Inspirato with American Express Goes Mobile With APIs
Industry: Mobile Vacation Club App
Challenge: Decentralized Platforms for Property Data,
Wasting Time Internally
Solution: Cloud Elements Uniform REST APIs and Integration Platform
"Our teams have access to up-to-date information and are able to share and sync data at the same time. The time is takes to create a trip proposal has been cut in half, at least!"
Adam Bauman, Vice President of Technology, Inspirato
Inspirato is more than a company name. It’s Italian for being inspired. At Inspirato, that serves as a reminder to travel well and live an inspired life. Over at Cloud Elements, we’re feeling most inspired by the Inspirato app development. Over the past year and half, Inspirato has transformed their mobile app experience, ending the age of the monolithic app and creating one of today’s most innovative rental apps built on APIs.
To become one of the most innovative technologies in the online rental market required the vision to future-proof an app. Future-proofing is not only creating a beautiful UI, but also building a foundation that’s really smart and well connected via REST APIs. The journey to a mobile rental app built on APIs, with 11 integrations and over 240 API methods all started in partnership with Cloud Elements.
Inspirato is unique in that it indirectly competes with HomeAway, VRBO and Airbnb, purely as vacation rental apps. However Inspirato’s advantage is their control of their luxury vacation home inventory. Inspirato stands behind all their properties, much in the way that high end luxury hotel brands stand behind the quality of their accommodations.
To get ahead of competition meant scaling growth of new members and new property acquisitions. Inspirato’s monolithic app, fondly remembered as “the spreadsheet,” inhibited the number of residences that could be added per month, thus inhibiting the number of new memberships. During these spreadsheet days, Inspirato was only able to increase the number of new properties managed per month by a limited and incremental amount. With the new centralized app, run on APIs and integrations, the rate of property acquisition grew significantly.
The Monolithic App
For a tech startup, product development typically means shortcuts are made, corners are cut and it’s a race to be first-to-market. Inspirato was constrained in its initial days by organizing its properties into a large, complex spreadsheet. Less custom code when it comes to Excel. The spreadsheet was owned by multiple people, causing time consuming issues in emailing and sharing, and then maintaining up-to-date, accurate information.
Adam Bauman, Vice President of Technology explains, “Before we were introduced to Cloud Elements, our developers were working on aggregating data spread across a variety of sources and that was rapidly expanding. What we needed to do was consolidate all that data into one single source of truth.” The property data, depending on who you talked to, came from different teams. The sales team managed accounts and properties in their customer relationship management system (CRM). The Product Team had built their own custom app. The marketing team managed properties in the content management system (CMS). Finance and the executive team reported from dashboards in their ERP.
Beyond the internal nightmare of spreadsheet management, Bauman shared how the monolithic app was causing challenges for their end users, including both members and property owners. Bauman: “Our spreadsheet was managing over 500 properties, including 100 destinations in 40 countries. Each property has multiple aspects to manage from landlord contacts to cable, heating, and electricity bills to the knowledge of the nearest hospital.”
The decentralized data caused multiple headaches for users, like missed payments or service interruptions. It was clear to Bauman and the rest of the Inspirato leadership team that centralized data would directly correlate to better quality of service and experience. The death of the spreadsheet was a no brainer, it was just a matter of ‘how.’
The Death of the Spreadsheet
In early 2015 Inspirato threw an office party in celebration of the death of the spreadsheet. Before they got to the infamous party of ‘15, Inspirato’s journey started with considering a more traditional solution suited for web of apps.
Bauman and team were considering installing an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) to solve their integration needs. The primary reason Bauman determined not to resort to a traditional ESB, was the lack of additional developers need to commit to build and maintain an ESB. Inspirato, still young and nimble, simply could not afford to dedicate additional time once the configuration was complete. Walking away from the concept of an ESB, they decided to partner with Cloud Elements, which offered no overhead in running the integration platform.
Getting Started With Cloud Elements
The integration development team kicked off the initiative with a workshop led by Cloud Elements senior product developers. The workshop created user stories that addressed specific pain points and directly aligned with business objectives. The primary objective was to aggregate all the property data into one centralized location. The end deliverable was to expose a new app granting property access to all employees. The scope of the project also meant the app team had to stand up an entirely new version of their public site.
After planning and prioritizing the work, the team decided the easiest place to start was Salesforce, as all the REST APIs were already configured in Cloud Elements CRM Hub. At Inspirato, Salesforce is used to manage the real estate acquisition pipeline, new members and accounts, and the relationships with property managers.
After each of the endpoints (Salesforce CRM, Eloqua Marketing Platform, Great Plains Financial System, Sharepoint File Storage) were normalized to uniform REST APIs, the next step was to actually orchestrate the integrations between each system.
Tricky part here was that each system has a different name for the same exact object. Bauman’s team had to come up with a consistent naming structure to get started. “Before we started this project, we needed an old school glossary just to see what one department calls one thing that another department calls something else.” For example, the name for “Property” in the marketing system is ‘Residence’, which is the same as ‘Real Estate’ in the CRM and called ‘Unit’ on the external website.
APIs are used at Inspirato to orchestrate the primary, secondary and sometimes tertiary naming data structures. The data transformations, powered by Cloud Elements, normalized the data, offering Inspirato a way to maintain a single, normal view of the properties and all associated objects.
"It would not have been possible to create a mobile app with out the Cloud Elements API integrations."
Adam Bauman, Vice President of Technology
The transformations expose the data that the third party apps are using. The apps can work in tandem, further enabling each team (from sales to marketing to finance) to work simultaneously on property management.
The API integrations also moved us into the iOS (iPhone and iPad) mobile application space. “It would not have been possible to create a mobile app without the Cloud Elements API integrations. That is unless we exposed our own API directly, but that would have been a much bigger effort. We’ve saved a tremendous amount of developer time by sticking integrations between our custom application and SalesForce.com” shares Bauman.
He continues, “One really specific, and exciting success we’ve seen, is the ease in creating trip proposals for our members. Our teams have access to up-to-date information and are able to share and sync data at the same time. The time is takes to create a trip proposal has been cut in half, at least!”
Perhaps most importantly, Inspirato is now growing rapidly in terms of new memberships and property acquisition. With the centralized mobile app, run on Cloud Elements APIs, the rate of new property acquisition grew significantly.
Looking forward, the Inspirato development team plans to continue refining the property acquisition process and utilizing the centralized platform to advance user experience. The integrated app has opened the door to a whole slew of next generation mobile technologies. Bauman lights up as he explains, “With our mobile app, we’ll look to integrate Homekit and Apple Watch apps. When a member walks into our properties they’ll receive a very personal experience from things like keyless entry, to their favorite music playing, to temperature controls in the rooms that are actively in use, to favorite bottles of wine chilling.”
“Over the past year in partnering with Cloud Elements, I’ve really enjoyed witnessing our ability to breakthrough some of the challenges we’ve both faced,” says Bauman. “I’m proud of our collaborative ability to take advantage of the smart people in the room and come up with really smart solutions.”