Timely is an AI for those who live and work in the moment

4 Jun 2018

The Timely team in Oslo. Image: Timely

Our start-up of the week is Timely, the Oslo-based creator of an automatic, artificially intelligent tracker for people who trade in time.

“Timely is the first start-up to apply AI to the universally hated task of time tracking,” explained Timely founder Mathias Mikkelsen. “Our time-tracking app fully automates the entire time reporting process, from capturing everything you work on to creating all your time sheets by itself. Simply put, it’s the time tracking app to end time tracking.”

Timely tracks everything you work on across your devices and creates accurate time sheets while you work.

‘On a personal level, Timely is a first step into investigating a personal fascination: how smart AI can make our future’

As “the time tracking app to end time tracking”, Timely is set to reinvent the data reporting infrastructure supporting service-led companies worldwide.

Over 3,500 companies across 150 different countries currently pay for Timely, enabled by a hybrid in-house/remote team based out of Oslo, Norway.

The market

“Anybody who needs to track time professionally, from freelancers and moonlighting consultants through to agencies and established companies with large teams,” Mikkelsen described the market for the platform.

“Since time tracking has near-universal application within business, our user base is extremely diverse and includes designers, programmers, architects, lawyers, marketers, non-profits and film producers — to name a few.”

The founder

Timely founder Mathias Mikkelsen (at head of table) with his team. Image: Timely

Timely founder Mathias Mikkelsen (at head of table) with his team. Image: Timely

Timely is Mikkelsen’s first start-up venture.

“At age 23, I quit my design agency job in Norway, sold my apartment, and bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco. Living out of a hacker house closet, I built and bootstrapped Timely from the ground up, growing an international user base without spending a cent on marketing.

“In 2016, I finally managed to secure a transformational $1m in funding, becoming one of the youngest Norwegian entrepreneurs ever to do so.

“I’ve since established my second company, Memory, which builds upon my personal fascination with an AI-powered future.”

The technology

Mikkelsen said there are two main components behind Timely: the Memory tracker and its Memory AI.

The Memory tracker records everything you do on your computer in the background while you work. “It can see what emails you send, what websites you visit, what documents you work on and what meetings you attend. It integrates with every web and desktop app, and can also pull in GPS location and mobile phone call data. All your data is beautifully laid out in a private, secure timeline only you can access,” explained Mikkelsen.

Memory AI is Timely’s neural network. “It looks at all the data in your private timeline and intelligently suggests time entries to explain what you did. You just need to review and approve its suggestions to push them public. The algorithm learns from every edit you make, so that within a few weeks you can rely on Timely to create highly accurate time sheets for you without any manual input or correction.”

Mikkelsen said that, on a functional level, the ultimate goal is to rid the world of time tracking. “We can’t believe that in 2018 businesses still lean on inaccurate, manual approaches to time tracking introduced during the industrial age.

“We really didn’t want to be just another app simplifying instead of solving the problem. Timely hopes not only to automate the entire time tracking process, but to enable people to get more quality from that time – from billing for hours that are often forgotten or overlooked, to providing insights and proactive tips to help them get more from their time.

“On a personal level, Timely is a first step into investigating a personal fascination: how smart AI can make our future. I’ve recently set up my second start-up, Memory, which will really act as the foundation for exploring more applications of AI to improve our day-to-day lives. We’re building up our team of machine learning specialists to make something super exciting in the next few years – watch this space!”

Timely is of the essence

Mikkelsen said that Timely has almost 4,000 paying clients from 160 countries around the world. “The companies range from very small companies to all the way up to 900 users, which is our biggest customer segment.

“Our diversity is one of our biggest assets, which extends to the team building Timely. Our team has more than tripled since late 2017. There are now about 30 of us, 40pc of whom work remotely from across the globe. The rest of us are based in our main HQ in Oslo, Norway.

“We’re currently supported by two great funders: 500 Startups and Norwegian venture capitalists SNÖ Ventures. We’re aiming to raise more money in early 2019.”

Mikkelsen said that the biggest challenge along the way has been financial.

“Raising money and securing funding is always going to be huge one, and I had to sell my apartment to get that process going.

“Building the product itself has had its difficult moments, particularly solving the AI time tracking part, because there’s no precedent there. It’s never been done before.

“Then there’s the general intensity that comes with running a business, like stress when things aren’t going the right way, launching huge-scale recruitment and firing those who aren’t the right fit.”

Northern exposure

Mikkelsen said that the entrepreneurial renaissance gripping the world has been embraced in Norway.

“It’s pretty amazing in Norway at the moment. The start-up scene has completely exploded in the last couple of years. Venture capitalists across the world are increasingly turning their attention towards Norway, not just those based in Scandinavia.

“While that brings lots of early-stage stuff and noise, the sum total spells massive progress. I’m really humbled that Timely was part of the first wave of that.”

His advice to fellow founders is to find a framework for thinking.

“Everything starts there, so I would spend a lot of time and energy finding a framework you like and enjoy. I’m a huge believer in first principles, which has been popularised via Elon Musk, but there were many great minds that used that before him. I make it a priority to hold talks about first principles with my team and ensure everyone’s aligned on the concept.

“Ironically, I would also say be very, very skeptical of advice, especially from people who aren’t going to live with the results of that advice. Flat out ignore advice from anyone who hasn’t actually done what they are preaching about. You’d be surprised how many people fall into that category.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years