’s no need for verification. There is just, if we go in this business side or we don’t go because at the moment we have several feature requests that we see that it’s too much from our tool. We are not going so deep in monitoring or spying, which is requested from the users, from specific regions. But that’s not the business model we want to do. We want to more focus on effective, productive work life balance. But not as deep as spying.
[23:48] And the best option, how to measure what to do, is voting or sorting user feature requests. So we know what is that user sort. And if we are a hundred percent user centric, we go by this list. And don’t think more if we have enough data of how users have sorted our requests, what’s needed next and from which industry.
Victor [24:22]: This is super, super challenging, I suppose, because when you have a large user base specifically that part, like request a feature, or maybe not large. I don’t know how large that is in comparison to the entire user base. But there is a significant portion of users that request these screenshots being made. And then you need to make that decision. Do we do that? Is it our core values? Is it our vision? I assume that’s really hard to make that decision and to knowing that will discourage these types of users to use your product. Was that a tough decision to make?
Toms [25:03]: Well, at that time, it was a quite easy decision because we were a young company and we needed users and we were ready to do things just to go deeper in the business. But at this time it’s not as easy anymore because now we need to think more strategic. We need to think about how we are [25:27 inaudible] in the world, in the market. What are our benefits, what are our communication? So definitely it’s much, much harder now to decide about some strategic features to do or not to do. And even if we do things, then there is and we decide that yes, there will be a lot of communication and we can do that. Then still, it’s quite hard. Like the explanation, the communication, the marketing is a lot of work for our marketing team, to get it right out and to introduce correctly and educate people about the feature, how to use it and how to not use it.
Victor [26:13]: Yeah, that’s right because you really need to be super clear about your positioning. To be the right tool for the right person. Build a feature too much. And the other feature might just go unnoticed that’s actually more important. And so I see how much of a struggle that is. Do you build any custom features specifically for larger clients? Has that request happened? I think that’s also along these lines.
Toms [26:39]: We have some examples, but we have a few large enterprise clients that have requested those features. And that also wasn’t an easy decision, but yes we do that. We take care of enterprise clients as well, and still we try to allocate with the product itself, with the business and the strategy that we have taken. And I’m lucky to tell that mostly those features or those individual things that we need to build are something that goes along with a product that is not some total custom thing that is requested. And I’m thankful for that at the moment. And it’s definitely hard for those who know that there is one or two big clients who want something that you will never want to publish for customers. So yes, we have that experience as well and we have good experience and we have bad experience.
Victor [27:51]: That’s interesting, because it sounds like that was like a dream basically come true because an enterprise client requests something that is actually usable for everybody, which is like what they usually never are. And what’s a bad experience that you had and did you charge that client for it or was that just developed for everybody?
Toms [28:13]: Yeah, so the bad experience comes with additional charges where we are not a hundred percent sure that we will offer or will offer that feature. So all the business talks and agreements goes with that [28:27 inaudible] for those enterprise clients or one client. And the bad side goes with experience when our team was least experienced. The cases are such, building a feature, great. Getting things done, great.
Selling to that tender press client and finish the contract, failed. And somehow it’s possible to fail even when you are a hundred percent agreed on everything all done, and then time is wasted. Money has spent, but no contract in the end and we have learned a lot from that. And probably, yeah, you can avoid that from listening to other experiences, reading materials, that we learnt from those who did that.
Victor [29:22]: And that’s a real bummer. Yeah. Sorry for that. Do you have any specific example of now going back to just normal user feedback, not enterprise clients? Do you have any specific examples of features that really were born in the minds of clients, made it through that process of yours?
Toms [29:41]: Yeah, we have, we can take also one of the latest features where we now for our hybrid teams for hybrid businesses who use desktime, offer option to book a desk or meeting room in the office. Our own team uses desktime booking as well, because we don’t go to the office every day. For a long time actually, we didn’t have desks for ourselves. So we needed that feature for ourselves as well. So we prepare for going to the office and we book a desk, we know where we will sit and that we have guaranteed desk. And that was one of the requests from the clients as well. And that went through together with our vision with everything. And we were, yes. Okay. We are doing, we want to do that.
[30:33]: We did all the planning, everything in a fast pace. And I don’t want to say that we forgot, but we just thought that it’s so super simple that we just build a feature and we offer for our customers. That’s great, everyone. All the hybrid teams now in the world, when they come back to the offices in 2022, everyone will need that. And yes, it is needed, but the way how it looks, how is the usability? That’s a totally different thing from the technical or even user guidelines, how it should work. And in being short in the feedback, the features are great. Customers love the features, but customers don’t love how you can do the things because we didn’t think about cutting the steps to the final finish of the feature usage. Customers now telling us how we can make it better for them.
[31:44] What are the things in their teams? How would they like to use it? So now we are in the phase two, where we are making improvements in the feature and now listening to our customers, how they want to use and will be much smarter in the future where we now are already creating planning and making prototypes for our next features. We are now introducing to our customers right away. Not only after the feature is finished, we will now listen and see which things to change before it’s developed. And that saves actually tons of times, tons of energy of thinking how better, there is just a customer feedback, which tells you how they want to use it. The only thing you need to know is if this is the right customer, you’re asking the information or the feedback.
[32:46] So that’s the thing that I really suggest for each of the businesses, to understand what is your customer, and then ask the feedback from those customer groups, industries, or segments that are using your tool. Yes, that’s an experience that we needed much faster to understand and get our customer on a paper. Because as I mentioned in the beginning, everyone is a customer and it’s still going to be, and everyone can be desktime customer, but we know that mostly. And our users are from industries ABC, and that they are working with such problems like those, and we know that we want to mostly work with those customers and get the feedback from them. And if we can solve the problem of any other industry or business, great we are happy to onboard anyone and get as a user.
Victor [33:54]: I’ve just spoken to a company. They are a fast growing startup, Klassic before the pandemic they had, I think 15 people or fast growing is relative, but they had 15 people in office. For 15 people before the pandemic. Come the pandemic they all went home of course. Company grew to 50 people. And now their office is obviously way too small and they’ve introduced that they don’t want to change it. They don’t want to expand, they want to introduce the hybrid working mode, but that’s exactly the challenge that you’re speaking of. And so this is super interesting. And I think a good observation that obviously goes alongside of like, who’s our customer who has this specific type of problem. And that’s very fascinating.
[34:43] Good. That’s cool. So you’ve now implemented that feature of booking tables at the office, right? Turning your office into a coworking space, so to speak. How do you then track maybe usage or retention? You’ve said you speak to customers because you now make improvements to that feature. Are you planning any other forms of feedback on that as well?
Toms [35:06]: At the moment as we need to stick to our current forms of feedback and we need to like be 100% sure that this is working. And while data is enough and the limitations of the teams as well, of course, of the people, of the resources that we have, don’t allow to add any other options or forms of feedback. So we will definitely continue asking survey questions, asking NPS scores and gathering feedback about the specific function and we’ll get the data, analyze those and talk in interviews with our specific customers who are using that feature, who are known, how it should work or with the problem that they have, if they have the problem and they need to book a room or table or something, then this is the customer we want to speak.
[36:08] And that get more detailed information to hear what are some additional problems that they’re facing, that we haven’t provided or thought about? So this is our next steps regarding that feature and yeah going along yeah. Desktime is, I don’t know if that’s a problem, but that’s more work for them because desktime has a bunch of features. If we would go for simple time tracking, then we would all work on time tracking at all. But as desktime has we call the features, but it could be a different product as well. Several different products starting from the time tracking is the first one and the majority why people or businesses find us, we have a lot of HR features. We have project management. We have now the booking option. We have tools that can automatically create invoices and send to customers and clients.
[37:11] And so we have all those features that we need to work on a daily basis. And the resources are not enough for everything. So we try to divide everything and we need to manage that side as well. Not only thinking about the feedback form or a way how do we get, so the primary focus on feedback is to get it more automated before we reach out to interviews. And that’s why the surveys from different tools, emails, are working fine now. I think very good and then gives us a lot of information about customers who are responding to those surveys.
Victor [38:00]: This has been super insightful. Thank you so much for sharing. This was a deep dive into your business and how you guys work. So thanks also for being so open. This is really interesting. Where can people learn more about you, but also your product?
Toms [38:17]: Yeah, we are trying to be everywhere. So definitely follow us on Facebook, we are sharing on Twitter. We are sharing the information, Twitter users, like LinkedIn we are sharing really good content as well. Our blog, we are writing about different topics that are related. And of course, if you want to try out the product yourself or your team, then Desktime.com sign up for free trial, try it out and send some reviews and feedback. How are you going in the first few weeks?
Victor [38:53]: Perfect. Thanks for joining, good luck finding a deeper segment, a customer segment. I wish you all the best with that and happy growing for desktime.
Toms [39:05]: Thank you for having me.