Unbooked is an online service that allows consumers to browse and buy services in home, health and beauty.
The brainchild of Melbourne-based entrepreneurs Sarah Taylor and Jeff Dusting, Unbooked represents an opportunity for appointment-based businesses.
Vendors who want to list appointments simply register on the site, and Unbooked creates a vendor page and a description of the vendor’s services. Vendors are then free to list and sell appointments online.
Unbooked was only founded earlier this year but already has big plans. Taylor and Dusting talk to StartupSmart about technical challenges, and changing the way people buy and sell services.
What inspired the idea for Unbooked?
Jeff and I met while we were both at SMS Management & Technology. Jeff had sold his consulting business to SMS and I worked briefly on the transition.
We stayed in touch as professional associates and a couple of years later we agreed that we’d like to work together.
We were canvassing some ideas but the opportunity for Unbooked really came about because we saw that there was just an enormous opportunity in such a large and very imperfect market. We were aware of that from our own personal use.
I was travelling and buying a lot of services and feeling that they were very difficult to buy and Jeff is a father of three and, as they were growing, he was buying more and more personal services for himself and for the children.
We both saw that it was a very clumsy and imperfect market so we did some research and thought that the convergence of lifestyle, technology and the services industry presented a huge opportunity for some disruptive technology.
How did you go about developing the technology?
We did some market research and validated the size of the market. We tested our assumptions in a small trial on the Mornington Peninsular.
We built some business systems and some very simple technology – our process is hypothesise, test, iterate.
We built some tech, we put a small team together, we started resourcing it and – once we’d validated, service providers were willing to list and sell their inventory online, and people were willing to look, book and buy services inventory online – we knew we had a market.
We then spent probably four to five months – really solid work – putting the business process systems together and testing those.
Then we felt that we were ready for some more mature technology so we partnered with SitePoint, [a Melbourne-based Web, iPhone and iPad application development company].
We were familiar with their work and admired the work that they’d done in building 99designs, and we wanted to be born as a global company so we were very keen to have the technology expertise from SitePoint.
They had bought 99 designs to life as a global brand and 99designs, like us, was an online marketplace with buyers and sellers.
They were interested in us just as we were interested in them, and working with SitePoint meant more sophisticated technology.
We also started work on the iPad application, which we developed, and we went live with that technology in December of 2010.
What were the challenges associated with the technology, particularly the app?
One is just a straightforward business problem, which is multi varied inventory that’s changing.
So a salon provider might have a room, three staff, the time and different resources. That room could be for a manicure, it could be for a mani pedi, it could be for a massage – all the multi various functions of a room people place have to be solved in terms of managing that time.
The second challenge was that we were introducing that technology to a marketplace that had largely been very early adopters of technology in terms of service delivery but often they’re buying and investing in really expensive, cutting edge technology – whether it’s lasers or service delivery technology – but very largely they’re business process systems were still very simple.
Most people are using paper and pencil or they’re using quite niche software products. So for us to move people from paper and pencil to tech – we thought the opportunity existed because of the iPad solution, which is so kinesthetic and so simple and easy to use.
But that was also a challenge because we wanted to design an extraordinarily friendly, easy to use interface.
How did you redirect people from paper and pencil to tech?
Jeff has a background in aeronautical engineering and had previous experience as an engineer in flight tests.
He’s very skilled at the user interface technology and really understands how people interact with technology.
We didn’t want it to be something businesses would have to learn to use. We wanted it to be a really simple and intuitive tool that was part of the current workflow.
It’s always a work in progress. There’s been seven versions [of the app] since we put it in the iTunes store so, like all software, it’s under constant development and improvement.
How many staff do you have?
At any given time, probably 12. We have a mix of contract staff, some permanent, some full-time.
What were your start-up costs?
Our spend would’ve been between somewhere between $500,000 and $750,000 [of our own money].
What are your revenue projections for 2011?
For 2011, we’re looking at around $300,000 to $315,000 total revenue. For 2012, upwards of $650,000.
What’s the biggest risk you face in an imperfect market?
I think home, health and beauty and personal services are an imperfect market in the sense that both the buyer and the seller are disadvantaged.
The seller has a hard time identifying all of the opportunities that they have to sell and then selling, and buyers have a similarly difficult time identifying all the opportunities they could buy and then completing that transaction.
That’s what I mean by an imperfect market – there’s a lack of transparency on both sides, which is not deliberate; it’s just part of the system.
To be the person in the middle who’s trying to make that clearer and more efficient, there are a lot of challenges but they all be could summarised as execution.
There are technical challenges in terms of developing and innovating software. There are execution challenges around professional excellence. Our product is selling time, so it needs to be efficient, effective and transparent.
There are challenges around marketing because we’re bringing a new product to market. There are cultural challenges to be confronted – how people buy, what their priorities are, etc.
And a general kind of resources challenge in terms of making sure that we get all the resources that we need to make Unbooked work globally.