We’ve all done the same dance.
You’re visiting someone at their office. As you wait in line at the reception desk, you email your friend. “In the lobby!”, you write.
When your turn comes, the receptionist takes your name. He hands you a book of carbon paper. You write your name and it comes out as, “Pele”; the cross of the “t” lost in the carbon reproduction. The receptionist folds the paper into a plastic badge holder and you wonder, “Anybody ever look at these visitor books?”
The receptionist apologises. He can’t reach your friend on the phone. He emails. You email. He calls the desk beside your friend’s. “Oh, she’s on her way down,” the receptionist says.
Your friend collects you, then, at the end of the day you make it halfway home before you realise you’re still wearing the little plastic badge that tells the world your name is Pele.
Bring on SwipedOn
Hadleigh Ford was working in an office aboard a 90m superyacht in New Zealand when he’d finally had enough of stories like that. He knew there was a better way than visitor books and emails from the reception desk. To fix the problem, he started SwipedOn.
SwipedOn is a SaaS product that lets visitors sign-in using an iPad, automatically notifies the right person that their visitor has arrived, and provides a dashboard that lets reception know who is on-site at any time. The iPad serves double duty in an evacuation roll-call, and SwipedOn also supports employee sign-in, sign-out and evacuation.
Five years into the journey, SwipedOn’s CTO Matt Cooney is building a tech stack to serve customers globally. I spoke to Matt and Hadleigh to learn more about the choices they’d made.
It started with a LAMP
“We delivered our MVP in early 2016”, say Hadleigh. “It was built on a modest LAMP stack due to the bootstrapped nature of our business.”
That initial LAMP platform took SwipedOn a long way. “We grew organically to NZ$1,000,000 annual recurring revenue, before taking on private equity investment.”
As that growth took place, the tech stack had to adapt. “The LAMP side of things makes heavy use of Laravel,” says Matt. “We also have a Node.js app that uses websockets to synchronise devices and the backend. Our cache is Redis and then, of course, there are integrations with various third-party services, including Nexmo.”
Build or buy
One of the early questions was one that many start-up developers will recognise: build or buy?
“In the early days we ended up inventing quite a lot of technology we needed and that is more readily available now ‘in a box’ with open-source libraries and/or SAAS platforms. One example is the real-time platform that seamlessly synchronises devices,” says Matt.
“So,” he continues, “we’re constantly asking ourselves whether various piece of our platform are vital pieces of IP or something that can be outsourced to a dedicated library or provider.
“The result is that our definition of our technical IP morphs over time. That’s great because it means we can spend our R&D time on projects where we know we can make a difference, while the outsourced feature set keeps getting better and better as libraries and services add and improve features in their own area of expertise.”
Alongside Nexmo, SwipedOn rely on many of the same types of service as other tech start-ups: there’s the payment gateway, the outbound email provider, analytics and so on. As third-party APIs grow in sophistication, deciding on changes to the tech stack becomes almost a job of predicting what innovations each provider will make.
“What we’re finding now,” says Matt, “is that third-party services are moving further and further ahead of the curve. We need to carefully consider where we invest our time and energy, and again it’s about identifying that sweet spot where we can leverage our own IP to innovate in spaces that we wish to own. Areas of deep interest to us, such as voice UIs and facial recognition, are already delivered as polished, rapidly-improving third party services that we can iterate on.”
Global from day one
Residents of New Zealand and Australia often complain that their internet connectivity lags behind what can be found in Europe and North America. However, latency was never a problem for SwipedOn as it was a global business from day one.
“Our initial AWS location was us-east-1. We do have a staging environment in Sydney but other than that all our infrastructure is in locations in the US, with Cloudfront and Lambda used to improve service in other regions.” Plans for full environments in Europe and Asia are well under way.
That global ambition made Nexmo an obvious choice for SwipedOn, when it came to choosing a communication API.
“Financially, the pricing was very competitive,” says Hadleigh. “It allowed us to budget tightly and forecast spend, month on month. Nexmo also has a worldwide SMS distribution network, allowing us to easily service our global user base. The technical documentation was sound and implementation was very straightforward. Lastly, Nexmo has a presence in the APAC region and having dedicated employees on the same time zone as us was a welcome change from other providers.”
With Nexmo, SwipedOn could sign-up customers and they’d get just the same service wherever they were.
SMS, WhatsApp and more
Here’s how SwipedOn works. Instead of filling out a cumbersome book and waiting for the receptionist to call the person you’re meeting, it asks you to fill out your details on an iPad. SwipedOn then notifies them that you’re waiting.
At first, those notifications were email-only. Email only goes so far, as Hadleigh notes. “We had clients requesting SMS delivery on the first day, due to the fact that email notifications are not often viewed immediately.”
And now, SwipedOn is exploring how they can reach other messaging platforms using Nexmo’s APIs. As people’s attention drifts from SMS and towards WhatsApp, WeChat and more, that’s where they’ll expect to see their visitor notification.
Asked if targeting other messaging platforms was in their plans, Matt had a definitive answer, “Oh hell, yes.”