Interview: Meet David and Lu from Ronin

There’s millions of web apps out there, but each one has a unique story behind it. This week, we’ve had the chance to interview David and Lu, the Co-founders of Ronin, a popular app for tracking time, creating estimates and invoices, and more. Keep reading to learn about the inspiration behind Ronin’s name, what sets it apart from other similar apps, and the great web apps the Ronin team uses to stay productive.

Tell us a bit about the Ronin team: when did you get started, where are you located, and what motivates your team?

To be honest, we’re a very small team (4 of us at the moment) but we pride ourselves for being small. Our motivation is that we get to design software the way we believe they ought to be designed: Clean, simple, and user focused. We want to design software that people actually want to use.

We’re based in Mountain View, CA. We started to think about Ronin conceptually around 2008. Late 2009 – 2010 was when things really got rolling.

Ronin. Made in Mountain View.

What was the inspiration for Ronin, and where did its name come from?

Ronin Samurai

The inspiration for Ronin actually came from freelancers (think designers, artists, photographers, etc). We’ve always had respect for freelancers because they’re the ones willing to push the boundaries and to challenge mainstream society. Not only are they hard workers but they’re truly dedicated to their art form. So dedicated in fact, that they’re not willing to work for someone else! This is where the Ronin reference comes from.

Ronin is a reference to a masterless Samurai in feudal Japan (see:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronin). We thought this name to be very fitting for modern times since the traditional definition of “a job” is becoming more and more obsolete.

And the cup of coffee logo is a reminder to us all that even Samurais need coffee! Haha. What can I say, we’re a funny bunch.

There are so many invoicing web apps out there. Why would someone choose Ronin versus your competition?

Ronin is an invoicing, time tracking, and client/project management app designed by designers, made for designers and freelancers. We’ve been around long enough to figure out what tools freelancers really need in their tool belt when it comes to managing time and getting paid and we’ve designed Ronin to become an indispensable “Leatherman” to their freelance workflow. We’ve dug ourselves into quite a comfortable niche.

We believe we do a lot of things better than the bigger players. Part of the reason is because we’re small and we value our user feedback more than anything. Take for example, customizable invoice designs. Ronin allows you to custom design your own invoices 100% with HTML and CSS. This is a no brainer if you’re a designer and want to express yourself in everything you do, right?

Plus, we’re just cooler people to work with and you’ll never get a “support ticket receipt” when you’re dealing with us.

Why did you choose to make Ronin a web app instead of a native app?

We didn’t see designers and freelancers as “unconnected” folks. Being web-based gives us more flexibility when adding awesome features to Ronin so our users can benefit from those features instantly. No downloads or patching required. The risk of losing sensitive information while you’re out on a job also didn’t seem very fun to us so a secure cloud-based solution just seemed more sustainable. Also, we believe in playing well with others – with the myriad options for payment gateways (Authorize.net, PayPal, Stripe, Sage Pay, Beanstream all give our users flexibility) and third party integrations, the web just seemed like the right platform. That said, we think that native components can help act as satellites for our web app. For example, we have an iPhone Time Tracking app. But, we’ll always consider the web our main platform.

What have you learned from developing and shipping a popular webapp?

You can never pay too much attention to UX and the data that drives it. Part of why Ronin appeals to users is because we spent an inordinate amount of time tweaking subtle UX details to make sure Ronin matches the workflow of our users. This circles back to why the web is such an important platform. Despite its limitations, there’s no better way to gather usage data, interpret it and implement changes with almost no intervention on the user side.

Who said invoices can't be beautiful?

Mac or PC? Or have you switched to tablets and Chromebooks?

Mac. We love PCs but we’re all used to Macs here at Ronin.

Many web apps are moving away from supporting IE 6, and many still don’t work perfectly on tablet browsers. How does your team prioritize what browsers to support?

We hate IE6. http://www.roninapp.com/blog/uncategorized/die-ie6/

We’re fortunate that many of users tend to be web-savvy so Chrome, Safari and Firefox make up most of our audience.

That said, we understand that the invoices sent through Ronin need to be viewable by as many browsers as possible. We focus almost all our development on newer browsers but we take care to make sure invoices and estimates render on IE6. We wouldn’t want our anti-IE philosophy getting in the way of our users getting paid.

What web apps do you rely on for your work?

- Evernote for personal notes.
- Google Docs and Gmail for just about everything.
- Trello for team collaboration.
- Reamaze for customer support and data.
- Mailchimp for our newsletter.
- Dropbox for file sharing
- 24im as a group room.
- Twitter and Facebook for social media. We prefer the web clients over the desktop/mobile UIs.
- Ronin - Yeah, we have to send out invoices too!
- Pandora - Music is a must in our office.
- Netflix/Hulu – For movie nights, marathons, and our Colbert fix.
- Diablo 3? That’s a web app right? Haha.

What keeps you excited about working on Ronin every day?

Awesome team chemistry is a wonderful thing. We actually really enjoy meeting and talking to our users on a hourly/daily basis. They’re truly awesome and give us so much love. Ronin is still in its adolescence so learning about our own product/processes and iterating on them is a lot of fun too. If you’re ever in the area feel free to ping us for coffee or something!

Do you have plans to make any other web apps, or are you cooking up new features for Ronin right now?

Yes! There are new features and upgrades planned for Ronin in the coming months. We’re still brainstorming them with a few of our most active users to make sure they’re intuitive and applicable for Ronin users. We have another web app slated for a late 2012 release. That one should be a big hit too! We’ll keep you guys posted.

Thanks, David!

We’d like to extend a special thanks to David for taking the time to do this interview with us, and to the whole Ronin team for their dedication to making top-notch web apps. It’s always interesting to see what apps people use and how they got their ideas for their app. This time, I even learned of a few web apps like 24im that I’d never hear of!

Don’t forget to give Ronin a try if you’re looking for a great way to manage your invoices online, and check out our articles about Ronin to learn more about it!


  • http://www.1stwebdesigner.com Dainis Graveris

    That’s an awesome interview, David you’re doing awesome on Ronin and I am always glad to hear success stories from designers!

    One question thought, why did you choose Trelio, not for example Basecamp, which seems to be awesome after redesign?

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