Keeping Time With Marisol Guzman, CEO Of Timesoft
July 8, 2013 Alex Woodie
Marisol Guzman wasn’t like most teenagers. Growing up in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, she preferred working odd programming jobs over attending high school. And instead of going to college, the budding entrepreneur instead founded her own software company, Timesoft, which continues to sell and develop time and attendance software for IBM i and Windows 20 years later.
You could say that time seemed in short supply for young Guzman, who stopped going to high school after her first semester of senior year (she did eventually graduate). While her classmates were more interested in typical teenager-type stuff–you know, the mall, music, clothing, relationships, and so on–the 18-year-old was gaining valuable experience in the real world. Instead of attending class, Guzman took odd computing jobs for clients who had answered the ads she placed in the local PennySaver. These clients had her writing scripts, programming in DOS, and writing formulas in Excel–anything they needed done on the computer.
Eventually, one of her clients had her writing a rudimentary time and attendance program for the PC, and a light bulb went off in Guzman’s head–sort of, anyway. “It wasn’t something where I said, ‘Hey, let me go into the time and attendance business,” says Guzman, who says she wanted to be a businesswoman since she was a little girl. “I just kind of fell into this industry by the demands of my clients.”
Just the same, the business requirements and opportunities were starting to align for Guzman. “I realized that every business needs a time clock, basically. So I said, ‘Let me go ahead and pursue this,'” she says.
When she was still 18, Guzman moved from L.A. to Long Beach and founded Timesoft. Her first client was Leslie’s Swimming Pool Supplies, which contracted her to write a DOS-based time and attendance package in Visual FoxPro that would be used at more than 300 stores. That first gig got Guzman started, and helped finance the growth of her company.
Before long, Guzman started hearing about this thing called an AS/400, and she knew she needed to be working on it. “I had made a really good connection with an engineer that worked at a company that had an AS/400, and I saw the potential,” she says. “I read the history about it, the System/34 and the System/36, and how reliable it was, how solid it was. I fell in love with it basically, and I said, let me invest in it, and I did, and I’ve been investing in it ever since.”
The first release of the RPG-based product came out a couple of years later, and was a big seller for Timesoft. The AS/400 product (now called TimeSoft iSeries) would get the company into the door at big clients that had an AS/400, and lead to cross-selling opportunities for the DOS (and then Windows) version.
In its heyday, Timesoft had hundreds of clients around the world in a variety of industries, including retail, distribution, healthcare, hospitality, transportation, telecommunications, and government. The company had five offices around the world, including offices in North Carolina, Mexico, Panama, and Mexico City.
The company pushed the state of the art in the time and attendance field. In an age when Twinax and Token Ring were king, Timesoft developed a way to connect time keeping systems to the AS/400 using serial cabling–up to 4,000 feet of serial cabling, in some cases–using RS232 to RS485 converters and a series of boosters. Networking and time-keeping devices have evolved with the times, and so has Timesoft. The company today offers an array of Ethernet-connected time-keeping machines, including biometric and fingerprint-sensing devices that can eliminate buddy punching.
Timing the Market
While Timesoft doesn’t own the biggest chunk of “mindshare” in the IBM i time and attendance field today, Guzman maintains that her product still retains a technical edge over competing products, including in the generation of complex variance reports required by some of her largest clients. The company today counts Cartridges Are Us, Leslie’s, Washington State Bank, Texarkana Arkansas School District, Rapid City Regional Hospital, Topanga Terrace, and Sysco Food Services as customers.
The times have changed for Timesoft, however. The company closed its other offices, and just keeps the headquarters in Long Beach open. Most of Timesoft’s programmers telecommute from home. So-called “green field” sales are not what they used to be, and many existing customers have dropped maintenance because the product continues to work just fine without it, and to take advantage of Timesoft’s generous perpetual license model.
“Once they have [TimeSoft iSeries] and it’s working, they don’t touch it!” Guzman says. “The only time they call is when they’re changing machines. When the AS/400 serial number changes, then they need to call us so we can issue them a new license.”
Many of Timesoft’s current sales come from replacing competing products, Guzman says. “Many of my clients tend to be ex-Kronos customers,” she says. “They’re really looking for something better. They micro-analyze my application before they commit to anything.”
Guzman isn’t the biggest fan of Kronos, the giant in the time and attendance industry, which built its IBM i business through acquisition and today has an IBM i installed base that’s measured in the thousands, compared to between 200 and 300 IBM i customers for Timesoft. “I didn’t realize there was a Kronos there” when I entered the AS/400 market in 1994, she says. “When I had an RPG product, they didn’t have an RPG product. They bought one of my competitors’ RPG products and then decided to market it.”
Going forward, Guzman is developing new products for her customers, and weighing new business models to generate growth. She wonders whether smaller shops that still rely on paper-based time-card tracking will feel overwhelmed by the feature-rich Timesoft iSeries product, and whether she should create a “lite” version and sell it at a discount. There’s also the possibility of selling time and attendance as a cloud service.
Development of Timesoft iSeries continues in the meantime, and Guzman is juggling how best to roll-out new features. For example, the new employee self-service offering that is due later this summer will allow workers to submit requests to management, such as for time-off or vacation days. Guzman prefers to include features that are applicable to all customers in the main package, as opposed to selling it separately as an add-on module, such as the flex-time and union features, which not all organizations can use.
Some time and attendance vendors charge extra for core features, such as the history module, which strikes Guzman as wrong. “I don’t believe in doing those kinds of maneuvers. I think it’s unethical,” she says. “It should be an integral part of the application.”
Going forward, Timesoft wants to continue hiring top talent to build quality software in an ethical manner–and maybe, possibly generate a little more buzz in the industry by talking about her story. “Over the years,” Guzman says, “we built what I would consider beautiful technology that nobody knows about–except for my clients that love me.”