Shawn Adrian knows a thing or two about time–specifically, about saving a lot of it for himself and other businesses who work with quotes and estimates. The co-founder of the QuoteRobot application, which trims hours off of the quote-generation process, chatted with our Intrepid Freckle Reporter, Marissa.
Marissa: Tell me a little bit about you and what you’re working on.
Shawn: I’m Shawn, and I’ve been designing websites now for about fifteen years. I’m busy with client work, but I’m also currently working on my own app called QuoteRobot.
What’s QuoteRobot about? Tell me more.
The basic idea is that QuoteRobot will help designers and coders create proposals faster. With QuoteRobot I can do a four page proposal in a graphical template in fifteen minutes. In the past, creating that proposal could take around 2 hours. So it really, really trims the amount of time it takes to create proposals and quotes.
QuoteRobot also keeps track of the proposals that I’m sending out and their dollar values, and then it tracks how many of them come back to be accepted, so it generates a close ratio for me. It lets me know how I’m doing.
And QuoteRobot is your own personal creation, not for a client?
Yeah. My friend Jon and I created it. I thought of the idea a few years ago and brought Jon on to program it because I didn’t program at the time, so we’re partners on it. It will be my first app as a residual income business model that I’ve developed for myself and not for clients.
Where are you in the development process with QuoteRobot?
We have a private beta open right now, and we’re inviting people that we think might have some good feedback to use it and let us know what they think. We’ve got about 10 or 15 people in there playing with it now, and I’m currently using it for doing all my proposals to clients too.
We’re just polishing and bug-tweaking and working out the payment processing stuff right now. We’re so close to having it launched, and it has a great business model and it’s already helping me create winning proposals. It just saves so much time.
Note from Marissa: Since Shawn & I spoke, QuoteRobot has come out of private beta. You can sign up and try it out free for a full month!
That is really exciting! And it sounds incredibly useful.
Yeah, thank you.
What else is getting your attention these days?
Another exciting thing is a project I just launched in April with my wife. It’s called Exching. It’s a used clothing market place. Kind of like a pretty Craigslist for clothes.
So that’s growing, and it’s exciting to see growth. We get new people signing up every day and new items being added for sale almost every day. It’s sort of a pet project—there’s no business model there—but I like to see it grow, and because it’s sort of a pet project for my wife and me, it’s a good source of joy.
Your website has a name that I find pretty catchy: Nerdburn. Where does that name come from?
You know what, I don’t have a good story for it! I was a teenager, maybe fifteen or sixteen, and I was looking for dot coms, just putting words together that I liked. And I just kind of came up with Nerdburn. I was a little bit of a nerd at that age—at least my friends said so—and I made an interesting logo with a little “N” and a “B” and a flame coming off the end. I thought it looked kind of cool. So, yeah, it was a teenager’s decision!
Then after I left the agency world and started to go freelance in 2007, I didn’t feel like registering a new domain name, so I just used that one. It was just sort of an art portfolio at the time.
It’s funny… I get more compliments on the domain name than I would have ever guessed, even in corporate settings! So it worked out all right.
So tell me a little bit about how you came to know become friends with Freckle.
I always try to keep up on the latest apps, especially when they’re beneficial to my area of work. As a freelancer who has to wear the business hat as well as the creative hat, I’m always trying to figure out ways to be more productive, spend less money, and just be a little more organized.
When I stumbled across Freckle I didn’t try it out right away. And to be honest, at first I wasn’t actually interested in it. Time tracking wasn’t something I’d done before, and I thought it sounded like a lot of work, like it would be just another thing that would take up time.
But I really liked the interface. Sometimes I write about interface design on different apps, so I thought I’d write a blog article about Freckle’s interface. I figured I’d better use it for a week or so to understand how it worked.
Once I started using it, I just loved the numbers. I loved being able to see where my time had gone, broken down in the Pulse. Then I just carried on using it. After I’d used it for a month, I got really excited because I could see averages of how many hours I actually spent working each week. It turns out that I was working a lot less physical hours than I had imagined.
As a freelancer, I’m kind of in work mode all the time. From the time I get up until the time I go to bed—much to my wife’s displeasure!—I’m thinking about work. So I had this perception that I was working a lot of hours every day. But when I actually started tracking the hours that I was actively designing something, or programming something, or on the phone with a client, there were gaps in between of just dead time.
I found that I wasn’t working as many hours as I assumed that I was. And that actually gave me a kind of freedom. That awareness helped me pack a bigger punch into the hours that I do spend working.
Having a record of how I spend my time shed some light on my working habits and helped me to fine-tune them. It also helped me better evaluate my hourly rate and calibrate it more accurately to the work I was doing.
What are your favorite features in Freckle?
I like how easy it is to add time. I just log in and it’s got a one-line interface there.
I also really like the tagging. Now that I’ve been using Freckle for a few months, I’m adjusting how I use the tags to get better data. I used to tag my time with the client’s name. But I realized that if I tag the time entry with what I was doing—like Photoshop or writing HTML—I could get a breakdown of how exactly I spend my hours, not just who I spend them on. That date helps me understand what activities are most profitable for me.
How does that data help you structure your pricing or invoicing?
I give clients quotes on projects based on the number of hours that I think it will take, and then that’s a firm quote. I’m basically billing on the number of hours that I estimate the job will take. The data I get from Freckle allows me to adjust my future estimates based on the hours that it actually took me to do a job. I can give more accurate quotes because I know how much time the last job actually took me.
What books or other people’s blogs are you finding particularly useful right now?
I just finished reading Getting Real from 37Signals and that was really good. A lot of it you could get from reading around online, but it was nice to have it in a succinct package, and it was good reading. I’m also reading The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey, and it’s a really great business book. It’s a reminder that on keeping commitments and how to build lasting relationships. I think it’s bound to be one of those business classics, especially for self-employed people.
Basically Covey sort of quantifies the value of trust in relationships. He calls it a trust tax, or a trust dividend. In high-trust relationships, you’re getting a trust dividend. You’re a noticeable percentage more productive and faster with less cost. And in low-trust relationships in business, you’re paying a trust dividend, and things take longer and cost more.
My own QuoteRobot project is an example. My buddy Jon and I trust each other explicitly and when we make a decision, it gets done that day. There’s no hesitation on either side because we trust that we’re both making decisions for each other’s mutual benefit. Whereas, in untrusting relationships, there’s a lot of hesitance moving forward with new decisions and new ventures.
That’s a really interesting approach: the idea of quantifying trust which is usually seen as such an unquantifiable notion. I’m adding that to my to-read list.
Yeah, it’s really good. It reads a bit like a text book, so it took me a while to get through, but it’s worth it.
What would you say is your unique super power?
I’m 28 years old now and I started doing this for money when I was fourteen. It is literally the only job I’ve ever had aside from a couple of months here and there as a teenager trying out different things. I’ve never done anything as long as I’ve done this. So I can say confidently that I have a natural ability to see that a project has segments, break it up into those segments and execute and deliver each segment individually to complete a whole project.
Maybe that’s why I feel confident developing an app that helps other designers create quotes—it’s something that I’ve been doing for so long that it’s no trouble for me to break up a project into its little parts and understand what it’s going to take to complete each part.
That’s an excellent super power to have, especially considering your work. But since even superheroes have lessons they have to learn from time to time, what advice or lesson do you most often have to be reminded of?
A commitment is a commitment. Especially as a freelancer working from home, I get a barrage of emails every single day and it’s so easy to respond to one saying, “Oh yeah, I’ll take care of that later today,” without even considering the impact that it will have on the number of hours I have available to work that day. So the one thing I constantly have to remind myself—and I’ve considered having this tattooed on my arm—is to keep commitments, to not make a commitment unless I intend to follow through on it, because all of those small commitments are either building relationships or eroding them.
That’s pretty wise.
Well, I hope it sticks. I wouldn’t have to keep reminding myself it was sticking!
Well, there’s always that idea of that tattoo.
Yeah, I might actually do that. If I do it, I’ll send you a picture.
That would be excellent. As we approach the end of our interview, how about one last question. I’ll make it a fun one: What is a game that you always win?
Oh, interesting… I think life is a game to some degree, and I am winning in my perspective. I haven’t won and there are many who are leagues further ahead, but as far as my personal race goes, I feel that I’m winning. And I think if you look at it in segments, there have been parts that I have lost, but if you look at it as one game, I’m winning. So that’s my answer.
That’s a really good answer.