Q&A With Vacation Tracker CEO
Vacation Tracker is a simple tool to keep track of when your team members are on vacation or away from the office. We’ve been working around the clock in order to make a simple tool that will save HR departments hours every week, and improve their leave management process.
In order to understand the idea of Vacation Tracker better and see how everything came to life, we’re talking with Lav Crnobrnja, the CEO of Vacation Tracker.
Hello Lav, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Would you please tell us more about yourself, and explain what Vacation Tracker is?
Sure. So besides Vacation Tracker, I’m the CEO of Cloud Horizon Technologies which is the company that built Vacation Tracker. Cloud Horizon builds web and mobile applications for customers in Canada and the USA.
CEO is a big word for a small company like Vacation Tracker. I’m more of a coach for the team we have working on the product and I help with customer service so that I can get a better sense of what our customers want to see in future versions of Vacation Tracker.
Vacation Tracker is a product we built to solve our own problem of managing vacation requests for our team. As our company scaled from 5 to 30 people, we started having problems keeping track of who was away and how many days they had left. After trying out a few different methods to manage this, we decided to allocate some time to build a tool that we can use ourselves. And then once our team started using it, they loved it so we decided to make it into a product that other teams can use as well.
Can you tell us how you came up with the idea of Vacation Tracker, and who else was involved in the creation of this simple leave management tool?
Actually, the credit for the idea should go to my partner and Vacation Tracker co-founder Slobodan Stojanovic. About 3 years ago, we did a hackathon at Cloud Horizon where our whole team worked together on 1 product idea for 1 day (at the time there were 12 of us in the company). Since we were starting to have problems keeping track of vacations for our team, Slobodan suggested we build a simple tool to manage this as our hackathon project. So we did. And then we completely forgot about it.
Fast forward 2 years, and at the beginning of 2018 when we started evaluating product ideas to work on, we decided to continue with Vacation Tracker because we were still not happy with the tools we were using to manage vacations in Cloud Horizon. Slobodan had spent some time playing with Slack bots, and our company is a heavy Slack user, so we decided to start from scratch and build Vacation Tracker into our existing workflow in Slack. It took some time to get it right, but we launched our public beta at the beginning of July 2018.
We have a really awesome team working on Vacation Tracker. Besides Slobodan and myself, we have Srdjan as our lead developer, Ivan and Milan help out with development when they are between projects at Cloud Horizon, Dusica is our project manager, Aleksandar is our QA engineer, Aleksandra is our marketing manager and we’ve been getting some help with the product roadmap from Ivana. We also have a few other team members from Cloud Horizon helping out when they can.
What would you say makes Vacation Tracker different from other leave management tools out there?
We really focused on building Vacation Tracker around Slack. So I feel that our Slack bot is superior to that of our competitors. Once vacation policies are set up, everything can be managed directly in Slack without the need to go to the dashboard.
We also focused on keeping the product as simple and intuitive as possible while keeping costs as low as possible for our customers. We have several features which I think we did better than most of our competitors but in my opinion, the feature that we really nailed is the Teams feature. Since Cloud Horizon is a company with offices in 2 countries, we needed to set up Vacation Tracker with the flexibility to manage multiple teams that belong in one Slack organization. So if I had to pick one feature that really stands out, it’s that one. We’ll be evolving Teams significantly over the next couple of months so stay tuned!
Were there any pivots along the way?
Actually, we really built Vacation Tracker using the Lean Startup methodology. So the first iteration of the product that was launched to about 30 closed beta teams in April of 2018 was just the core product: make requests, approve requests and manage vacation policies through the dashboard. Super simple and only the most necessary features. And then we started getting feedback from our teams and we’ve been developing features based on the feedback we’re getting from our customers. So no pivots for now.
What are you most proud of when it comes to your product?
First, I wouldn’t say this is my product. This is really a team effort and Vacation Tracker wouldn’t be here today without the awesome team behind it.
Secondly, the thing I am most proud of is the discipline and focus our team has demonstrated on this product. When you’re building any product, it’s easy to get distracted and to get pulled in many directions. There are so many great ideas on how to improve the product, but as a startup, you have limited resources. So prioritizing things well and focusing on developing features that bring the most value to our customers is really important, but also difficult to do in practice. Our team is doing a great job filtering out the noise and focusing on what matters the most to our customers.
What can we expect from Vacation Tracker in the next couple of months?
The biggest thing we’re working on at the moment is Leave Types. Right now, teams can only request Vacations, Days Off, and Half-days in Vacation Tracker. In a few weeks, they will be able to set-up different types of leave such as Sick Days, Conferences, Work from Home, and Maternity Leave. Basically, anything that their organization needs.
Besides this, we have several other features in the pipeline but I’m afraid to commit to anything publicly as our priorities shift pretty regularly depending on what our customers are asking for.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give to other goal-getters (entrepreneurs) out there, trying to start their own companies?
What I’m about to say is not a flash of brilliance by any means and is probably the most frequent advice given to entrepreneurs: talk to your customers. We’ve learned a great deal about the challenges our customers are facing by talking to them. Everybody is talking about this but I think few people are actually doing it. Sending your customer a survey is not talking to them. Sending them a 1 question email or getting an NPS score from them is not talking to them. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do those things, of course you should! I just don’t consider this “talking to your customers”.
Getting on the phone and actually having a conversation with your customer or going for a meeting with your customer is talking to them. Take any opportunity you can to do a call/meeting and speak to them because this is your most valuable source of information. The important thing is to be well prepared for these calls/meetings, don’t “wing it”. You should have a list of questions and be prepared to do follow-ups based on the answers you are getting. In my experience, calls or meetings with customers are probably the most valuable things you can do for your business, especially in the beginning.