How a Toronto web start-up hopes to make life easier for small, reservation-based, local businesses.
For the past 10 years, Toronto company Offshoot has been working to provide software solutions for a roster of corporate clientele. Most recently, however, the project that has brothers James and Neil Hamilton most excited is Resurva, an online booking application they created as something of an experiment for Kensington Market’s Crows Nest Barbershop. Resurva is now celebrating its first year online and, spurred on by its initial success, Offshoot are looking to to grow the app into their primary business.
Why did Crows Nest serve as such an ideal venue for developing Resurva?
Neil Hamilton (Senior VP, Product Design): The best thing about Crows Nest is how insanely booked they are, which really pushes the app to its limits. It makes us really have to put our energy into optimization and making sure things are quick and we’re not slowing them down.
James Hamilton (Founder and President): It also validated our theory that there was a demand for a product like this and the existing software out there really didn’t fulfill that service, for a variety of reasons—either it wasn’t focused enough or it just didn’t do a good enough job on the booking process. We knew there was a need for something of this calibre to be offered to small and mid-sized businesses. It was a great gateway for us to work with a shop that’s reputable and really busy. Because they were so busy, every time we made a bad decision we knew instantly. We would have a theory about how to improve the booking process, and the majority of the time we’d get it right, but then sometimes we would see it in action and then realize what we did wasn’t efficient enough or the actual process took too long because the code behind it wasn’t efficient. So we got to see really quickly if we made a sound decision or if we harmed the system in some way.
You spent a day working the counter at Crows Nest during development—did that inform the process?
Neil: Up until that point, we were going strictly on our vision of how it would work. There’s no testing; there’s no thought process put into watching them work, how they answer the phone, or anything like that. So I went in there one day and Chris [Hammell, a barber at the shop] and I started transferring bookings from their scribbles to the actual app. I was doing it and was, like, “Man, this sucks, it’s so slow.” I left after an hour to rehash some stuff and a did a couple of things to make it a lot quicker. I went back the next day and Chris’ dog was sick, so he wasn’t there and they didn’t have a shop manager at that point. I was just sitting there working and Jon [Roth, owner] asked if I would mind taking the phones for the day, so I did and [that experience] laid out [the benefits of Resurva] for me.
What other industries do you see Resurva moving into?
James: We’re actually getting a lot of traction in the barbershop industry now—it’s really starting to ramp up. It’s an industry that’s gone through a rebirth and there’s a lot of younger guys taking over older barbershops. These guys are technologically savvy, so it’s a pretty easy sell for them, because they get it—they’re already used to booking things online using Kayak, Travelocity, or Expedia, so it just makes a lot of sense to these owners. And I think for us, to maintain the focus of our product, it’s really good to focus on that industry because we know that the best. But, really, anybody that offers a high-end, one-on-one-style service are our ideal customers. We have a brow-shaping shop out in the east end that have signed up now.
Your approach to marketing has been relatively low-key so far.
James: We’re working on raising our profile—attaching ourselves to the companies who are looked upon as industry leaders. I think that will help us rise up as well. We’re focused on how to, in that grassroots mentality, grow our brand and maintain that level of authenticity as we grow and become more recognized. That’s our big job now: to really get out there and show what we’re all about and to connect with other like-minded business that have this integral need to better manage how their business operates.
What sort of clients are you most drawn to?
James: We identify with the companies we’re working with a lot. We’ve done a lot of work over the years for big companies that doesn’t get us anywhere—we just do the work and we don’t reap any benefits as far as exposure. We taught ourselves pretty much everything we know here, and we’re very much like the companies we’re building the software for. That kind of mentality is the mentality we put into our software, and I feel like the people who get our software have the same mentality with their business. They have a very organic growth structure associated with what they do and people really respond to that, because it’s real, it’s authentic. To me, that’s really appealing and, in a lot of the work we’ve done over the years, I don’t think we’ve really gotten that kind of authenticity. But we crave this and this is where we want to take the company—this is the future for us, this is our major transition point right now.
What are the next steps for Resurva?
Neil: We definitely want to go the whole point-of-sale route—receipt-printing and all that kind stuff.
James: It’s really just adding more management features into the back-end for the business. We want to be the cornerstone of all management and operations for the business—anything that wastes your time as a small- or medium-sized business owner. All of this stuff is maintenance, and maintenance doesn’t help your business grow. That’s time you could be putting into meeting new people and coming up with campaigns to grow your business. That’s what we want our tool to be: that integral piece of your company that ultimately frees your time as the owner/operator to do things that are constructive, that help your bottom line, that help your business grow. And the benefits are instantaneous for the clientele, because they have a really easy way to book. And as we start to incorporate more of the social elements into the system, we’ll see the benefits of how the customers can help the business grow down the road. But for now, our major selling point is our tool frees up your time to do constructive things.