I'm Ben Gruber

2014 / 3 October

Boarding Past Transparent Launch Week 3

Week 3: Marketing Hold & Product Development Push

BoardingPast Oct 1 Screen Shot

Week 3 Summary:

This week, I decided that my user acquisition push was too far ahead of my actual product progress. As per usual, I vastly underestimated the amount of time it would take me to get to a live working prototype up. Even after 10 years of doing this stuff – it is hard to tamper the optimism :).

Anyway, I am still probably about a month away from releasing a product that is beta ready that I can send to the amazing early adopters that have been signing up with their emails. I did not want to have those people waiting too long, so I temporarily suspended my Facebook ads, but not before some more signups came in. Let’s check the results.


The Results:

I stopped my Facebook ads from running on Monday right after I tallied my results from the prior week. So this week I spent $0 on Facebook ads and according to Facebook I sent 0 clicks. However, google analytics tells a different story. It has the site receiving 79 visits from 68 users which resulted in 3 email conversions! Awesome, free clicks, free signups! The source of the traffic is “(direct) / (none)”, but that has to be Facebook since I am not driving any other traffic.

This makes my conversion rate 4.4%, not horrible. All three of the conversion came from desktop as did most the traffic.


Site Development Progress:

My head was down and I was getting stuff done this week! I created complex email scrapping scripts for many of the most popular airlines that should accommodate all the different types of travel. Other than simply getting enough example email receipts to work from – this is the hardest challenge so far.

Even when the airlines email template is not changing, there are many variations of how you might fly. You could fly a one way flight. You could have a layover in Charlotte on the way and go direct on the way back. You could stop three times one way and stop twice on the way back, but go on the red eye. These types of variants make the code base very complex. It is hard to write many functions that can be reused.

Anyway, I have implemented and done preliminary testing on Delta, US Airways, American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest, Northwest, Virgin America, and JetBlue – meaning I can extract flight details from these emails in my inbox. Pretty exciting! Real data! This thing is actually possible after all.

These first round of tests has given me enough real data to begin to try out some really basic Google Map API work since my plan is to display each user’s travel history on their own interactive map.

There is a really great site called SnazzyMaps which gave me some inspiration on basic map coloring and textures to get started. Note, normally I would design my site in Photoshop before touching the code, but since the coding challenge was going to be difficult for this project, I decided do it in reverse. I would get a lot of the code done first and then loop back around to the design when I knew which data points I was going to be collecting in the first iteration of the project.

To implement the map, I am using a great gem called Google Maps for Rails – I know seriously out there name. It allows me to use some of the basic Google Map API features fairly easily. But even this task basic interaction forced me to think about the data structure of the app in a way I had not planned for, but lets not get into that.

I started with something simple by plotting points based on the longitude and latitude of the airports I had landed at or taken off from. I then connected the dots with polylines and voila – we have the basic idea!

Screen shot 2014-10-03 at 6.07.18 PM

Next Week Plans

1. Marketing Staying on Pause

2. Write Scripts for Flight Aggregators like Cheapo, Expedia, Orbitz, etc…

3. Design Map

This coming week my plan is to stay head down in product development. If I had a team of people working on the product and strategizing on launch, I would forge ahead with the marketing, but since I don’t – I won’t.

The two main things I am looking to accomplish next week is to add Flight Aggregators to the list of email receipts I am getting flights from and to design the interactive map visual.

Flight Aggregators Data

Flight Aggregators are sites like Expedia, Priceline and Orbitz. These are different than Kayak, Hipmunk, and Flight.com, because you actually book your travel with them. This means that the email receipt comes from say Cheapoair.com even though your flight is with Delta. This creates a new layer of complexity in developing code for them, but it is important as they make up to 30% of all ticket sales online by some sources estimates.


Interactive Map Design

Designing the user map is not going to be an easy task either. It comes baked with tough decisions. Do you show both the take off and landing points? Or do people really just want to know where their vacation was – since that is what they really did? If so, how long of layover does a person need to have before it was considered a stop at that location? Does the user want to see the flight lines? Do they want to name the destinations themselves or do they want to know the city name? Should I pick the closest city or the city the airport is in (is Newark Airport in NYC)?  The list just keeps going. Scary but exciting.

Overall this project is ending up being bigger than expected, but it is ending up way more awesome than expected as well. Just with the airlines I have already wrote code for, I have found out that since 2007 when my first email receipt entered my gmail inbox, I have taken 39 trips which consisted of 76 flights and spanned 8 countries. If  nothing else, it’s really cool just to see this stuff myself. Each time I finish the code for a new airline, and a new flight shows up on my map, I have a flashback to the actual trip. It makes me want to call the friend I was with and say “You remember that time we randomly went to Trinidad, how fun was that?”

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