Interview with TechToolBelt founder Jeremy Brimer

What is TechToolBelt?

Jeremy: TechToolBelt is a technology company focused on the construction & contracting industry. Much of this industry’s software and technology is very dated or complicated to figure out. We are creating updated and easier to use tools that will make their jobs easier.

What is your mission?

Jeremy: Starting off as a small contractor myself, I always saw the advantage of using different software and technology to increase efficiency and production. However, those things weren’t always available to a small contractor like me because of the expensive costs associated with software and technology. Our mission is to make up to date, efficient, and easy to use software available for everyone, small and large contractors alike.

Why target the construction industry? What’s your background?

Jeremy: Ever since I was a kid, I was enthralled with building things. First it was blocks, then Lego’s, then tree houses, and finally houses. I started working in construction as a teenager and even worked on a lot of volunteer building projects and relief effort both in the U.S.A. and other countries. For many years, I owned and operated my own general contracting business. I have always loved most aspects of construction and I want to make a real difference for this industry. I want to use my background and my knowledge to help others expand their business.

All your products are focused on roofing, why?

Jeremy: We decided to focus our first few products on the roofing section of the construction industry because, first, it was a large part of what I did when I was a contractor. I’ve not only been the one on the roof, removing and installing roofing materials, but I’ve also run multiple crews, done the sales, scheduling, and oversight of roofing projects from start to finish. Another reason, the roofing industry is a large market in itself and it presents challenges in sales, estimating, materials ordering, and coordination. Because of these challenges, sometimes it can take hours or days to write up a simple estimate with the risk of submitting a bid that is too low or too high.

How do you compare to your competition?

Jeremy: It’s no secret we have a few different forms of competition out there, whether it’s a third party reporting company or another software company. But, none of them can match us on our ease of use and cost. We have the easiest mobile software to use and third party reporting companies simply can’t compete with our cost.

Did you have investors? Are you looking for investors?

Jeremy: Yes, most companies need seed money to be able to make their dream a reality, and in our case, both myself and a major investing member invested a lot of money in order to create this concept. As far as further investments go, I’m not opposed to the thought of it, when going through some different stages of growth, capital can be key to growth.

Anything you can tell us about your future plans?

Jeremy: We have some radical changes we are going to make in the near future. We constantly are trying to innovate and change our industry and I feel like the changes to our products we are about to make will make a big difference. We also have a new enterprise option we are developing right now to cater our products to our larger customer.

You can learn more about TechToolBelt and their apps at http://techtoolbelt.com

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From Idea to App in One Week

I recently had an idea for an app. Something to help keep score while playing basketball. Great, not really a big deal, should be able to do this in a day or so. So, it took about a week once all was said and done, after which it sat in the Apple App Store queue for longer than it took to actually create.

The first thing I did was put together some rough designs in Photoshop. Initially I was thinking it would just be an iPad app, but after talking to some other people I decided to add the iPhone version too. This bit set me back a few more days, thanks to those gaul-dern Adaptive Layouts.

Setting up the basic mechanics of the app was pretty straight forward, plus buttons add points, minus buttons take away points. Two teams, the classic red vs. blue. Each with their own score controls. I really wanted to make the scoring process quick and easy, with big buttons you can easily see and press while actually playing basketball. I imagine the player keeping score would run over to the sidelines to quickly add points or check the score.

From there I realized I wanted to add a game countdown timer to help fill out the app feature set. Just a timer wouldn’t be very useful during a game, but a timer with beeps for the last ten seconds and a final game over buzzer would make everything better. So, that’s what I did.

Once I had all the code in place I could add the iPhone version. I had yet to use the Adaptive Layouts in xcode for iOS 8. I really wish I could use CSS. Adaptive Layouts sound great on paper, but in practice, they don’t really seem to be made for graphically unique and complex interfaces. Also, Interface Builder sometimes seems to randomly adjust things that I thought were already set. It’s a very frustrating experience using one single storyboard for both iPhone (in all it’s crazy sizes) and iPad (so much easier).

Thinking I was going to use the same design for both iPad (my original design) and all iPhone sizes turned out to be a mistake. It ended up being easier and a better UI/UX once I decided to do a separate, streamlined design for iPhones. This meant choosing a compact width device Size Class and disabling pretty much everything and recreating them with different graphics for the compact width devices. It was frustrating but I think made for a much better app in the end.

All in all, I learned a lot about Adaptive Layouts and Size Classes. Things that will definitely help with future projects. I feel like I made a pretty good app given it’s limited use case and the time put into it.