We are building a SASS based on users’ needs, and it’s working

By putting the users at the heart of the design process we have created a system for sport centers management that helps maximizing occupancy and business revenues.

At Websconmimo we have been wanting to create a SASS as a inhouse project for quite some time, and for a few different reasons:

  • experimenting more freely compared to a project for a clients;
  • iterate over the UX process itself, which is actually beneficial for the clients;
  • from a development point of view learning, new technical skills, for example in terms of scalability;
  • diversifying our income;
  • being the nerds we are, we didn’t really need a reason. We just wanted to get our hands dirty.

Last year we finally could make this idea reality by launching ReservaPro. It’s a sports center management system, with two main areas:

  • the tenant area: an admin panel that sport centers can use to manage their sport fields, bookings and customers;
  • the front area: a responsive website that sport centers customers can use to make bookings.

Some lessons learned in outsourcing

Building a SASS from scratch took a massive amount of time, most of all in the beginning, but it’s being extremely rewarding. It’s teaching us great lessons on project management (like the time where we miserably failed at being agile and it took us several months to publish a new release, but that would be the subject of a different article).

We also learned about outsourcing: sometimes it’s hard because we like to be in control of what we do, but considering that none of the people involved can work full time on ReservaPro, outsourcing some tasks allowed us to keep a decent time to market.

What about UX?

As for the user experience, we knew from benchmarking that it would have to be our competitive advantage. All the softwares that we consider to be our competitors are packed with tons of features, but they are not strong on the UX side. Also, considering the limited time that each of us could dedicate to it we really had to narrow down the list of the features we wanted to have to the most important ones. With those considerations in mind, and after several talks with potential customers, we fixed three main goals for our product:

  • the tenant area should speed up as much as possible the administrative work of our customers, the sport centers, both by automating repetitive tasks and making the manual ones extremely easy;
  • the front area needed to allow sport center’s members to make their bookings as quickly as possible, and obviously from any device;
  • the system had to proactively try to increases the occupancy – therefore, the revenues – of our customers, but by being helpful to their members, not bothering them. That’s how features like the waiting lists were born. Like a flight waiting list, we know when a sport center’s member tried to book, for example, a tennis field at 9pm but there were no fields left, and alert  the same person the same moment that another booking gets canceled.

Since day one, one of our greatest sources of insight about users’ problems and needs is customer care. All our main features derive one way or another from direct contact with our users, and customer care people are the ones who are in contact with the users on a daily basis.

Consistency, consistency, consistency

I believe consistency in design to be a tremendous help for the user and a brick to build a good brand image, but one thing that I’ve observed in different websites is that they tend to loose consistency with the time as they get bigger. I didn’t want that to happen to ReservaPro, so one of the first things we did was defining the design principles that we would stick to to create everything else:

  • Usefulness: ReservaPro simplifies the administrative work and the booking process. Our customers and their users feel that using ReservaPro is significantly better than using a different system.
  • User centered design: The observation of users in real context of use is fundamental to the design of ReservaPro.
  • Consistency: ReservaPro never uses two different metaphores to express the same concept. Consistency in in the interface improves the perceived ease of use, and consistency in communication helps building our brand image.
  • Minimalism: ReservaPro meets the needs of its users without using any unnecessary element. It includes all the necessary features but none unnecessary. More features does not mean better quality.

Generic as they may be, they are an extremely useful tool to maintain consistency through time as the system grows. It’s very easy: if something does not respect any of the principles, it means we are not doing it right.

Consistency itself ended up being a design principle for ReservaPro: when we are trying to define a new feature, the consistency principle forces us to ask ourselves: “Can we do it with a pattern that we have already in place?”. It also works the other way around: when we actually need to implement a new pattern the question becomes: “Could this new pattern improve something we already have?”

Next steps

In the next months we’ll be working on a new major release, with online payment at its core. We also need to work on some innovative features to extend our competitive advantage. We still have a long way ahead of us but after some major update we are now seeing how ReservaPro is transforming from a side project into a profitable business.