Interview with Stefan Fuerst, author of GrandTotal and TimeLog

One of the toughest parts of being a freelancer or starting a small business is tracking time and billing. I spoke with Stefan Fürst of Media Atelier (@mediaatelier) about two applications he developed, GrandTotal and TimeLog, that make billing and invoicing a lot easier.

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What is GrandTotal?

GrandTotal does what most service providers (hopefully) do from time to time: It creates invoices and estimates and keeps track of the payments and due dates. The key feature is that invoices can have almost any look, which is really important to most of my users.

How did you get started developing the application?

I started in early 2008, building the layout engine, which was the most important thing to get done. If I would fail on that my yet unnamed product would never make it to a final release. After 7 months of development I picked some of my TimeLog users to give it a try. Thanks to my users, with their input I could release a fairly mature product in September. Maybe I should mention, that I tried this several times before and failed big time.

Where did you get the idea to create the application?

That’s an easy one. It was #1 request of my TimeLog users. So I knew there is a demand.

One of the features of your application is the ability to have multiple customizable tax rates, domestic and international. Were there any issues or complications dealing with taxes?

GrandTotal is a European product; dealing with international customers is a very common thing here. This required a bit a more flexible of a tax system - which in some cases can make the product look more difficult than it actually is.

TimeLog is one of your other apps, is it difficult to create applications that “play well” with each other?

Not really - being in control of the source allows you to make them fit together. It’s harder to deal with 3rd party integration.

TimeLog.app

What is TimeLog?

TimeLog was my first Mac application I wrote, it was written in RealBasic. I wrote it for myself to figure out where my time going. I submitted it to MacUpdate with no expectations. My first sale was a great experience.

Some invoicing application’s log time as well. Was there a reason you chose to write GrandTotal and TimeLog as separate applications?

Yes there were several reasons. One reasons is that TimeLog can collect working time over the network which means more than one person can be involved.

Another is that a lot of users don’t track time because they work for fixed fees anyway. Last but not least, I did not want to raise the price of TimeLog, nor was I willing to give away the app for 19€.

I love when applications incorporate companion mobile apps. What drove you to develop GrandTotal for the iPhone?

That was a logical step. I love the iPhone, my users love it…

How difficult is it to write applications for a separate platform like the iPhone?

It’s just another product. There is almost no code you can share. It’s more about dealing with the limited screen-space you have on the iPhone. You have to also consider the feature-set. But it’s a very nice experience.

How did you get your creative juices flowing to create such usable invoice designs?

I wish I had. One of my users (hi Frank) provided me with some very nice layouts. Actually the templates are not intended to be used 1:1.

At the beginning, the built-in template had a fairly bright orange typo on it, and instead of modifying it, a lot of users just kept that. Meanwhile I supplied a grayish, less screaming one as default.

How do you go about promoting and distributing your applications?

I should really do more on this part. I was lucky to have a big installed base of TimeLog users and sales where excellent from the first day on.

What are some of the difficulties you run into being an independent developer?

You don’t have to search for a distributor. I just ran across one Belarus site selling an outdated crack of GrandTotal for 8€…

Personally I don’t see the point of selling boxed software these days. My shop is open 24/7 worldwide.

You have several Mac OS and iPhone applications, are there any future projects you have in the works?

I focus on the future versions of my applications. Currently I have no intentions to launch a new product. GrandTotal and TimeLog keep me very busy right now. But that’s how it should be, isn’t it?

Thanks again to Stefan Fürst of Media Atelier for speaking with me.

Stefan can be found at @mediaatelier and http://www.grandtotal.biz/GrandTotal/?lang=en