How BigTime bolstered growth by turning its back on steady revenue

by Andreas Rekdal
September 13, 2016

Pivotal business decisions can be painful, even when your instincts are telling you you’re making the right call.

Five years ago, time tracking solutions provider BigTime Software confronted one of those agonizing turning points. Although the company had provided hosted cloud services since its founding in 2002, many of its early clients had opted for on-premise installations of its time tracking and billing software. This left BigTime’s customer base split between two software delivery models at a time when it was becoming increasingly clear that the enterprise software industry was headed for the cloud.

On one hand, the legacy non-SaaS clients were a great asset for the company. They provided a steady stream of revenue — about half of the company’s total, by CEO Brian Saunders's estimation — and showed no sign of intending to leave. But the company’s leadership and board of directors were growing increasingly worried the team was spreading itself too thin by supporting those customers while expanding its cloud offerings at the same time.

While drawing out its roadmap in 2011, BigTime was faced with a decision: chug along as is or make a gamble on its future as a SaaS-only business — a decision that meant passing up revenue brought in by its legacy clients. The company chose the latter.

“That decision sucked. First off, there’s no good way to figure out whether you should or shouldn’t,” said Saunders (pictured right). “And it’s nerve-racking — you’re talking about cutting off 50 percent of your revenue moving forward.”

But to Saunders, maintaining BigTime’s legacy clients would be akin to paddling against the stream of a river.

“Could you stay in the same place by kind of paddling for a bit? Absolutely. We could have kept on-premise customers with very little effort for a number of years,” he said. “But at the end of the day, everybody is moving online. And we’d end up fighting that trend and fighting ourselves, because you have to dedicate a certain amount of time to keep each kind of customer happy.”

Moreover, by stretching itself thin across multiple business models, Saunders feared that his company would fail to grasp each model’s nuances, becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none. So BigTime started meeting with investors to raise its first round of funding, a $4 million Series A, to sustain itself through a potentially painful transition period.

The gamble paid off. A large number of BigTime’s clients with local installations decided to follow the company to the cloud, and since 2011 the company has doubled its employee count from around 12 to 25. Just under a year ago, the company passed the milestone of $1 billion billable hours tracked on an annual basis, and six months later that number increased to $2 billion.

The company's cloud-only approach also brought opportunities for new service offerings. As the amount of data captured by its platform continues to grow, BigTime is building out an analytics team to help coach its users on improving their workflows. Over time, the plan is for its data science team to establish new best practices for industries built on billable hours.

If you’d asked Saunders five years ago, he probably wouldn’t have guessed that he’d be part of the Big Data movement. But that may not be atypical for the industry as a whole.

“You don’t start out saying ‘I’m going to develop a set of data that I can use to help professional firms run more effectively,’” he said. “You head out in one direction, and you just have to keep your eye out for potential value. The thing that makes Big Data compelling is that now, with so many companies creating these kinds of multi-tenant warehouses, it really becomes a kind of little gold mine that has the potential to help your customer base elevate their business — in a way that they couldn’t fundamentally do if they were on their own.”

Images via BigTime Software.

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