Time for a change: Dunedin software developers Timely embrace the remote workplace

Karl and Danelle Radel from Klone Hair in Dunedin use Timely

The importance of a work-life balance is at the centre of one of New Zealand's fastest growing startups – and where better to work than sunny Dunedin?

In the last year Timely, which sells cloud-based appointment scheduling software, has achieved a lot. The startup now has more than 7,000 customers in 85 countries – mostly in Australia. 

Timely is aimed at businesses in the health and beauty industries, such as hairdressers, beauty therapists and personal trainers. Users' clients can book and manage their own appointments online and the calendar functionality is complemented with point-of-sale billing, and integration with systems like Xero and Quickbooks online.

Timely makes money by charging customers a monthly subscription fee and since its launch it has facilitated 32 million appointment bookings.

While Timely is a Dunedin-based company, it has a very modern way of doing business. 

All of the company’s 30 staff members work from home. The bulk of them reside in Dunedin but there is no limit to where they can work. Most of the tech team are based in Wellington, three staffers work from Auckland and two are starting the growing team in the United Kingdom. 

There are two main hubs in Wellington and Dunedin with hot-desks and the entire team gets together annually to connect with each other.   

Chief executive and co-founder Ryan Baker says a location like Dunedin is the perfect place to start a new business. 

“The lifestyle here is great. Building a business like this from scratch is hard and it’s important to have a good lifestyle to balance that. 

“When you’re making a lot of hard decisions and working late nights you need to be supported by the place you’re living – and I think we’ll see it happening more.”

Ryan Baker

As companies start to realise there’s a lot of talent outside of Auckland, remote working and satellite offices will become more popular, he says. 

Timely isn't alone in tapping into the skills of the regions. Xero is set it open a new office in Hawke’s Bay early next year. 

Dunedin is fast becoming a hub for the South Island's tech sector - and people are starting to flock in for jobs. Dunedin-based IT recruitment company Crew Consulting says Aucklanders have filled 60 percent of the roles they've recruited for in Dunedin in the last year. Moreover, half of the roles they have filled in the main South Island centres went to people from overseas. 

Manufacturing jobs have been left for dust, as the tech sector becomes the fastest growing employment industry in Dunedin City. The industry showed an 8.3 percent growth in the ten years to 2014, according to a report by Business and Economic Research Ltd (BERL).

No one works full time from the Timely office, which means people can be flexible about their work habits. But Baker has no concerns about the productivity of his workforce and believes the best way to get staff working hard is to make sure they are happy. 

“There’s some fairly large international companies who have staff living and working in Dunedin remotely.

“That sort of thing goes unnoticed here because we keep our heads down. But there’s a lot of opportunities here, people might just have to look a bit harder for them.”

The way Timely functions could not have been possible even ten years ago. New technology and cloud tools make working anywhere in the world a possibility. 

Slack is the primary tool the company uses to communicate with staff members. Baker recently received a message via Slack by a staffer who relocated to Dunedin to join the Timely team: “Before moving to Dunedin, I never pictured I’d be sitting on a beach, sweating. I love Dunedin.”

It seems Dunedin is a great place to keep staff happy in their jobs. With remote working, all you need is the motivation to knuckle-down and a sufficient internet speed. And the Timely team has motivation in droves.

This year, the four-year-old company reached a major milestone when it became profitable in June. It was a goal the team had planned to achieve, but not without a lot of grit and determination. 

“When the budget for doing what you want to do [with the business] is the revenue then you have to understand every aspect. It’s a real forcing function for us. 

“We set a goal which we knew would be hard but we learned a lot from doing that and we got there on target.”

Timely’s profitable status put the company in a good position to accelerate growth. In the last two months, five new staff members have been appointed right across the board. 

Working remotely has clear financial benefits. The software company didn't need a lot of capital or assets to get started.

Being based in Dunedin meant Timely had an outward focus from day one. There’s only so much potential for growth in a city of under 130,000 so Timely took a global approach.

“If we wanted to play on the world stage we had to work out how to reach people everywhere. Now we can reach people in New York as easily as we can in Dunedin.”

As the company grows, it’s looking to strengthen its activity in the global market. It already has a small team developing in the UK and it has just become an Apple Mobility Partner, so the team are working closely with Apple as they gear up to move into the US market. 

Timely’s latest goal is to reach 10,000 small business companies in the next year. 

Baker says Dunedin City Council does a good job at supporting the emerging tech sector in the south and Timely has utilised the opportunities from the council-led internship programme, Sexy Summer Jobs, in the past.

“The main role of the council is to create a beautiful, liveable city – and they’re doing a great job at that.

“People can be a bit apprehensive before they move to Dunedin, but once they get here, they love it.”