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What I’ve learnt app special: Uncover

Apps are the talk of the town when it comes to e-commerce, offering the opportunity for customer interaction, customer service, data collation and much more. But how do you create a truly useful app that tackles costly issues for businesses?

To find out, we spoke to the Uncover UK Team. The Uncover app curates a handpicked selection of London’s most desirable restaurants, allowing users to track down hidden gems. Uncover also enables users to find last minute reservations and book them within the app – a bit like having your very own Devil Wears Prada style PA. Soon, the app will also allow you split and pay the bill.  David Saenz, the app’s co-founder, spoke to us about his journey to date.

What was the opportunity you saw that made you want to build an app?

There was a lack of interesting technology in the restaurant space. There were a lot of apps for discovery, and a lot of apps for the sake of building apps, but we found that there was no real niche.  A lot of the restaurants we spoke to said they’d had a lot of issues with same day booking, or with people making cancellations and not being able to fill those seats. It was a story we heard again and again, so we knew that creating an app to address these issues would make a huge amount of difference to these businesses.

What was the process of building the app like? Hard? Easy? Long? Short?

It wasn’t easy! The first decision we had to make was whether or not we were going to outsource the development or build the app in-house. Rather than outsourcing to developers that were based 2000 miles away, we settled on developers in Brighton. We decided that they’d start initial work for three months, whilst we worked on recruiting our in-house team, we also made sure we had a transitioning phase, to make sure everyone was up to speed when they took over.

Developing an app that could optimise all the information our customers needed in real time was a big challenge too. At the time of creating the app, Swift (programming language software) was just about to launch, and we knew that it would offer a new coding language that would offer a better experience for our customers. With that in mind, we decided to implement it into our design. We were one of the first businesses in the UK to build using Swift.

How time consuming it is to maintain the app?

Very time consuming! First of all it’s making sure that the app is working, so we have a full time development team working on testing.  We also have a new features department constantly working on new ways to develop and improve features, to make it easier for our customers to use and making it simpler to find new restaurants. We also want the app to become better optimised and work on new areas, such as a curation feature we want to implement and the algorithms that would support that. Having an app is about constantly refining.

We’re always looking at our customer journey – so looking at the search terms they use, specific pages they visit, whether they spend time looking at photography, whether they are sharing their finds or discovering via sharing. We look at what people are searching for, what kinds of restaurants are popular and try to identify trends from there.

Is thinking local important for small businesses?

Definitely. We’d eventually like to be global, but there are over fifty big dining cities in the world, and each big city has its own unique character. In order to tap into that, we need to have a team on the ground that can get us established in local communities. So that means setting up a local blog, a social presence and building awareness in each market.

What are the next steps and long-term goals for the app?

We’d like to see the app expand into different cities around the world, and continue to develop features so that we can add value for our customers. In a few weeks, we’ll be launching mobile payments through the app too.

We want to continue developing a best-in-class product, which features the best restaurants and harnesses the best tech to solve both consumer and restaurant needs.

Do you have any advice/tips for small businesses?

It’s important to speak to your target market first. We spoke to over fifty restaurants and various consumer groups to ensure that our product reflects their needs. There’s no point in going to market with a product just because you and your team think it’s a great idea.

Having said that, constant integration is important too – you can’t spend two years trying to build the perfect app, as things are constantly changing and evolving. You’ll learn much more taking the product to market than you will constantly trying to refine it, so another tip is to get your app out faster.

Would you have done anything differently?

Did we make mistakes? Yes. But everybody does, and the mistakes we made were invaluable and have informed the choices we’ve made. Those mistakes didn’t ruin us, instead, we were able to learn and grow from them.

What do you think the future of apps will look like?

I think we’re going to see more polarisation and consolidation. There will probably be more apps built, but only a few apps will be able to cut through and make a difference to how people use their smart phones. I think we’ll see consolidation in that people who may previously have had ten map apps will go down to using one app they know they can rely on and that works for them.

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