Over the past several years numerous small-business online scheduling platforms have come — and gone. Genbook, Schedulicity, BookFresh, ZocDoc, FullSlate are just a few current such products among many others.
This is a relatively saturated and challenged space. So what could RedBeacon co-founder Ethan Anderson (and his investors) be thinking in launching the new SMB focused scheduling startup MyTime?
One answer is that MyTime is really something more interesting and comprehensive than pure online “scheduling,” as I discovered in speaking to Anderson last week.
I got to know Anderson a little bit during his tenure with RedBeacon, a startup I initially harshly criticized for being “naive” about the local market because it didn’t permit phone contact between consumers and SMBs. I was, however, impressed by the site’s evolution and adaptation to the challenges of working with SMBs.
Roughly a year ago RedBeacon sold to HomeDepot.
Anderson and MyTime are taking a very thoughtful approach to online appointments and booking. In one way MyTime is RedBeacon 2.0. It’s appointment management and maximization. But perhaps the best way to see MyTime is as a marketing and customer loyalty platform, using scheduling as the core piece of functionality.
Rather than asking SMBs to use MyTime as their main online calendar, it integrates with a range of existing software, including Google Calendar, Outlook, iCal, BookFresh and others. In this way MyTime will more quickly gain access to SMB appointments “inventory” than if it asked them to shift all their activity to MyTime as a proprietary scheduling tool.
Currently there’s limited coverage (categories, cities and SMB volume) on the site. However Anderson told me he’s focused on “quality vs. quantity” and the service only features selected, highly rated businesses.
Each business profile shows ratings from Yelp and/or Citysearch to give buyers more confidence in booking appointments through MyTime. There’s also the ability to gain a full refund (up to $1,000) if buyers are unhappy with the service received. This is another confidence booster.
MyTime is also a payments platform and handles the transaction between the consumer and the merchant. This is one feature that makes it different than most online scheduling tools. Merchants are paid via check, PayPal or direct deposit within seven days of the appointment. There’s no profiting from the “float” as some deal sites have done.
MyTime gets more interesting. The site will generate and distribute ads for SMBs to search and social media sites to help fill appointments. Ads are built using the data from business profiles. MyTime is thus an automated search and social media advertising tool for SMBs.
For regular appointments booked through the system directly, MyTime charges the SMB nothing; the service is free. The merchant only pays when a customer books what’s called a “promoted appointment.” These are the ads created by MyTime. Then the company takes roughly 40% of the value of the appointment.
MyTime also will generate dynamic pricing for promoted appointments. The business owner sets a pricing floor — the minimum she is willing to accept for the appointment — and MyTime figures out how to price it above that threshold. This allows the business to book hard-to-fill appointments, on weekday afternoons for example. Over time, Anderson said, MyTime will be able to optimize pricing to improve ad performance. (The company will gain some incredibly valuable pricing data in the process.)
MyTime won’t charge business owners for existing customers and repeat bookings, a problem that previous “pay-per-booking” business models confronted (and some PPCall models contend with too). Indeed, Anderson wants consumers to use MyTime to book repeat appointments and wants businesses not to worry about having to “re-acquire” existing customers — one of the challenges for the daily deals model.
MyTime will also do e-mail based loyalty marketing on behalf of SMBs, which brings it into the realm of Constant Contact and similar marketing tools. Thus MyTime is much more of a Swiss-army knife for SMB marketing than it first appears.
MyTime faces the same list of challenges that all local startups confront: advertiser acquisition, consumer adoption, etc. However, the range of capabilities and the approach being taken here is much more sophisticated than your average scheduling startup.
MyTime is really a broad marketing and inventory management platform and it represents a provocative alternative to conventional search and social advertising in the SMB marketplace.