About Time Tours: Guiding a Successful SaaS Journey

About Time Tours: Guiding a Successful SaaS Journey

About Time Tours is a Pacific Northwest startup redefining how the real estate industry plans, organizes, and coordinates home tours between agents and homebuyers. With market expertise but only a general business idea, the company asked us for help developing a SaaS-based solution. We guided them on their SaaS journey from a basic app concept to a scalable production-ready launch using AWS SaaS services and best practices.

As a startup, About Time had already identified key pain points facing both realtors and home buyers for scheduling home tours. For all involved, the existing process was time consuming, cumbersome, and fraught with unnecessary complexity. About Time saw an opportunity to streamline scheduling and communication and capture feedback. The company also wanted to maximize the market opportunity and go to market as quickly as possible.

Building the business case & defining the product vision

Given almost 50% of our professional service engagements are SaaS focused, we have deep experience implementing the SaaS business model for clients. We started with About Time by embarking on a full discovery process, beginning with building a well-defined business case for their solution and outlining their product strategy.

This included evaluating customer pain points, developing user stories, and creating a seamless UX/UI experience. We also conducted a competitive analysis of off-the-shelf solutions to determine what problems they solved, how they solved them, and their challenges. After establishing the business case and product vision, we built a series of wire frames showing functionality of features and workflow before moving on to mockups of the app.

Aligning the MVS with AWS SaaS best practices

For SaaS clients, defining a Minimum Viable Service (MVS) always poses the greatest challenge. It is also the most critical stage on the SaaS journey where resources are concerned, as you can easily over architect your solution and run up costs. We worked with About Time to decide on the right MVS, knowing they would receive important feedback after going live that would likely change the app in future sprints.

Once we had defined the MVS, the AWS SaaS Enablement Framework provided a clear, thorough process for us to evaluate tenancy, security compliances, and compare cost models against the company’s revenue objectives. We also helped About Time prepare documentation and collateral in support of their efforts to secure investor funding.

From development to launch -Leveraging the Well-Architected Framework

In the next phase, our development efforts followed an agile process with milestones sprint by sprint and continual, transparent communication with About Time’s founders and investors. We used the Well-Architected Framework to ensure we were properly evaluating tradeoffs and applying cost optimization strategies when it came to reliability and security. We also segregated their personally identifiable information (PII) data in a multi-tenant environment to meet security compliances.

In addition, we built their app 100% on serverless so it can scale rapidly as their user traffic increases and utilized a pay as you go model to keep costs per user in line with their profit margin and revenue expectations for sustainability and growth.

For testing, our team conducted performance tests to ensure the app could handle expected traffic and security tests to confirm there were no hacking activities. We also held an informal gameday so that there is support documentation in place in case the app goes down during a live environment. Last, our SLA with the company sets expectations regarding our response time and steps we will take to ensure they are up and running quickly.

At launch, About Time’s final mobile and web app represents a highly scalable SaaS solution capable of growing with market demand without compromising on security and cost. Our next steps include capturing feedback and optimizing features and workflows to keep customers happy and satisfied with their solution.

Working with the Effectual team to refine our MVS gave us an objective view of how to align our revenue goals with the right cost model so we could take an informed approach to choosing the best SaaS strategy. As we scale, we know we can meet our business objectives and deliver a high-quality customer experience.

Chris Mergenthaler, Co-Founder

Zolo Media: Integrating custom solutions to activate and capture a media-hungry regional market

Zolo Media: Integrating custom solutions to activate and capture a media-hungry regional market

Zolo is a media broadcaster and production company based in Central Oregon. The company provides broadcast and advertising solutions through local, network, and original programming to Central Oregon viewers. Zolo is owned by Telephone and Data Systems, Inc. [NYSE: TDS].

Recognizing that viewers are increasingly consuming content online, Zolo positioned itself to offer viewers a robust online viewing experience with daily video content, live streaming, and real-time weather information. The company asked Effectual to help them evaluate approaches for building their new online media platform.

Strategic consulting reveals clear requirements and high level objectives

Effectual and Zolo had a collaborative, in-depth discovery process that uncovered the complex business requirements and technical needs for the new platform. Zolo was particularly concerned about meeting the rigorous corporate security, legal and risk compliance requirements of its parent company TDS.

Results

  • Scope, budget and project phasing recommendations matched Zolo’s requirements and business objectives.
  • Complied with all security, legal and risk requirements of publicly-traded parent company.

“Effectual has been an amazing partner over the past year – always finding a way to make “what if” happen and showing us the possibilities.”
                 
– Michele O’Hara / Marketing & Creative Services, Zolo Media

Amazon Web Services (AWS) empower reliable performance and website scalability

As a certified AWS solutions architect, Effectual saw quickly that AWS could provide Zolo performance reliability for its streaming content while allowing the company to dramatically scale its offerings.

Results

  • Caching and scalability of up to 2 billion unique visitors per month
  • Consistent, uninterrupted streaming content
  • Hosting bandwidth and cost scales with site traffic
  • Ability for multi-authors to add content
  • Custom integrated technical solutions build user community
  • The team built a custom website design responsive to desktop, tablet and mobile that complemented the platform offerings

Xenon, Inc: IoT Proof of Concept Accelerates New Market Opportunities

Xenon, Inc: IoT Proof of Concept Accelerates New Market Opportunities

Xenon, Inc. is a custom hardware provider offering full-service engineering, integration, and field service solutions for the oil and energy industries. The company provides process and environmental analytics, industrial instrumentation and automation, and electrical systems.

Though Xenon primarily serves industrial markets, the firm was approached in 2018 by a new customer interested in applying their industrial engineering background to building IoT solutions for optimizing home maintenance, monitoring, and asset protection. An institutional single-family residence company with a portfolio of thousands of homes, the client was particularly interested in testing automated door locks, water sensors, and other smart devices for secure access and efficient maintenance. Their proposed plan included deploying devices in vacant properties each month with a three-year installation phase.

Partnering with Xenon provided an opportunity to explore and validate the impact of installing IoT smart home solutions for improved customer experience and reduced operational costs. For Xenon, the project presented a new market outside of its industrial focus. To respond, they needed a proof of concept to test in the first 200 homes and present to executives.

Leveraging expert advice for faster proof of concept

Xenon began building the IoT platform in Amazon Web Services (AWS) on its own, but soon encountered issues. As hardware engineers, they realized they were outside their core competency and needed help from experienced solutions architects on software integration with their client’s property management system. They engaged Effectual to review their existing architecture and implement Well-Architected best practices.

Xenon’s primary challenge was creating a cost-efficient cloud architecture that could scale. When the Effectual team conducted an initial review of the company’s environment, we confirmed the existing software layer would require fundamental changes to meet their cost requirements. In addition, our evaluation revealed the platform was built on one computer with no staging environment and no redundancy. This existing environment jeopardized the long-term reliability and scalability of the platform.

Based on this analysis, our team estimated Xenon would quickly out-capacity their existing environment at 100 homes. This was insufficient, as they needed to prove they could scale rapidly to service the company’s expanding property portfolio. Effectual also felt Xenon’s small development team could benefit from mentoring and guidance on key concepts and AWS IoT Core best practices.

Key recommendations and outcomes included:

  • Built a scalable, reliable proof of concept that met the client’s business requirements and budget
  • Confirmed AWS as the right solution for expanding their offering
  • Established DevOps best practices and trained internal team on processes
  • Educated company on costs and complexity of creating an IoT solution on a traditional infrastructure with EC2, load balancers. Showed them the significant benefits of using a serverless framework to process IoT events from Amazon Kinesis and device command management.
  • Developed 187 AWS Lambda functions for an estimated 40,000,000 events per month.
  • Implemented Amazon Kinesis to collect, process, and analyze 60,000 incoming records per day (30 MB of streaming data per day) to provide reliable, real-time insights and rapid response capabilities.
  • Deployed AWS API solution with an advanced logging and control layer for Xenon’s large scale IoT system to handle a high volume of burstable requests. Designed one gateway to ingest IoT alarms and events, and another to receive commands from external systems and applications.
  • Implemented Amazon DynamoDB as the primary storage mechanism for scalability with all tables using On-Demand for capacity control.

With Effectual’s help, Xenon responded quickly with a functional, reliable proof of concept that addressed their client’s pain points and met their business requirements. They validated AWS as the best cloud solution for propelling their project forward and gained a solid understanding of AWS IoT services.

Results & Next Steps

For their client, the project provided a better grasp of the costs and resources needed to deploy smart home systems in their properties. It also revealed what checks and balances they need to put in place for their operations.

From Effectual’s perspective, these outcomes are precisely what a successful proof of concept project should accomplish. If the client does decide to roll out these systems to its entire portfolio, we look forward to helping Xenon revisit its current configuration with some new approaches to further unlock the potential of the AWS Cloud.

 

Warm Welcome: Replicating the SaaS delivery model with a smart Proof of Concept (POC)

Warm Welcome: Replicating the SaaS delivery model with a smart Proof of Concept (POC)

With a history of successful SaaS ventures for the photography and real estate industries, entrepreneur David Jay launched Warm Welcome as a Proof of Concept (POC) in early 2019. The product delivers highly personalized video messages through email to support customer onboarding and retention. After investing nine months to gather user feedback, Jay had developed a clear pricing modela list of MVP features, and go-to-market strategy. However, he needed Effectual’s help refactoring the POC to address security and reliability concerns to make the solution production-ready.

Evaluating trade-offs, defining priorities

Highly skilled at building strong, loyal user communities, Jay and his team are adept at responding to user requests, defining focused MVPs, and gathering valuable customer feedback. With Effectual’s support, they have also learned how to use the Well-Architected Framework to evaluate trade-offs and determine priorities for their POCs.

For Warm Welcome, the team decided that time-to-market in the POC phase was a priority. Their goal was to quickly capture user feedback in order to understand the product’s business value.

Aligning pricing and marketing strategies

The first version of Warm Welcome was a small, low fidelity MVP tightly focused on solving the customer’s biggest problems, which were closing a sale and onboarding a new client. Based on analytics, user surveys, phone calls, and focus groups, the company gained key insights into the value of the product. This helped them align their messaging and marketing with the needs of their customers.

In addition, they carefully tracked their actual costs, allowing them to build a pricing model to accurately fit their cost model.

Refactoring architecture for reliability and security

While reliability and security were acceptable trade offs during the POC phase, they needed to be addressed prior to moving into production. Effectual began refactoring the POC by conducting a Well-Architected Framework Review (WAFR), resulting in a re-evaluation of the initial tradeoff decisions. In addition, Effectual offered the following recommendations:

  • Secure the environment to autoscale using EC2, ElasticBeanstalk, AutoScalingGroups
  • Set up a CI/CD pipeline with parallel environments to increase agility and lower risks
  • Leverage additional AWS tools and services including Cloudfront, S3, Aurora RDS, and ElasticTranscoder

Warm Welcome is one of many projects Effectual has worked on with Jay over the last several years. Throughout the client relationship, Effectual has provided strategic advice and technical expertise through all phases of discovery, development, and deployment.

 

Tourvast: Building SaaS Solutions Using Scalable Innovation

Tourvast: Building SaaS Solutions Using Scalable Innovation

Tourvast is a Software as a Service (SaaS) provider with a marketing platform that offers real estate photographers tools for creating property presentations and virtual tours that showcase their skills, leverage their art, and build their business. The platform also offers agents the opportunity to enhance their brand across social networks with high end, quality photography and video assets.

While the platform had been in existence for over a decade as licensed software, Tourvast executives wanted to evaluate the company’s intellectual property and consider options for writing their own application for greater usability. With new business requirements and a new go-to-market strategy, they contacted Effectual for help with their decision-making process and next steps. Our team provided insights and strategic advice and ultimately implemented a more scalable platform based on the secure, reliable infrastructure of the Well-Architected Framework.

Recalibrating the pricing model

In 2016, Effectual solutions architects began a discovery process that included wire-framing and architecture planning. This exposed one of Tourvast’s primary challenges, which was the inability to scale its pricing model. Due to the unpredictability of its customers’ large media files, the current architecture was not consistently covering costs.

Results:

  • Conducted an in-depth revenue modeling analysis to identify average costs based on number of photos uploaded as well as the number of videos, pdfs, and other assets created.
  • Designed new architecture for cost objectives with pay-for-use pricing to reduce capital expenses.

Improving performance, scaling for demand:

In addition, tenant activity was slowing performance and impacting overall customer satisfaction and retention.

The existing workflow began with a transaction outside of the platform between a real estate agent and photographer to secure photos for the creation of marketing deliverables. Photographers paid a subscription fee for a specific number of properties in advance and banked them like a credit system. After taking photos of the agent’s identified property, they uploaded their images on the website in order to organize them into deliverables such as slideshows, virtual tours, flyers, and more. Once complete, they provided their realtor customer links to those assets. Upon the agent’s approval of the copyrighted materials, they pay the photographer the invoiced amount through Tourvast to release the media for use.

The challenge was that each time a photographer uploaded their image files, the software would immediately resize them and create a slideshow. This process would take up the site up to 10 minutes while the photographer waited for it to complete. At the same time, it froze platform functionality for all customers on the site.

Results:

  • Leveraged serverless architecture using S3 and AWS Lambda for media and multi-tenant loads, resulting in greater flexibility and stability.
  • Implemented CloudFront for streaming videos to deliver content to end users with lower latency.
  • Deployed a blue-green architecture on AWS creating a continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline, including up to 10 servers for burstable traffic.
    • Code is now developed and deployed to an AWS Elastic Beanstalk environment, with two separate, but identical, environments (blue and green) to increase availability and reduce risk. This allows the application to continues to run seamlessly while new code is deployed without impacting the user experience.
  • Implemented DevOps strategies and best practices with parallel development, testing, staging, and production environments.
    • Ensured that no development takes place in production
    • Created a testing environment for internal QA
    • Enhanced reliability with a staging environment built for “friends and family” releases with a copy of production data scrubbed for security reasons (with scale of data to mimic what happens in production)

Today, Tourvast is a SaaS company that owns its own intellectual property, with full control over its roadmap. With support from Effectual, it owns its maintenance backlog and understands its third party dependencies and costs. Last, our team continues to help the company innovate and build improvements using proof of concepts fueled by cost-effective AWS tools.

Robert Axle Project: eCommerce website redesign increases product sales and customer connections

Robert Axle Project: eCommerce website redesign increases product sales and customer connections

Robert Axle Project is the authority on 12mm and 15mm thru axles for bikes. They provide the highest quality products that allow families, adventurers, commuters and recreationists to enjoy traveling by bicycle. Sales are international, online through its e-commerce website as well as through dealers, distributors and OEM partners.

As the “RAP” products have grown in popularity, and in “fit” complexity with an expanding variety of different bike styles and brands, company founders recognized they needed a stronger e-commerce website platform.

Thoughtful content approach increases customer engagement

RAP has a strong customer following and sense of their community through social media channels, trade shows and industry connections. During website planning we identified 4 different customer personas to message to about not only about the product, but also in the different narratives and imagery that could be shared around actually ‘having’ and using the product from RAP.

Thoughtful website copy and messaging was matched with imagery to draw visitors into a compelling company narrative about experiences, recreating and possibility with the RAP product.

The transition in content from heavy product and features focus to more customer benefits and aspirations orientation with the new website increased website engagement respectably – with 110+ % increase in page views and 23% decrease in the site-wide bounce rate.


“Effectual worked hard to understand our business needs and develop custom features that increased traffic, conversions and engagement with our customers. With excellent project management and communication throughout the process!”  
                 
– Katy Bryce & Chris Kratsch Founders, Robert Axle Project

Custom fit selector streamlines visitor experience

An increasing complexity in matching product ‘fit’ to increasing variations of bike and trailer types, RAP sales support knew there had to be a better way. They asked Effectual to build a custom “fit selection” tool compatible with the new website CMS.

Automating the ‘fit’ process has facilitated customer ease with securing the right product through the website, dramatically reducing sales support calls and product returns.

New website at the hub of a fuller engagement platform increases visits

Actively engaged with their community, RAP’s new website supports this conversation – through regular story content (blog posts) and integration with social media feeds. Fresh, regular and fun content that’s attractive to search engines and industry forums brings a 150% increase in website traffic.

Online product sales have increased 125% since the website’s launch.

Discover Your Forest + US Forest Service: Strategic consulting uncovers new opportunities to engage visitors

Discover Your Forest + US Forest Service: Strategic consulting uncovers new opportunities to engage visitors

Discover Your Forest promotes the discovery of Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests and Crooked River National Grassland by enriching the experience of visitors, building community support and creating the next generation of environmental stewards.

DYF’s new leadership team was ready to explore using digital technology to connect visitors and volunteers to its services and expand its donor base. Our discovery process uncovered strategic opportunities for integrating digital solutions that DYF hadn’t considered possible or affordable – launching them into a new phase of innovation and expansion.

Empowering visitors with easy access to information

DYF’s wanted a digital kiosk at the new Cascade Lakes Welcome Center that gave visitors simple access to trail and permitting info. Our team built a custom web app leveraging their existing US Forest Service databases, making trail and use information user-friendly and instantly available to visitors. Directly after launch, the Forest Service began evaluating the web app for regional offices in the Northwest and beyond.

Results

  • Easy, 24-7 access to visitor information
  • Increased permitting revenue
  • New digital solution for Forest Service visitor services

“Partnership with Effectual helped us engage with a wider audience than we’d ever imagined. Their strategic guidance was invaluable and it shows in our final product.”  
                 
– Rika Nelson Executive Director, Discover Your Forest

Mobile app transforms visitor engagement

As conversations evolved, Effectual encouraged DYF to look beyond the web app to a mobile solution that could engage visitors anywhere. The Forest Service had shelved the idea of a mobile app in the past due to cost and technical issues. New research and some collective problem-solving revealed that going mobile was within reach and within budget.

Results

  • Simple UX makes trail and permit info easy to discover
  • Expanded engagement and access beyond bricks and mortar experience
  • Leveraged existing technology platforms with little added cost
  • Created a standardized, clean set of data deployable across other Forest Service locations

Deep dive business strategy delivers outstanding online experience

Last, the DYF static website needed a complete redesign to boost engagement and connect visitors and volunteers to the group’s mission. Effectual guided their team through an in-depth planning process to identify key personas and calls to action that would drive design and user experience and deliver desired outcomes.

Results

  • Finely tuned UX development and design aligned with business goals
  • Responsive web design and implementation
  • Improved analytics




Predictive Analytics: Volcanic Activity Analyzed Through Moving Magma

Predictive Analytics: Volcanic Activity Analyzed Through Moving Magma

Effectual delivered a mission-critical solution to a federal government client that ensured their sensor processing software was able to predict volcanic activity through moving magma.

This information is used to help scientists forecast seismic activity over multiple geographical locations. This could not have been done without a Cloud-based solution to ensure a resilient system.

The Challenge

Our customer required a move from its on-premises infrastructure to a centralized Cloud environment in AWS. They looked to our team to handle high availability architecture and fault tolerance to meet workloads over many geographical locations quickly after a natural disaster.

The Solution

We provided a highly available and scalable infrastructure that ensured efficiency in wake of volcanos and other natural disasters. This sensor processing solution ensured predictive analytics, resilience, and scalability.

The Benefits

Predictive Analytics

We worked with the customer to create a solution that ensured the user could collect volcano data to analyze and utilize for machine learning to better predict when volcanoes erupt.

Resilience

Our team configured Amazon CloudWatch metrics to identify a surge in traffic in the event of a disaster. Kubernetes was implemented to provide automated container orchestration and higher availability to reach across multiple regions.

Scalability

We configured EC2 instances that ensure adequate capacity to meet traffic demands and compute capacity. Our team automated launch configurations to allow the client to quickly launch and/or scale application servers in target environments in the future.