Dane Spear – CEO Interview

Dane Spear

Founder & Chief Product Officer of TimetoReply

When did you know you wanted to start your own company?

I had always wanted to be in control of my own time so my view was to always start my own business rather than be employed by a company. In high school, instead of being a delivery driver or working as a waiter, I decided to get involved in the corporate gifts industry and started my first business selling corporate gifts. Timetoreply.com is the 4th business that I have founded and hopefully not my last. I thoroughly enjoy the creative side of starting a business, especially if the business is either a completely new concept or disrupting an existing industry.

What was your original idea for this company, and are you still doing that (or did you pivot, if so, what is the new focus and why)?

The original idea was twofold. On the one hand, we wanted to help our lead generation customers from a different business (Quickleads) to get more value from the leads we were supplying by helping them respond faster to the leads, and on the other hand, we wanted to show website visitors what reply time to expect if they complete the web form on our site. We launched the product and the majority of customers that approached us were more interested in the email analytics and reply time stats rather than the independent reply time badge to show people what to expect when completing the form. As a result, we pivoted and decided to build an enterprise-level email analytics platform focused on measuring email reply times.

How long did it take you to finally take the leap, and what was it that pushed you over the fence?

The leap was fairly quick after speaking with a business mentor (Chris Staines) where I mentioned a few ideas and this one stuck out for him. A few months later we had raised capital and we started to build the product.

Who inspired you to pursue your dream, and why do you think they believed in you?

My parents pushed me to do my own thing. With a long term view of wanting to remain in South Africa, starting a business was the best option.

Who is your favorite mentor and why?

Chris Staines. Best capital raise expert I’ve met. He has a great view of what to look out for in a business model to give it the best chance of success.

What was the hardest thing about starting your company, and what did you do to make it through the first stage?

Dealing with investors and managing their expectations. I eventually brought in a CEO to deal with investors and I focused on the product as Head of Product.

What has been the hardest lesson to learn?

Things tend to take longer than expected. Raise more than you need. Invest in customer success from the start. Content is very powerful for lead generation.

What has been the most amazing thing you have experience while running this company?

Landing our first customer was a big event. Getting our first annual renewal was awesome. Every positive review we get makes us happy!

What is the weirdest thing you have experienced while running this company, and how did you react to it?

We were told that we had to undergo a compulsory security audit by Google before we could continue using their API. The cost of the audit was $12,000 which caught us by surprise. We weren’t able to service new clients until this was in place. We managed to adjust our cashflows and negotiate payment terms with the auditing company to make it happy, but that was quite stressful.

What is the best decision you’ve ever made while running this company?

Bringing in a CEO and sticking to what I am good at – building products.

What is the biggest mistake you made while running this company, and why do you think it happened?

We entered into an agreement with a reseller who unfortunately didn’t perform to the level we had anticipated given the high percentage of margin we agreed to give them. They made sales, but once a sale was done they did very little to support the customer, and this lead to churn. On the other side of things, customers that we sold directly to and supported very rarely churned. We should have invested in Customer Success earlier and invested more in content creation earlier.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your company?

We were strong in the corporate travel space which has been decimated by the pandemic. This caused us to lose 25% of our revenue in a very short space of time as these companies were simply not operating anymore. On a positive note, we used the time during the pandemic to build out a partner program, improve our product, and grow our team. We stabilized our MRR and we are seeing growth again.

What keeps you passionate about your company?

Customer feedback and hearing how much we are genuinely helping our customers makes it easy to stay passionate.

What daily routine have you developed to help you take care of your mind, body, and soul?

It’s difficult to keep a balance, especially when working from home. The hours are demanding and there is always something “important” to do. I try to play squash or tennis once or twice a week and I like to get onto the golf course on the weekends. It is important to take a day off here and there and stay away from your laptop and phone to completely clear one’s mind.

What one thing would you like people to take away from this interview?

It wouldn’t have come across in the interview, but make no mistake, starting your own business is tough. You need to be in it for the long haul, you need to be good at selling your dream because often that is all you’ll have to get investors interested until you are established enough and past breakeven. But like children, all the hard work is definitely worth every minute of it and ever so rewarding.

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