Founded in 2016 by Pierre-Camille Hamana (PC), Hospitable.com has built a best-in-class vacation rental management software that automates the communication process between owners and their renters. Hospitable.com connects to owners’ Airbnb, Booking.com, and Vrbo accounts and allows them to provide their guests white-glove care by automating personalized, human-like conversations, automatically notifying their team of new tasks, synchronizing their calendars across platforms, etc.
By nature of how their software works, notifications are central to Hospitable.com’s business. They are so important, in fact, that their engineering team attempted to build their own notification system in-house before deciding it would be a better use of resources to adopt Courier, especially because of its Segment integration.
We had the opportunity to speak with PC about how Hospitable.com went about building their own system, why this turned out to be a costly decision, and how they decided to use Courier instead.
Hospitable.com works by connecting to owners’ Airbnb, Booking.com, and Vrbo accounts and managing the conversations in their entirety between their customers, the hosts, and the guests. For example, if a host wants to send the guest a welcome email after they check in, but the check-in happens in the middle of the night while the host is sleeping, Hospitable.com will trigger an automatic email notification welcoming the guest to their accommodations. Hosts can rely on Hospitable.com to handle all communications, including concerns, to the point that many of them don’t even need to set eyes on their guests to provide them a superior travel experience. In fact, they rarely need to even log into the Hospitable.com platform.
In addition to the notifications that are sent to guests, Hospitable.com also sends notifications to hosts confirming that the messages have been sent. This level of automation and customization results in a need for an enormous number of notifications to be sent and received on a daily basis, which requires a sturdy and reliable notification system.
At this point, PC and his team were unaware of any tools on the market that would solve this particular problem, and so began the process of building an in-house notification system. This first iteration was really less of a system and more of a hard-coded set of messages. They served their purpose at first, but then when the company’s branding was updated in 2019, there was suddenly a disconnect in visuals for the user, which caused confusion and poor user experience.
Then when the COVID pandemic hit in March of 2020, the travel and hospitality industry took a severe hit. Traffic and numbers were slowing down dramatically. To ride out the wave, the team decided to focus on some side projects, one of which was building a new notification system - Churchill. The focus of Churchill was meant to be automation. Hospitable.com.com wanted to remove any code from integrations with email clients, SMS providers, etc. The main interface for this was Segment, which would allow them to plug more events into the application for benefits around tracking, attribution, and metadata. The customer profile would essentially store nothing, with the events themselves triggering messages like email notifications.
Churchill worked well at first. The business numbers were recovering and the outlook was great. But to scale reliably, Churchill would require more maintenance and improvements over time. The problem was that with other company functions back to nearly full capacity, Hospitable.com was only able to dedicate side hours on Fridays to Churchill, which simply was not enough to keep up with volume. The bigger the job became, the fewer hours engineers dedicated to it, and the result was lower performance.
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A few months later, one of Hospitable.com’s engineers came across Courier, which focused on transactional messages for SaaS rather than marketing and sales focused messaging, as did the other options in the market. At this point, Churchill had become more of a liability than an advantage, so it was a no-brainer for the CTO to green light the switch over to Courier and sunset Churchill.
Hospitable.com’s engineers liked that Courier was for SaaS companies working on product notifications rather than business ones and the fact that it had multi-tenant architecture, but what really sealed the deal was the Segment integration. As PC (with some help from John Carter) said, “If you've never read the Bible and you want to learn Spanish, read the Bible in Spanish. You're going to kill two birds with one stone. [In this situation, you can] simply get more understanding of the customer journey and the actions and the events that are being triggered along the usage of the product.”
Using Segment was important to the Hospitable.com team and Courier’s Segment integration would save them engineering time because using it, they would avoid needing to implement each API call to Courier and could instead trigger notifications based on events that were already being sent to Segment. They would also be able to lighten the engineering load and offload the creation of the messages themselves to an entirely different interface.
“There are very few products we’re using that I’m so excited about,” says PC. Using Courier has dramatically reduced the amount of engineering time Hospitable.com has to invest into notifications. Churchill required three engineers working full time for three months along with a CTO managing the project. In comparison, Courier was set up and ready to go very quickly and maintenance is very low since all the upkeep work is taken care of.
Scaling the entire system is much easier as well, since Courier allows the Hospitable.com team to release notifications, iterate on them, and even rebrand easily. A major problem to consider with an in-house system was also legalities like GDPR and cookie laws in Europe as well as California’s consumer protection laws. Adding an engine to gather user consent for notifications would require far more engineering hours, an issue that Courier handles off the bat.