Charlie Kindel spent more than two decades at Microsoft, working on everything from Windows Phone to Windows Home Server.
Now, after that long career, the 46-year-old tech vet has partnered with another former Microsoftie, Stefan Negritoiu, to create BizLogr.
The company’s primary product, MileLogr, just got a facelift with additional functionality. We caught up with Kindel — an angel investor who is known for his provocative blog posts about the tech industry — in this installment of Startup Spotlight.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “MileLogr is a calendar app that creates mileage logs for taxes, expense reports, and timesheets.”
Inspiration hit us when: “Last year, when I was driving all over the Seattle area meeting with other entrepreneurs and startup people I realized: ‘I should be logging these miles. I can get a tax deduction. But what a pain! There’s got to be an easy way.’
I looked at the various existing products and services and they all required me to ‘do work.’ To use these products you have to either pay attention to the odometer in your car and write things down in a logbook, remember get out your smartphone and run some app, or buy some expensive hardware GPS logger thingy.
One day, it occurred to me that I don’t do anything unless it’s on my calendar. And most of my calendar items have some indication of WHERE the meeting took place. I wondered how hard would it be to generate a mileage log, after the fact, just from my calendar?
Since then we’ve identified a whole range of scenarios where deep inspection of users’ calendar data, combined with context from other sources such as geo-location, can provide a surprising amount of valuable insight. This really is a big-data problem and the company we’ve formed — BizLogr — is really about building practical products based on context driven big-data analysis. We focus on data sources related to time (calendars) and space (location). Our company motto is “practical software products at the intersection of space and time.”
MileLogr is the first product of many we plan on building; with it we have high-confidence we can make some money on something that is truly useful to a large number of people.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap (Why): “We are bootstrapped. I started my first software company in high school. I built shareware apps, first for the Apple ][ and then for Windows 2.x. For years and years I would get these $25 checks in the mail from users. When I met Stefan Negritoiu, my co-founder, we both agreed that BizLogr had the potential to be a money-printing machine, just like my shareware business had been.
We both have other things we are working on and we wanted to build MileLogr and other BizLogr products in our spare time. We agreed we’d run it like a real company so we could get the hands-on experience of having to deal with company formation, stock-options (BizLogr, Inc. is a S-Corp), book keeping, and so forth. We also have enough confidence in the concept that we want to make sure all of our ducks are in a row for when it takes off.
It is important to us that we do it as frugally as possible. So far, the only real money we’ve spent is on legal fees for the corporate formation. Everything else you see in the MileLogr product was done via barter, equity, and hard work.
As we explored the initial idea and the technology it became clear that we’re really on to something. We keep being told by mentors an advisors that this could be really big. I’ve had several angel investors beg to put money in. But our plan remains to continue to bootstrap until we are generating profit.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Two things: Calendar systems are stupidly complex. Each system has a different API with wildly different semantics. I had hoped that standards like iCal and CalDAV would help, but calendaring systems are a perfect example of the truism “the great things about standards is that there are so many to choose from.” We’ve figured out how to abstract away the differences between all of them (Google, Exchange, Apple, Yahoo, etc…). Shockingly no-one has really done this before! Second, we’ve developed the first of many ‘relevance engines’ that are focused on extracting value from people’s calendars. We’ve filed several patents and are pretty confident with the claims.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Focusing on the technology stack we are the most comfortable with; that allows us to be the most productive. Or, put another way, avoiding silly debates around what technology to use and just getting down to building the darn thing. I worked on the original Active Server Pages team and have used C# and ASP.NET forever. Stefan has deep experience there as well having built a complete email system at Duke with ASP.NET. I learned Node.js last year and had become proficient in that. But it would have been stupid of us to pick that for MileLogr simply because we would have been less productive.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Classic startup mistake: Not getting more early users to play with our original prototype. We ‘shipped’ our first prototype with one goal: “Charlie can use it to generate the mileage log for his 2011 taxes.” (I drove 3,017 miles and got a $1,674 tax deduction from that).
This was great, because we had one real user, but we should have pushed harder to get a least a couple of other people using it. Some of the code of that prototype carried forward to what we have now, but because we basically reset, we went a long time without something we could test with other users.
When we finally launched the beta in early September we quickly got some pretty strong feedback. We’ve just released a bunch of new fixes that address that feedback, so it feels great to be in that iterative mode…we should have done it sooner.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “I assume “in your corner” implies being a trusted mentor and champion. While having any of them championing for you would be terrific, I’d pick Bill Gates. One, I’ve never actually met the others, so I can’t really say I understand them. I can’t really say I know Bill Gates that well either, but at least I’ve interacted with him. I’m pretty good at figuring people out. Two, Bill seems to be the most well rounded. His breadth of perspective is mind-blowing. Nobody can dispute his deep, deep technical chops, and he’s proven he understands and can drive business at a world-wide scale. Three, pragmatically, he doesn’t have any skin in the game right now, so I’d be confident any advice or help he provided would be unfiltered.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “Oh, that started when Stefan and I first shook hands at a Starbucks when we agreed to form the company. We won’t tell you what we are going to do to dominate the world, but we can tell you what we aren’t going to do: Take it too seriously. This is all too much fun, and we are learning way too much, for us to get our panties in a wad.”
Rivals should fear us because: “Their products require users to remember to do work. People who use their car for business use already do the work required for MileLogr: They put appointments on their calendars. Users want to lower their taxes. They want to do less work. And they don’t want to worry about getting audited. MileLogr delivers on this.”
We are truly unique because: “It is shocking to us that nobody has really tried to mine calendars before. So the solution is pretty unique. But we think our approach is unique too: We have stumbled onto a startup that we know can be a huge success, that we can build incrementally and gain real experience doing.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “We’ve had technical challenges and user experience challenges and we’ve argued with each other. But, looking back so far, none of those things really stand out as being major hurdles. We had a plan and we executed it to get the Beta done. We were a bit later than we originally wanted, but that was totally within the principles we agreed to when we started building this thing.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Ideas are a dime-a-dozen. They are worthless. Execution is everything. And getting people to pay for your execution is MORE everything. So stop talking. Stop thinking. Get code written. Code talks.”