Profile: The Problem Solver

Chris LeeAlthough he started his career in catering, it was Chris Lee’s love of computing and solving problems that led him into various IT roles. After creating his own time-tracker app, the Scot launched his own business TempusDiem. Mark Williams finds out how

Chris Lee was born in Paisley, west of Glasgow, in 1970. He has fond childhood memories of swimming, outdoor pursuits and camping holidays with his younger brother and older sister. “Dad loved scuba diving and he encouraged us to swim lots. At weekends in the summer we’d go to Loch Lomond. Dad was a bookmaker and ran a pub with my mum for years.”

At school, Chris wasn't particularly academic. “I like solving problems, so I enjoyed biology and maths, wood and metalwork, catering, too. I didn’t enjoy English or History,” he laughs.

London calling

After leaving school and working for a year, at 17 Chris went to catering college. Two years later, he moved to London. “A recruitment agency placed me in various catering jobs. London quickly became my home, but catering wasn’t for me. It was stressful, badly paid and the hours were long and unsocial.”

The agency offered him an office job with Royal Mail Parcel Force in the City. “I made some good friends and learnt many new skills. I also discovered my interest in computers.” Later Chris joined the IT desk at a City-based chartered surveyors, where his IT knowledge grew significantly. Various roles followed, including, ironically, temporary catering consultant at recruitment agency Blue Arrow. During his second stint there, Chris took redundancy.

“I was having relationship problems, too, so I took advantage of the Working Holiday Visa for Australia. I was 30.” Chris used his time “Down Under” to get himself together, consider his options and enjoy life. “While in Sydney I did my PADI open water course at Bondi Beach Scuba Dive Centre. Then, with a couple of friends I bought a white Toyota van and we travelled around for a few months. I met so many amazing people.”

Business idea

After taking a temporary job with PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Sydney for three months, more travelling and scuba diving followed. Then in 2003, Chris finally returned home to the UK.

“I took a short-term role as an IT author. A colleague put me in contact with a project manager at Newham College of Further Education who was looking for a project coordinator to work on NHS training projects. That gave me the money to support myself and develop my business idea.”

So where did it come from? “I was working on a business proposal for the BBC. They were finding it hard to get staff to complete timesheets, which managers need to monitor time spent on projects, training and other activities. My suggestion was to use an interactive onscreen system to link projects and activities.

“The idea remained on a USB memory stick for years. It was the rise of the Apple iPhone and iPad that made it all possible, really. I did some research, developed a project plan and entered into discussions with developers. Soon after, TempusDiem was a reality.”

Developing the firm

TempusDiem is a time-tracking “app” (i.e. application) which enables users to log time spent working on projects with just a few taps into a simple interface. It has been available via the App Store since January 2011 and, as Chris reveals, sales have been encouraging.

“Ease of use and simple design are key. There are similar apps to TempusDiem ― but they’re complicated, confusing and slow.”

“The future? I have additional features in mind that would make the TempusDiem user interface even more dynamic. I’d also like to expand it across the Android market and web-based systems. I still have other iPhone app ideas in the pipeline.”

Chris’s three key tips

  • “Try to enjoy what you do ― don’t do it just for the money.”
  • “Have a good team around you. It will give you enough space and confidence to see the bigger picture and take the business forward.”
  • “Expect delays and obstacles ― you’ve got to be determined to make a success of your business.”

This case study was first published in March 2011.

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