Monique Chambers interviews James Attard about his entrepreneurial journey and about building and marketing his product Scheduled247.
Full transcript of the interview is below:
Monique: So welcome to one of our Entrepreneurs series interviews. Today I’m joined by James Attard and you’ve got a product called Scheduled 247.
So tell us about the product and where your idea came from James.
James: So thanks for the invite. Scheduled 247 is an online scheduling platform trying to solve the burden that most local businesses have with trying to schedule their appointment with their customers. So removing the back and forth emails or phone calls, to book their appointments. But if you think about it, it’s also a problem for the customers to try to book themselves the service from local companies. And this started from a personal experience trying to book an appointment with my dentist.[Laughs]
And as usual, like all these kind of ideas happen. We were discussing it over a glass of wine and coincidentally another person who was a friend of mine, he’s a guitar tutor, wanted something similar to this and said, Yeah, let’s take this seriously if more than one person is looking into this kind of problem.
So I did more thorough market research and what’s in there, what’s the competition. There are similar products but mine is a bit different in that it’s a bit simpler and more intuitive.
Monique: So people like, dentists, and hairdressers, etc, can use you don’t have to be technically savvy to use it. It’s a very simple, simple tool?
James: Exactly. So I started this with the business first in mind. I put myself in the shoes of a retailer or a service provider, whether you are a professional dentist, legal or financial advisor, or perhaps a barbershop with a team of five barbers, perhaps a tattooist or beauty salon, you name it. Anyone can schedule one on one meetings, one on one appointments, or even tutors as I mentioned, the guitar tutor. So this friend of mine had the idea of having three classes in the afternoon but had trouble to efficiently or easily organize these classes, manage the bookings. So some intermediate students wanted this time slot; other advanced students wanted another and it was a mess for him. So when I was building this application, I was keeping these pain points sort of in mind as the as the product owner.
Monique: So also because you mentioned there at barbershops, and we mentioned hairdressers. So if you have a salon can it use your service and then you have different stylists in there, you can actually choose which of the stylist you want to book your appointment with.
James: Exactly. Monique: Oh Fantastic.
James: Yeah you can either choose or the system will put you to the most available one. And this is a bit of a novelty I think, for the local market. And if you look at what’s currently there, most if not all of the shops, but I cannot vote for all of the shops, websites because we’re getting into e commerce and websites, kudos for the local market, but unfortunately, it is left to be desired for the client when it comes to Okay, let me book the appointment. And it’s the only thing which is a bit manual has to send an email has to fill in a booking form. And the person at the other end which is probably either the secretary or the business owner himself, has to figure out where to book his customer. So it’s a bit of a waste of time and waste of energy that could be otherwise focused somewhere else more productive.
Monique: And I also find as well that you know, I’m chasing someone for an appointment, or you send an email, and you forget that they haven’t responded. So you think in your head, that appointment is for that day. And actually, it hasn’t been confirmed. So you can get there. And when you go to confirm the appointment, there’s nothing there. So this is a way of actually instantaneously having something in your diary, no matter what platform the other people are using? So if you’re using Gmail, they are using Lotus Notes, or whatever else, you can just share your calendars, whatever platform?
James: Yeah, and let’s not get into the technical details because while we’re developing this application, the GDPR entered into the equation. So it was quite funny. So the way we’re dealing this is a one way synchronization. So someone booked your appointment, you will also see it in your calendar, you actually get a calendar invite. And now we’re trying to find a way how we can be GDPR compliant. And at the same time, being able to access your calendar and having two way synchronization. So even if you share your calendar, your Gmail calendar let’s put it this way or whatever third party calendar you’re using, it will still appear on the platform. But from what we’re speaking with most of our customers like 80% of the user cases, we see that if they outsource sort of their booking processes to Scheduled 247 and you have those corner cases for people who would rather still prefer to book by a telephone, the more traditional clients, then you will input that and manually on our platform. But as usual, with most of these applications, you start to get a feel of the dynamics of the market. So he’s trying to gauge what the market likes, what he doesn’t like, and what not. And that’s the advantage of a startup that it can move really fast, especially in the initial stages.
Monique: As that pivoting as a when you sort of get feedback, I guess, on a monthly basis, almost, you can see trends and react straightaway.
James: Exactly. So the marketing part of the growth hacking quiet, this broke the fun part of this business. Because not only you want to pivot on the customers feedback, but you want to engage them and perhaps trying to add new features. And based on their feedback, and from my experience, working with other projects in the past, this creates also a viral effect.
Monique: So because I’m imagining all the times, I’d love to use it, because I never booked my hairdresser’s appointment in advance. I always want it like on that day. Because I forget to him booked in advance, I could be sitting on my sofa, book my appointment and actually hopefully turn up the next day. And they’re available to see me rather than having to remember to make the phone call.
James: Exactly. So let’s say you’re a hairdresser, you’re subscribed to this platform, and the platform will give you a special link. And if you’re subscribed to the professional package, you probably get five calendars and for five calendars, you get five special links or one special link for your profile. And then you can get really creative, you can either share this link on your email, on your customer relationship management software, on your Facebook page or whatnot. So you can always track your bookings or appointments at through this link.
Monique: That’s fantastic.
James: And that’s why I started this presentation because it’s super easy that you don’t really need to be that technical. You share this link, a customer visits the link, books his appointment, bam ! you receive a notification by email, we are also planning to do SMS and push notifications for an upcoming mobile client application for this. We believe that this process will reduce no show ups in contrast to a telephone based appointment where someone will book and will not turn up.
And the reason why it reduces no show ups is because a customer who visits your link has to first sign up and very easy, either through Facebook, or Google or traditional email and password. And you get to put your details and the booking is confirmed unless otherwise cancelled by either party. So that makes it very transparent and very convenient for the business owner. Because he has already the details of the customer, the customer hasn’t yet started business with him but he has already enough details to make him a lead and engage him furthermore in his CRM processes.
Monique: So if somebody needed a longer appointment, you can actually just clarify that this one appointment is going to take this hours, it’s going to cost this much that kind of thing. So they can go back and consult with that client, because now they know who the new client is going to be.
James: Exactly. And this makes sense for certain professions. And let’s go back to the dentist appointment. Let’s say you want to do the dental clean up every year. And that’s a very convenient piece of information through this platform. So let’s say it’s a simplified CRM. But I would rather promote it as strictly an online scheduling tool, which can easily be integrated into your CRM process, whatever you use.
Monique: Does it work purely on websites or with an app as well, can you access it through your phone, whatever is it.
James: So our web application is actually mobile friendly, mobile tablet, whatnot, it’s very fluid. But we are also planning to do a native mobile application. And which will allow a customer to find service providers based on location, based on their current geolocation, and to book an appointment on the fly as well. So we started by making it easy for the business providers but we will also make it easier for the customer himself.
Monique: And could you handle things like deliveries, because that’s another thing that’s really painful as you’re waiting for the delivery, or you’re waiting for a maintenance guy or something, and they just say, oh, I’ll be there in the morning on the 28th. And you just have to wait and wait, is this something that then you can say, Okay, I’ll accept that delivery between these hours.
James: Exactly. That’s a use case, which was recently discovered. And you can get as creative as you can, for example, we were also approached by HR professionals to book the or schedule their interviews with at with candidates, again, without the back and forth emails. And we found it was so interesting for real estate agents, they need tons of clients every day. And one of their major costs is the mobile billing. [Laughs] And this is something which is not all only efficient, but it makes you ahead of the competition. Because you’re telling the customer look, we have invested in a tool that will make your experience with us better, more efficient.
Monique: And that’s if it’s integrated, like you said, with that CRM system, especially estate agents, you’ve booked an appointment, they can actually see your record there straight away, they know what pictures what floor plans, everything else they have, they should have everything linked in. So when they’re coming to see you, they should have everything at the touch of their fingertips?
Monique: Oh please, all the estate agents buy this. [Laughs] So the types of people that are actually using it in Malta, is it generally the smaller business or a larger businesses taking it on, he said about HR professionals, because that’s must be such a pain to get into all of that the number of people who need to be participated in a job interview.
James: So in reality, when we talk about large businesses, which are systems made up of many moving pieces of processes, you have the HR process, you have the finance process, perhaps you
have the marketing guys and whatnot it’s very complicated. But I work with a very big local gaming company myself. But if you break it down, you still realize that a tool is a team is mapped to a team in reality to one team one process. So if we’re talking about HR in this case, and then HR is made up of a team of ten personnel or fifteen personnel. We have packages which cater for those large teams as well. At the moment, we are targeting more the small to medium kind of businesses, which struggle to grow, because most of these people which we’ve been talking with are putting the hat of the actual math technical hands on person, the marketing guy, the PR guy and whatnot. And hopefully, this tool is starting for free by the way, so for by the entrepreneurs who have not more than one appointment a day, they can use this tool for free. And then it starts from 12 euro. Now 12 euro if you think about it, is very cost effective rather than employing someone just to take appointments which are the reality for most of these businesses that we were talking about.
Monique: And it’s just a convenience factor as well. Just I think knowing that you booked something and it’s booked [Laughs] rather than having to wait until the next business day or somebody else to come back and confirm to you. For me convenience is the key.
James: Yeah, and there are other use cases for example, nothing glamorous, let’s say you have a business and this business has an optician and you have also a pharmacy but under the same business group. So each calendar that you buy when you subscribe with our service can delineate a particular shop and each shop can be managed separately because each calendar can have its own setting. So for example at a bigger appointment with the optician shop will take one hour. So you set your calendar; these are my working days, Mondays to Fridays and these are my booking slots. And then you can have different business within your same group of businesses, which opens only on Saturdays for whatever reason, and which accepts group bookings. So there are a lot of cases and we are keeping a blog to document all these use cases. I had a customer, for example, that doesn’t have a business it just wanted to have his own calendar. And this person is extremely busy, almost like me. He’s a musician, he is a tutor, he does a lot of things. So in his friend ethic life, just every time he sends an email or a message, he has an URL shortener with a link to his Scheduled 247 profile where they can see his profile, because I forgot to mention that you will have like a microsite. And every time someone wants to meet him, he just clicks there and they see whether he’s available or not.
Monique: That’s cool. Does the system remind you that you’ve got an appointment so can you be reminded like two days in advance, you’ve got that dentist appointment or you know that morning, it doesn’t go through and tell you what you have or it’s up to you to look through your calendar to see what’s coming.
James: So there are two kinds of reminders, the one that you are mentioning is in the pipeline, and the second one is integrated in your third party calendar. So I started by saying that this is integrated with Gmail, Outlook and whatnot. So every time you get a new customer appointment, you get an email and the calendar invite and you will have reminders with your
own and native tool that you are using. But we are also working on having reminders sent directly from Scheduled 247 as well.
Monique: Because that’s a good idea. Because it does seem to be a cultural difference. In the UK for example, if you book an appointment, you’ve booked an appointment, that’s it, it’s final. But in Malta it seems that you have to confirm and it always amuses me if I didn’t cancel it is as it was. But you have to deny you didn’t confirm.[Laughs]
James: It’s true.
Monique: So is a cultural difference something to consider? [Laughs]
James: It’s true and in fact, when we were first working on this process on approving, confirming, canceling and whatnot, we were talking with a number of businesses to get an idea of what sounded right and what sounded awkward. I definitely think the latter, of course. And so the way it works is that every time there is a booking, both the customer and the business receive an email. On one hand as you correctly said, hey, your booking was confirmed and the booking is always confirmed unless otherwise stated, or unless it is cancelled. Even so, we send an email to the customer because as you said, that’s a cultural thing, which sounds pretty awkward if you’re not Maltese. [Laughs] But that’s how you polish an application and make it sound like it’s true value, right? You try to perceive that value to the customer.
Monique: So we have to realize we’re not all perfect. And the real world in Malta is such that, yes, you have to confirm an appointment. And also people don’t generally turn up on time. So if you say 10 o’clock, it might actually be 10 : 15. So it’s sort of allowing, if you’re going back to the hairdresser, or the dentist that actually they have to factor that in. So if that blow dry, takes 45 minutes, it’s 45 minutes, probably plus 15 for the parking or whatever else that always comes up in every appointment. So it’s Yeah, these cultural things are something you’ve considered, which is really good.
And what else is coming? Are there more apps coming out of your stable, or I are you focusing on this one?
James: So there’s another app, which I’ve been working with a couple of non technical persons, they’re actually doctors. I will not spoil it for now[Laughs]
Monique: No I’ll have to get you back to talk about them then.
James: You will hopefully hear from us next month, we were going to present it first at a local committee. And I will have also the opportunity to participate in a hackathon in Austria. It’s an e-health conference and there’s a hackathon. And as you can imagine, it’s a mobile health application. And trust me it’s going to be quite interesting and quite fun.
Monique: Okay. And what about you personally. So you’re going off to Australia to do this hackathon. What else is coming up for you the rest of this year?
James: Well, I think building an application is the easiest part; growing it, marketing is the real fun, that’s the real challenge. And I’ll stick with these two applications for now, although there are other ideas brewing in my mind.
Monique: True entrepreneur.
James: Well, Malta being the next blockchain hub is something which you cannot just avoid for entrepreneurs, you have to have to look into that as well. And there are some ideas, there are an extreme number of opportunities here locally. So the government is actually paying people to come up with ideas. So this is all positive for entrepreneurs, even foreigners who want to set base here in Malta, So yes, it’s been fun so far.
Monique: Do you think you’ll still have some time to play some guitar as well? Or is it just work work work now until Christmas?
James: [Laughs] I was actually juggling between working and playing guitar as you said. I’ve actually been playing with my band I say hello from here Hunting Cain. We’ve had a great gig at the Bucharest and yeah, I think work life balance is important.
Monique: Life work, it’s life work. [Laughs]
James: Life work yeah. [Laughs] And I think it’s important not to crash and burn out. It’s important to realize that certain things are possible if you work in a team and although one might say yeah, I know how to do it or I don’t trust but in reality whenever you grow a business or a start up you have to grow it in a way that it can grow independently of you.
James: It’s counter intuitive for most people but I find that it really works and you can focus on other ideas and remain sane.
Monique: Absolutely I think you have to be honest with yourself and realize what you’re good at and you might be good at the creativity might be good at the developing, the design, the marketing but you’re not going to be good at everything. So stick to what you’re good at. And at a point in time hand it over, sell out you know, move on to the next thing and do the fun stuff. Who wants to do the filing, the accounts, no. [Laughs]
Monique: So give us a website address where we can find out some more information about
James: So it’s scheduled247.com there are links to the blog as well as blog for scheduled247.com. There are use cases, there are best practices, articles how to use this tool although it’s super easy and we will come up with many new features so stay tuned and visit the blog for more details.
Monique: Fantastic. It’s been great hosting you James Attard from Scheduled 247. Thank you. James: Thank you.