The company I co-founded, Wannabiz, has gone through significant changes in technology and platforms. The first phase of our product, an application for small businesses to do Social and Web Marketing, was focused on the Web as the main platform, and offered a rich set of features based on web technology residing on AWS infrastructure, using mostly open source stack elements - Apache, Linux, PHP, MongoDB, Java.
Meeting a great need, the application was a success, and the Web-based delivery method was still very popular with professionals who were used to utilizing technology in the form of web applications, via a PC and a browser.
The Web-based model offered significant technical advantages: it was very Agile, we implemented continuous integration methodology and new features, changes were deployed on the production environment as often as needed, and our product team could rapidly and continuously expand the solution and add functionality leveraging fast implementation and short deployment cycles.
Shortly after launching the first solution to the market, we realized that the vast majority of our target users - small business owners/managers - were spending considerable more time on mobile applications than on web applications, due to the nature of their businesses. We then implemented our first iOS mobile application.
The first generation of our iOS application was developed in standard iOS practices - with a fixed set of pre-built views, with the addition of a somewhat flexible MVC model in which the server controls the flow users follow as they perform marketing activities in the application. This gave our product team incredible flexibility to easily and rapidly introduce new features in the application, without requiring lengthy and annoying app updates, as long as they used the existing app views. However, introduction of new features with new views still required an app update.
The app was a great success and quickly accumulated more and more users, and soon we realized we should focus completely on Mobile solutions as usage and loyalty stats were massively higher than their web app equivalents. The anywhere-anytime availability of the mobile app proved critical to our increasingly mobile user base, and the mobile app model introduced effective engagement technologies superior to such capabilities in web app model.
Serving varying small business verticals with a marketing solution, required an additional layer of flexibility in the app related to matching the best marketing strategy and activities at any point in time to any type of user. An Artificial Intelligence (AI) module, we named BOSME, was added to the app, to determine top priority marketing activities per user on the fly. Built on top of a ranking algorithm, our AI framework is continuously learning and producing per-user optimal results based on current user state, past user activity and performance, ad-hoc events, and statistics and measurements off of a large collection of data.
In addition, the mobile application design followed our single most important design element - the 1-minute-actions promise. The application was designed with the notion that small business mobile users operate in short intermittent sessions with the application, therefore, actions must not take longer than one minute to complete. We invested heavily - on both server and app sides - in allowing users to complete marketing activities extremely rapidly, combining very simple mobile app usability with a smart marketing content engine that fills the application with highly relevant, fresh content matched to specific users (e.g. "hair stylists") and specific activities (e.g. “share a professional video”).
App statistics were phenomenal, and at that point, the biggest technical challenge with the application, as with any mobile application, was the need for frequent updates in order to introduce new features. Being a marketing focused application, the app could not be static. We needed a way to allow users to perform different types of marketing activities, represented differently in the application, without requiring long and expensive development cycles and lengthy app store upgrades.
After much consideration and evaluation of tools and approaches, we concluded that in order to increase app's business flexibility, decrease inefficient custom development work, and dramatically reduce number of app upgrades, we would develop a “SaaS Mobile App” - an application that was merely the visual layer of the MVC model, rendering applications views according to server instructions. This approach is the mobile-equivalent of the web browser, which receives HTML renders the view on the client side.
This next mobile app generation was implemented in our first Android app. The app generated a “native” experience on the client side, according to instructions provided by the server. We developed a UI and event framework on the client side, and a language, based on JSON, that included layout and component information, as well as data and event handling instructions.
The technological investment provided massive value. We are now able to perform dramatic app enhancement - release new features and change existing ones - in minimal development cycles and extremely limited application updates, similarly to what we could technically achieve in the web SAAS model, bringing Continuous Integration and Delivery into our mobile offering.
In the next phase, we implemented the same engine on iOS, allowing the server to control our application seamlessly on Android and iOS. We are constantly inspecting new technologies, such as React Native and AngularJS for our engine, as these mature.
Wannabiz has expanded in recent years into channel marketing offerings, supporting leading brands in marketing collaboration with their local small retailers and representatives. Wannabiz now releases new features with little development effort, almost entirely by an operations team who configures the Content Platform, The AI framework, and the SaaS engine according to customer needs. The platform delivers highly flexible B2B, B2C, and B2B2C marketing solutions with near-zero coding. Technology in support of business and value!