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Time Tracking Software

While I don’t work on per-hour billing projects very often these days, they do come up every couple of months.  When those projects come along the clients expect detailed invoices for the time I log on their projects.  As an executive-level technical advisor and consultant my rates reflect the 25-plus years of experience I have in the software industry, 15 of which I have been spent launching and selling several successful companies.    As such I need to produce easy-to-follow invoices that account for my time on a per-minute basis with enough detail to justify any time that has been billed.

For years I used the built-in systems from Intuit.  However in recent years their online time tracking system has become more of a hassle than a helper.  It has crashed numerous times.   I have lost data many times after compiling 2-weeks worth of time entries, and to rub salt in the wound, Intuit support is not only expensive but the ultimate answer on more than one occasion was “we don’t know what happened”.   I paid support for THAT answer?   Ouch.

With several large long-term projects looming on the horizon I decided to start re-evaluating the time tracking applications that are out there.   I want it to be quick and easy to add a customer, add projects, and add tasks.   I want it to track time by the minute.   I want a web, mobile, and desktop version of the app with a stopwatch that assigns the recorded time to a task.   All 3 platforms must sync at the end of the day, if not in real time.   Most importantly it needs to be able to produce pre-project invoices in a clear legible format that shows each task with minutes-per-task breakdown.  Bonus points for syncing with QuickBooks and/or PayPal.    Extra points if it can create custom invoice layouts with my own header and footer including logos, contact info, and messages.

Here are the time trackers I’ve come across and my opinions about each.  Some I tried for minutes, some for days.


$0 : 1 user : unlimited clients & project : 1 invoice/month  : 50MB storage
$10 : 2 users : … : 30 invoices : 5GB storage
$15 : 3 users : … : unlimited invoices : 15GB storage


Looked promising from the start, however the honeymoon was soon over.   It was easy to  sign up.  It was free for basic use.   They have a desktop (Air app wrapper) and a web version.  They may have a mobile version but I never got that far.   The web interface is easy enough to follow, but could use some improvements along the way.   However I started running into problems within a day.

The desktop app has a known bug.  I could not move or close or resize the window.   I wrote to support, they acknowledged the issue and said “close and restart the app, it will fix itself”.  Not a good start, IMO.  If you know about the bug fix it.  It is the first thing the users sees.

Entering and tracking time was easy enough, but I found myself having to go to the website fairly often as I could not create new customers or projects.   I could only add tasks to existing customers/project.     I also could not edit details.    Not very efficient.

On the web side I found that if I clicked on a box to try to move or edit the task it would close and hide the task.    When I figured out what was going on, I unchecked the “hide closed tasks” on the sidebar.   Unfortunately it only stays in effect for that one page load.  It shows all closed and open tasks but as soon as you do ANYTHING all closed tasks are once again hidden.

However the deal breaker on this one was trying to send a client a report on time worked to-date.    I simply could not find an easy way to do this.   There is no way, as far as I can tell, to generate an interim report.   Even worse, the few ways I thought I could show them tasks completed v. still open, such as printing the browser window, leaves all the completed tasks with strike-through attributes, so you cannot read the tasks easily.    Not a great design.

Close, but poor interim reporting and a kludgy invoice generation system are not going to work for me.   Next…

Make Some Time

$0 signup – terms not disclosed openly


After a quick Google Search I came across a Life Hacker article that seems to tout the Make Some Time web app.    Sure enough, creating clients, project, and tasks was easy.  I got my first project in place within 5 minutes.  The sign up was quick and painless, and it is free.    However I did notice multiple screens are not rendering properly in Chrome.    Not a big deal, but it gives the app a distinct “not finished yet” feel.   That makes me nervous when time tracking is a key component of my monthly income.

I was able to quickly and easily generate a project report, modify my time entries, and get something that was almost EXACTLY what I needed for an interim time report for my clients.   Exactly what I could not get PayMo to do minutes early after an hour of “screwing around with it”.  Nice start.

But then I realized something.   There does not appear to be any way to add details or notes of any kind to the tasks.  I looked for 15 minutes and gave up.    If I can’t find it in 15 minutes then the user experience needs work.  My assumption is there is no way to add notes to tasks.  That is a deal breaker.   Too bad, it looks promising but this plus the “not quite finished yet” feel makes be a bit nervous about burning more time learning this system.

Time for another option…


$0 : 1 user : 2 projects : 4 clients
$12 : 1 user : unlimited projects : unlimited invoices
$49 : 5 users : … : … : timesheet approval
$99 : 10 users : … : … : …


The initial interface is fairly well polished and the design of the site is clean.  Sign up is quick and easy.   The very first thing I want to do is track my time for a client project.   I go to the clock image on the to bar and go to start my time for a new project.  Wrong place.    Goo to “timesheets” on the top bar.  Ok… took eme 2 tries but I found what I need.

Already I am faced with the bane of most time tracking software… you must follow THEIR work flow not your own.   Turns out I cannot freely create a client or project from the time tracker.  I must go to another interface first and create these elements.   Boo.   Already an extra step that is no necessary.

So now I need to go setup a project.  Manage/projects is fairly easy to find and the entry form is easy enough… sort of.   The invoice method already presents me with a choice and forces me to learn THEIR terminology.   I invoice my clients by the hour.   Yet I have several options on “Invoice Method”.   Project is not billable, project is billable / do not apply hourly rate, project is billable / task hourly rate, project is billable / person hourly rate, project is billable / project hourly rate.   Already I am put off by the complexity. What do I choose?   What if I choose the wrong thing?   Will I need to change it later?  Why do I need to be educated on what to choose or find help for what should be a simple “bill hourly” selection.   Not fun.

I also have a budget section with several options and check boxes.  This should be hidden, as should the above options, under an “advanced” tab.   Then when I go to start the project I have a tasks section with “Admin” and “Project management” both with a billable check box an hourly rate.  Again, a bit much for a simple setup but at least this is a simple UI.  I also have a people interface which, as a single user as I selected at the start of this thing, should be hidden until I add other users.   This system is obviously built to be all-things-to-all-people and is overly complex for simple task management.

So now I start tracking my time.  Oddly if I stop it too soon it does not track anything, so I let it run a bit longer.   It takes a while but eventually puts 0.01 in the time log.  The granularity appears to be 1/100th of an hour which is a very odd metric.   Either that or they are showing time as 0.00 with the second digit being minutes but that is quite confusing.  Maybe they think replacing the standard minute (‘) and second (“) marks or hour/minute (:) delineation with a period is cooler because this it he age of dot-addresses but it makes you wonder what the heck the actual time is tracking.

While the UI here is clean, I don’t like that I need to click the pencil icon to add a note.  I should be able to edit on-field using standard AJAX editing trickery and type my added note/detail right in place.   So far, however the UI is fairly clean and modern.    Not exactly what I’d like as far as functionality but a good start.

So let’s try out invoices.   The create invoice is a multi-step process but fairly intuitive.  However something odd here.  My test case uses a base $100/hour rate.   Guess what I learn here?  That 0.00 IS hundredths of an hour.    Ok, that is an odd way to track the time.  Easier for math, sure, and that is how some law firms work but it is not clear from the start.   At least they are using standard notation.     I just have not seen a timer that actually logs in hundredths of an hour right from the start.  No harm no foul.

Harvest does have a native Windows 7 desktop gadget available, so that is a bonus.  I did not see a Windows 8 app listed but if they don’t have one I’d imagine they are working on it.    The gadget itself comes with a small clean UI which does not clutter the desktop.   However, this slick looking desktop gadget does not appear to work.  It is pulling my new project and tasks, but the “leave time blank to start timer” just plain doesn’t work.  You leave it blank and press save and nothing happens.  Boo, again.   I shouldn’t have to be guessing how to get a simple desktop timer working and I refuse to keep a browser window open to track time. Not only does that take up valuable desk real-estate, eventually I close the window or the system shuts down and something funky happens.  Typically losing all my tracked time for the day.

Not a great start.

Already frustrated, though the UI is nice so I may come back to it.  However at this point a simple desktop timer and Google spreadsheet seems to work better.

A day later… I closed the account. I was being spammed with a “you left a timer running”, which I did not think I had.  Turns out the sample task in the account was automatically set to “run” and was still going, only to spam me 12 hours later.   In addition, they don’t stop it automatically they require you to sign in and stop it manually.


$5 : 1 user
$15 : 5 users
$25 : 15 users
$35 : 25 users
$50 : 50 users

No rating.

TimeIQ has an nice updated site since my last review 5 years ago.  However it immediately brings up my concern for lack of attention to detail and quality issues that we encountered years ago.    Right on their pricing page a few lines away from “same great level of quality and service” is “please feel welcome tget in touch with us”.   So much for the quality aspect.

The  “Widgets and Gadgets” graphic front & center on the home page showing “Vista” and “OSX” as the main operating systems tells me they are not staying current.  Vista has essentially been dead for 2+ years now with Windows 7 and now Windows 8 the go-to version of Windows for most business users.   They also have minor grammar issues like using employees’ instead of employee’s.

These oversights on the main “marketing pitch” of the website combined with dozens of odd phrases, typos, and grammatical errors have me leery of trying this company again.   On to the next vendor…


$0: 1 user
$6 : per user at 2nd user+


The sign up was dead simple.   Username (email) + password.  Done.  You are signed in to a sample setup with sample tasks to give you a feel for the project.  Not bad… but that wood background needs to go.  Yuck!

timecamp wood
timecamp wood

Like Harvest, but not as polished IMO, the UI is simple and easy to follow.   That is good because one of the first things I had to do was figure out why time was wanting to log in on Monday even though it was Sunday night.  Turns out they default to an 8-hour day Monday-through-Friday and apparently you cannot easily add time to a day that is not pre-approved for working hours.  Once again we find a system that is trying to force you to build your contract work setup around their pre-conceived notions.    Easy to override, but why even limit this in the first place?  Over-thought and over-implemented.

I was able to fix this issue and modify the default Sample Project / Sample Task very easily.   I did not like that the “Save Project” label on the button was “Save Task” or that pressing enter did not auto-save which meant I had to go back and do it twice.   Exiting the popup change info form in ANY WAY should ask you if you want to save your changes.  Better yet, just save them.  Once that was out of the way, however, it was very easy to start the timer.   It uses standard hh:mm:ss notation and you can see the time changing.  I already like that feature better than Harvest.

Not a bad start.  Let’s go get the desktop app.   Hey.. and guess what?  There is a link right here in the sidebar “Install / Application”. Sweet.  So easy.  Click, downloaded. Done. Open to install what appears to be a native widget for Windows.   It opens a window where you enter your username and password and syncs tasks with the server. I right-click to get my options, select the task I was working on and start the timer.  It happily starts adding minutes to my task list.  Exactly what I want.   Not too mention it is small an takes almost no space on my desktop.   Perfect.   Now if only I could change that “HEY LOOK AT ME NOW green”.    I’d love to be able to mute that color so it is less distracting, but that is a minor issue.

Sadly the TimeCamp system looks like a very promising start, but again there are shortcomings.    They have several typos on the settings page with things like “metting, lanuch” instead of “meeting, lunch” right on the second line.    QA an attention to detail is missing.

However the big deal-breaker for me?   No easy way to create a report or invoice for my customer.    It is great to be able to easily track time but not when you have to re-create that time in an invoice for the client.  I want the time tracker to at least create a simple web or PDF based invoice.

Another issue?  The desktop widget tracker never seemed to sync with the web server.  I could not get my time to show up.  I had to re-open the preference and re-enter my user info, which was obviously correct as it collected the tasks from the server to show them on the task list.    After I re-entered the data the app synced but then crashed.

TimeCamp is dead
TimeCamp is dead


$60 per year : 1 user : desktop app
$12 per additional year

4 Stars
4 Stars

This is a bit different than the other apps, this is a full blown desktop app for OSX, Windows, and Linux.    Download an installation is quick, you also do not need to register on their site which is nice for a change.

Getting started is easy and intuitive.   I added a client and a project by clicking icons in the interface and filled out a couple of fields within minutes.   I quickly found and started the desktop timer, closing the main app window which starts a system tray icon to get to the interface.    I was able to start a timer and after seeing “no service” I could easily find the “edit timer task” icon and assign the right project and set up a standard billable item I called “hourly consult” at my base rate.

The interface is certainly more intuitive and user friendly than the prior online based system, however there were a few mis-steps while setting up the tasks.  I thought I was setting up an hourly contract item, however  I was editing the current task at hand which is what the client would see.    Easy enough to fix but not perfectly intuitive.

The product is somewhere between the more advanced and over-loaded features of harvest and some of the simpler interfaces.  Not a bad compromise but  not dead-simple everything is so intuitive it always does exactly what you expect.

After a few weeks of using the product it turns out to be one of the better solutions out there.  However invoice integration and coordination with QuickBooks and/or PayPal is lacking.  So, once again, I am searching for a better solution.

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Recreating Kickstarter Is Not A $3500 Project

“It is simple, really. It is exactly like Google, but better. We are going to have an extra button on the search page.”

We hear it every week. Some business guy has the next greatest thing since sliced bread. It is exactly like some other application, web services, or mobile app but better. OK, we get that. There are hundreds of ways to build a better mouse trap. But this is what kills us…

“My budget is $500 and I need it done next week”.   

Yes, this happens ALL OF THE TIME. How often? Well, here are some real world examples from TODAY alone:

  • Migrate my old website to WordPress (a good start). The old site is on a proprietary MySQL database (OK, no big deal). I need a new look, user interface, and a modern design (still with you). There are 12,000 products and pages that need to be converted (wow, that is a BIG project!).
    My budget is… less than $500
  • We want to create a crowdfunding website (cool, there is still room in this market). We want it to have ALL of the features built into Kickstarter (wow, that is ambitious) and add these 10 must-have features that make us better (wow, you really need pros like us, this is going to be a year-long project).
    My budget is $3500 – $4500.

The Simple Black Box

The problem is that most people just don’t understand the “black box” that they sit in front of every day. They type something on the keyboard or touch the icon on their iPad and stuff magically happens. It is simple. Thus the assumption is that the stuff to make the simple happen must also be simple.

Sadly people think that just because someone else has created a website or application already that it will be cheap and easy to make an exact replica with ZERO ACCESS to any of the behind-the-scenes code or technologies involved. What people don’t realize is there are thousands of man-hours and often hundreds-of-thousands of dollars involved in making the most popular sites & services easy-to-use. Or maybe they do realize that, but they think that coming up with the idea is the hard part.

Ideas Are Easy

Ideas are easy. Everyone you know has come up with an idea. How to make something great. The mistake too many people make when it comes to creating a better website or application is assuming that the people they are emulating overlooked the low-lying fruit. They immediately see a gold-mine opportunity because their favorite application or service is missing a feature they deem “the awesome factor”.

Some idea people are business people. MOST idea people are not. A true business person will evaluate their own concepts and truly understand the market. Who are they competing with? Why hasn’t the competition done this yet? What are the real costs involved in creating the concept?

Do Your Homework

When it comes to applications and web services, MOST people have no clue about that last part. What are the real costs involved? Many things are overlooked. The costs of graphic design. The costs of hosting a server that can handle 12,000 visitors/day. The costs of keeping the security and load-balancing updated for a high traffic site. Writing the code. TESTING the code. Refactoring and re-designing the system.

To get an idea about how much these things costs, you need to DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Spend at least 10x as long as you did finding a development partner, programmer, or CTO  to pitch your idea to and do some research. Who else is doing something similar? How long did they spend developing and refining their service?  What did they spend on it? Surprisingly, for many semi-successful companies this information is available online; if not disclosed directly then via some very accurate estimates by industry watchers.

Keep Your Common Sense

When you suddenly have a flash of inspiration on how you are going to retire a billionaire in a year, don’t drop common sense on the floor and go out the door naked yelling “Eureka!”. Sadly, common sense is often the first thing that is left behind at this moment. Do you really think that nobody else came up with your idea? If so, do you really think you can develop an application that is going to generate $1,000,000 in sales by October and do it in 3 weeks for $5,000? If it was THAT easy every one of your neighbors would be a millionaire. Even the most brilliant business and technology people out there, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs included, did not create a million-dollar app in a month.

So please, do all of the contract programmers in the world a favor. Stop, evaluate, investigate, and most of all just have some common sense before you click send on that email request asking us to recreate the next Kickstarter, Google, or Facebook in a week for $500.

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What’s Wrong With

Extortion OK, Chargebacks Not

Last Friday, suddenly and without warning shut down our account.

We were a well established vendor on  In fact, we were consistently ranked a top-50 vendor of nearly 50,000 vendors in the Programming & Databases sector, reaching the top 25 at one point.  If we hadn’t opted to take on a major project outside of that kept us from doing new business there for most of the past year we’d have reached the top 10 with ease.

Surprise! You’re Done Here.

What was really surprising is that after 5 years of working with and being a top ranked vendor,  they terminated our account with no warning.  No email, no phone call, no communication of any kind.  We simply logged into the system in an effort to communicate with a client that we were working with and could not log in.

After ruling out technical issues we emailed  36  hours later they responded “you did a chargeback so we closed your accounts”.

Wait.  What chargeback?!

We called and got in touch with Julie, the customer service representative for freelancers. She said there was a chargeback of $690 on a Guru account for (we changed the name for the privacy of our client).   As we pointed out to Julie; was a company we knew quite well, we had just finished an 18 month stint there as interim CTO, but we are not

While working as CTO, we setup a employer account to assist in locating additional vendors to work on their project.  When setting up the account, we used the corporate American Express card that put in our name to facilitate purchases.   It was that very card, with our name on it as “CTO, LLC” that was the source of our problems.

Three months after  we finished our contract with, they had a problem with a transaction at Guru. THEY had requested a chargeback on their account, not us. We brought this to Julie’s attention but she either didn’t understand or didn’t care.

Extortion OK

It turns out another Guru vendor had extorted money from via the SafePay Escrow System.  Even though the money was in Escrow and it is against the Terms of Service, the vendor insisted that NO WORK would be released under any circumstances unless released $690 of a $2000 project.

Vendor Extortion Letter
Private DB Message:
– From: ABC Vendor (name changed) (Pro ID: 1063060)

– Project: Create Flash Homepage For New Website (Project ID: 568291)
How do you expect us to send you files without pre payment.

You know thats our only protection.

Here is the updated presentation, please download here (note: a demo file, not the work due).


The work  that was finally released turned out to be incomplete, sub-par, and not even close to the deliverables requested.   When asked for a refund from the vendor they basically said “too bad”. brought the complaint to and even had written extortion letters from the vendor.  Guru also said “too bad, you released the money, we won’t help you”., rightfully so, initiated a charge back through American Express.  Guru did NOT serve their best interest and after months of discussion refused to help, even though clear violations of the vendor and SafePay Escrow policy were evident. refused to assist in the matter so requested a chargeback as suggested by American Express.

The truly amazing part of all this is not only did refuse to assist with a clear case of extortion and violations of the Terms of Service, they allowed the other vendor to remain online as an active vendor in their system!  We know this because came to us for assistance after we had finished serving in the CTO role.    We researched the claim and lo-and-behold, the vendor was still online and now requesting funds up front to start projects from other potential clients.   Even more amazing was just a month ago the very same vendor bid on one of Cyber Sprocket’s projects we had posted through our employer account, bad feedback from other problem projects intact in their profile!

Chargebacks Are Not OK

So what happened next? got the chargeback for $690 from and immediately shut down ALL accounts associated in any way, shape or form with  This included Cyber Sprocket Labs, simply because our name appeared in both places.

Nevermind that is a separate entity owned by a different individual.  Nevermind that the credit card was an corporate card.   Who cares that the tax ID on file, the address, the company name, and the primary contacts had nothing to do with Cyber Sprocket.  Forget the fact that Cyber Sprocket Labs had perfect 5-of-5 star ratings in all categories on for the more than 5 years we were there.  We never had a chargeback, never a complaint, and brought more than $10,000 in revenue into   Guru made up their mind, they were kicking us off the site.

They also could not grasp the fact that was a client of Cyber Sprocket Labs, NOT part of Cyber Sprocket Labs.   We brought to because we told them how great we thought was.  Maybe we were wrong, but that was our thought at the time. In 5+ years we NEVER had a problem with, often worked with good vendors, and rarely with bad clients.

No Explanation Good Enough

No matter how we tried to explain the situation, or offered to send evidence that the companies are truly separate, didn’t want to hear it.    We even spoke with and their CEO agreed to talk to about the situation. CEO Email
Can you have them call me?
How can the account have anything to do with you?
– Joe Owner would NOT consider the case saying “we do not see the benefit in talking with Joe Owner” (Joe Owner is our pseudonym for the owner of the company).  Their response was  that we must reverse the chargeback.  Sorry, but we cannot do that.  Only can do that.    We have no authority because it is not our card.  We did not initiate the chargeback. Julie at didn’t care.   As with our client and the extortion case, it was not Guru’s problem. CEO Email


Good afternoon. I apologize for the inconvenience. I received your email with Joe Owner’s message. I do not see the benefit in talking with Joe Owner unless he was willing to retract the chargeback; that is the only way we can reconsider reinstating your accounts. A chargeback is a violation of our Terms of Service and anyone and associates taking such action cannot be allowed on our platform.

I have contacted your Employers (Project ID: 604703 and 119413) regarding the outstanding payments. You are free to work with them outside If they decide to pay you via for the outstanding Escrow and Invoice, we will forward the payment to you. If not, we will return the payment in Escrow to the Employer.

I will inform you when I hear from your Employer as to what they decide to do with regards to the payments.

Julie Team Focuses On Their Profits

One thing is certain, has made it very clear where their priorities are these days.  The shift in corporate mentality is obvious. What was once a mission to provide fairly priced high quality consulting services has now become a mission to make more money for

How do we know this?  For starters, they allow a vendor to stay online after documented extortion (that makes money for yet kick us off for being very loosely associated with a chargeback ( loses money).

Secondly, has made a very notable policy change that goes into full effect this July.   They are changing a well-designed and well-liked ranking system based heavily on ratings and past performance to a system based purely on revenue earnings.   That means someone that does poor work but can close $10,000 in deals because they are low priced ranks higher than someone that does great work but only generates $5,000 in income.    Ask any of the top-rated vendors on what they think about the system & they’ll tell you its a bad idea. Policy Change Notice

Thus, the very concept of Rank hinders the success of the majority in favor of a select minority – regardless of which factor is used for the primary sort.  In contrast, genuinely wants every Freelancer to have an opportunity to be a winner – not just a select few.

So What Will Change on May 8?

Guru Freelancers can expect to see initial adjustments for the removal of Rank beginning in Guru search results and on Freelancer profiles:

  • As a first step, we will begin sorting search results by earnings as a default. A new option will also be provided to allow results to be re-sorted by Reviews. Of the available options, a default sort by earnings provides the best view of the health, vitality and promise of Guru Freelancers due to its natural display of financial success and high quote submission activity.

  • Quality Scores and Rank numbers will no longer be visible to Employers. Both will be removed from your profiles and from the search results. Instead, your reviews and feedback ratings will be better featured to summarize your performance history to prospective Employers in a more familiar format.

Source: website June 14th, 2010 (

It can’t be made any more obvious, is putting the emphasis on your ability to make them rich.  They are trying to say this is to give “new consultants just getting started a chance to compete”.  Really?  We had a zero rating and no earnings at one point as well.  We got started just fine and made it to the top 25.   That was with a ranking system based on quality first., it is clear, you are all about the money.  Quality consultants be damned.

What Next?

So what do we do now?  Nothing with it seems.  They flatly refuse to try to resolve the situation.  Regardless of the thousands of dollars in revenue we’ve produced for them, they insist we are somehow responsible for the $690 they lost because they allowed clear and blatant extortion to happen within their system.

Luckily we have a very good client base already and are growing without the help of  There are also plenty of other venues out there that have improved significantly since the days back in 2005 when we started on   New leads and new contracts will come in by word-of-mouth and through sites such as Elance. and oDesk.

Even if were to ask us back, we’re not sure we’d go back.   What was once a thriving, well-run community is now quickly sliding down the slope into mediocrity or worse.

Have you had good or bad experiences with  Feel free to share.  We’d love to hear your stories as well.