HoursOf fulfills a simple but often urgent need for would-be customers of restaurants and stores. It tells them what’s open, right now.
Larry Savage, a Middletown-based entrepreneur, launched the HoursOf website last February, and its unique solution to a common problem has caught on fast. Traffic has been growing 25% each month, with about 10,000 visitors per month – including international users. The iPhone and Android apps are currently being developed.
We met Larry at the September LaunchHaven, when his HoursOf pitch took home first place. We saw him again at Startup Weekend Hartford, when he pitched yet another idea, called Tootsie Toaster – and took home second place and the People’s Choice Award.
Larry took a breather earlier this week to answer some questions about HoursOf, Tootsie Toaster, and his life as a fully committed entrepreneur.
Tell us about HoursOf. When, why, and how did you start it?
I always wind up eating late and am a bit of a night owl, so I was always finding myself showing up at places just after they had closed. I wanted there to be an incredibly simple utility for finding “what’s open,” so I built it. It launched in February 2013.
Is HoursOf your first entrepreneurial venture? What impelled you to do it?
My first “real” one – yes. I had previously built WockyWords.com as a hobby/passion project; I learned some great lessons but made every entrepreneurial mistake in the book. If only I’d read the books first! One of the main things I learned from that experience was how problematic it can be using offshore contractors. It pushed me to build HoursOf myself and be more involved under the hood and self-reliant.
The life-timing was also right with HoursOf (as right as it gets, at least!), since I had some good savings (read: runway) from my time working as an IT manager at The Hartford, as well as some freedom in terms of life responsibilities – so I ran with it.
What have been the main challenges to getting HoursOf off the ground?
Finding revenue. I’ve had a lot of success using techniques such as SEO to grow traffic to the site, but it still has a while before it reaches the tipping point of significant advertiser value. I’m continuing to look for creative ways to monetize HoursOf.
Have you had any help developing HoursOf (a team, investors, etc.)?
A former colleague from The Hartford, Mike, helps part-time on the database and back-end side. But I’ve done most of the development myself. It’s interesting because, even though I was an IT manager at The Hartford, I didn’t consider myself a great programmer, and my instinct was to have someone else program HoursOf for me. But I read about the Lean Startup model and it made me realize that you don’t have to build the end-all product immediately, especially in my case, where I’m focused on something very simple and specific. So I started brushing up on my programming skills and learning about other things, like SEO and Twitter Bootstrap, and did it all on my own.
It’s been a constant learning experience, and that’s my favorite thing about it. In my view, when you start a business, you’re committing to do everything. You’re not waiting around for a programmer or sales guy – you are the programmer and sales guy. You have to constantly roll up your sleeves and figure out the best way to get something done, and if it doesn’t work out, you have to adjust and move forward.
That’s one of the challenges, but also one of the best things about being an entrepreneur. What other career gives you the opportunity to be in constant learning mode?
Is that what attracts you most to entrepreneurism?
Yes: speed of learning, variety of tasks, and the challenge of solving problems.
Where are you now with developing HoursOf, and what’s your forecast for 2014?
This week, I’m launching the HoursOf blog, beginning with an infographic about Black Friday hours. Beyond that, one of the main ideas of the blog will be to target brick-and-mortar businesses that don’t have accurate information online about their hours, whether on their sites or in Google searches. A lot of businesses don’t update their information, and the blog will tell them how.
The next steps are building the iOS and Android apps, as well as business-based landing pages (e.g. “/walmart”). The apps are important because not many people use mobile web sites, and I want to have direct contact with the user instead of having Google always between us. It will help with retention. Already 80% of my traffic is from mobile.
Recently, you won second prize at Startup Weekend Hartford for Tootsie Toaster. Tell us about that experience.
A few years ago I collaborated with my talented seamstress neighbor to create a Valentine’s Day gift for my wife (then girlfriend) – a fleece foot pocket that attaches to the bed – and we called it the Tootsie Toaster. At Startup Weekend Hartford I formed a small team of four people and we just plowed through business validation and creation all weekend. “Hi, I’m Larry and my wife is cold” best sums up the experience. I probably pitched with that line a dozen times over the course of the weekend. We visited the Hooker Day Parade in Hartford with our prototype and some survey questions, and got some great feedback on the product – if people found it effective, if they would buy one, what they would pay for it, what they would want improved. Almost all of our respondents thought the Tootsie Toaster would keep their feet warm, and over half of them gave us names and email addresses to be notified when they could purchase it. Our team had a great time at the Weekend (eventually grabbing Second Prize and the People’s Choice Award). We have been meeting regularly to keep the project moving and are finalizing our product and manufacturing approach, and may even create a Kickstarter campaign to help launch. That said, it’s definitely a side project for me since my focus is on HoursOf.
Read any good books lately?
Your website WockyWords.com is devoted entirely to the portmanteau, a word made by combining other words. Do you have any good entrepreneur- or startup-related portmanteaux?
“Entrepreneur” actually has a ton of potential portmanteaux; I’ll rattle some off for fun: “Mantrapreneur” (an entrepreneur’s mantra), “Blondrepreneur” (a blonde entrepreneur), “Cantrapreneur” (can’t + entrepreneur = an entrepreneur who is full of excuses), “Entrepresnore” (entrepreneur + snore = a boring entrepreneur). Mark Cuban uses “Wantrepreneur” – that one’s a great reminder that it takes more than an idea to be an entrepreneur. You have to execute.
Finally, based on your experiences so far, what’s your advice to fellow entrepreneurs?
Stop waiting for the mythical “perfect time” to start a business and start one. Don’t waste time concerning yourself with what could go wrong, and instead milk every second by learning the most you can. You must be resourceful – it’s not like working at big companies where there’s a team of people for everything. Not being an expert is only an excuse to become one, not for explaining lack of progress.