Jess Stephens, chief marketing officer at TrustedHousesitters, talks through the process of developing the online service’s first app
In 2010 when Andy Peck, the founder and CEO of TrustedHousesitters, was inspired to launch the company, he focused on solving one problem: keeping pets happy at home when their owners go away.
Knowing that many people struggle to find adequate pet care, the first step was to create a platform where owners could find sitters who would care for their pets in exchange for a free retreat. Andy went backpacking around the world, recruiting on both sides as he went. Seven years later, and TrustedHousesitters is the world’s largest house and pet sitting site with a community of over 500,000 pet lovers from 150 countries.
I say ‘site’ because, currently, that’s what we are. The most prominent TrustedHousesitters demographic is the over-55s, who have been very happy with a desktop and tablet experience, and as a result TrustedHousesitters has focused on improving those experiences, with a mobile app not being a priority. In the last year that has changed, and we are looking to improve the ways members – both sitters and owners – communicate with one another. The solution to this is mobile.
TrustedHousesitters will launch its first app in 2017. As a business, when you haven’t approached things from a mobile-first perspective, you must rebuild the house by reverse engineering the foundations. Optimisation of the mobile experience, therefore, is now informing every part of our roadmap and product development.
The first stage will be a member-focused app in which you can search, apply for and be accepted on sits. There is not an objective to acquire new users through the app at this stage. The three main objectives are to improve communication, relevance and the ability to post and share content.
The main service that TrustedHousesitters provides is the connection between owner and sitter. The community is built on trust. Since no money changes hands, the ability to interact is essential, as the owner is choosing someone based on personality, verifications, reviews and experience, not just a daily rate, like a paid-for service.
The initial application and response process is vastly improved through the app. Instead of waiting for the site to trigger an email, the mobile user will know straight away if they have an application or a response, through push notifications. There are typically a few interchanges before the owner selects their preferred sitter, and these will now be seamless. Keeping our demographic front of mind, the team has focused on flawless usability so that the least technically literate user will naturally understand how the process works. This starts with chat and will include video calls in the second iteration.
With the app, we are introducing a sophisticated recommendations engine for both sides of the network. This will also power the web experience and influence our push and email notifications. Not only will sitters see relevant sits that fit their preferences of duration, location and pet type, but owners will see matches of sitters who are local to them and have the right experience. A ‘wild card’ feature of the engine means that the serendipity of the site and the option to choose a unique travel experience will not be lost.
The app is designed to become a travel portal that covers the entire experience of the sit, not just the arrangements themselves. Sitters will be able to view content uploaded by the owner about the local area, including amazing dog walks, pet friendly cafes, shops and attractions. To date, using the web interface, TrustedHousesitters members have contributed to 35,000 unique local recommendations that you wouldn’t find in a guide or if you stayed at a hotel. This will increase and improve through the use the app with the ease of tagging locations.
To deliver these three objectives, the engineering team has concentrated on a best-in-class app for usability, building a design system based on the atomic design methodology, connecting modules across platforms to achieve consistency and scalability. Leveraging Facebook’s increasingly popular React and React Native frameworks, there is true parity between the mobile and web experience, from both a UX and technical perspective.