We talk to Frank Thibodeau and Fabio Bastian of GenBook.com. Genbook is a remotely hosted online appointment calendar for your service-based business through ‘Book Now’ buttons that can be easily implemented in any websites.
1. How does the service work?
Genbook is a web 2.0 online scheduling application for small businesses like spas, beauty salons, consultants and any business that manages appointments. It is meant to be very light: Genbook clients can self-provision and maintain their calendars themselves, as well as spreading their “BookNow” button wherever they can paste a short tag.
Business owners can get a Free Genbook account and post a “BookNow” button to their web site. Once that is done, their clients can interact with their appointment book and schedule appointments in realtime, 24×7.
After an appointment is booked, we send emails to the provider and the client, with a second reminder email 24 hours in advance of the appointment, if the provider wants. After the appointment, we can also send a feedback/review request to the client, again at the provider’s choosing.
Genbook’s Standard Edition has many added features, like text messages for mobile businesses or people who are not regularly at their computer, a client contact data base, credit card capture, etc., but all of the core functionality is in Genbook Free.
2. Tell us more about the underlying technologies of GenBook.com? What programming platform has been used to develop this application?
3. Why have you decided to make GenBook a remotely hosted service instead of a downloadable script?
However, management of online appointments generates a lot of data and it must be stored somewhere. Genbook handles staff availability, business hours, service durations, existing appointments, blocks of time for each day and a number of other business settings that together make up the appointment book for a given business. It requires a lot of data and heavy calculation on the back-end.
4. Scheduling involves dealing with a lot of sensitive information. How do you ensure the security and integrity of data stored on your servers?
Yes, privacy is an on-going concern and we have many layers of defense to prevent unauthorized access to information. Varying from the basics like firewall and SSL to database level encryption for critical fields. We combine infrastructure security, application logic and database encryption to ensure our data is safe and available only to authorized personnel.
Most critical is to ensure appointment details and sessions are secure. Passwords are stored using seeded, one-way encryption and not even our tech staff is able to restore someone’s password. We keep audit records for critical transactions and store sensitive information encrypted with TripleDES.
We also patch our servers regularly with security updates and monitor our environment 24×7 for possible breaches. Hacker Safe certification provides another level of validation and early warning against threats.
5. The integration of GenBook is powered by a ‘Book Now’ button or link. Do you have plans to do other sort of integrations in the future? (e.g. having the booking application run directly within the user’s website or proving API functionalities).
Yes, definitely. We have customers embedding Genbook on their website’s today via IFrames and we have a booking API on our roadmap.
6. Do you provide any synchronizing feature like iCal or any plug-in to sync. the calendar with Outlook or other email client?
Yes we do, via ICal, on the Standard Edition All the “must haves” for setting appointments/booking them/providing feedback are in Free. We felt that kind of synchronization was a “nice to have” so we enabled it in Standard.
We are also investigating additional ways in which we can provide seamless synchronization with Outlook and online calendars like Yahoo and Google. The difficulty is the lack of a established standard for online synchronization today. Most of the past work was done for PDA’s and mobile phones which is not entirely suitable for web applications. Having said that, I see a good momentum behind WebDav and it could become the established standard for calendaring synchronization on the net.
7. GenBook’s team is spread in USA and Australia. What are some of the collaborative tools that you use to ensure that everyone work together towards a common task?
Everyone in Genbook has a Skype account including our CEO and staff in the accounting department. We use Skype all the time for messaging and voice communication.
We also rely heavily on many online applications for support, sales, billing and managing partner programs. I am a big fan of Software As A Service.
As for tracking goals and target dates we use Jira and Confluence.
8. From what I read, GenBook raised a $2.2 funding. Do you believe that funding is what takes a Web 2.0 application to the next level? What would have been different or impossible without this funding?
You won’t get funding until you prove demand for your application. Real usage is what takes a web 2.0 application to the next level.
Funding allows you to hire (and keep) smart people. In the early days the money will go towards establishing your team and finishing off your technology. Once that is done you can then concentrate on other parts of the business like marketing, operations and expansion. All of these are difficult or impossible without cash.
9. What advice do you have for those thinking about starting a web application or web?
Get your ideas and code live as quickly as you can; grow a small & committed user base and communicate with them constantly. Have a big plan but focus on small targets that you can realistic achieve; keep improving it and validating your idea constantly.
10. What’s next for GenBook?
Adding lots more features and simplifying common tasks with good UI and design decisions. Other ideas on the pipeline are integration with social platforms like Facebook and Myspace.
As far as technology is concern, we keep an eye on emerging web technologies and how we can take advantage in our application. The browser is evolving into a great application platform and we are yet to see all it can do. If you haven’t done yet, check out some of the new features in Firefox 3.