Software for Small Businesses, Designed by Small Business Owners
HelmBot began way back in 2012 as a way to manage our own wellness center (Float On) in Portland, OR. We were frustrated with the booking software we’d been using, and we found ourselves with a wishlist of features that no other software seemed to handle.
And… that’s probably just how things would have stayed if not for a chance encounter between Float On and our lead-developer-to-be. We struck up a deal trading floatation sessions for programming lessons. It wasn’t long before HelmBot was conceived, and what started as a loose barter grew into plans to create software that would improve the lives of small business owners like ourselves.
In 2013, we brought on our first paying customers and migrated our own shop over to the Helm (which is still one of the most exciting days of our business).
We still use HelmBot every single day to manage our 24-hour float center. Using our own software is a huge part of why the Helm feels so intuitive: our software is designed from real world needs, not from abstract brainstorms by executives and computer programmers.
Proudly Bootstrapped, and Getting Bigger
Over the next several years, despite refusing to take on any outside investment, HelmBot grew to be THE software for the float industry. More float centers use HelmBot now than any other scheduling software, like MindBody or Booker.
During this time, we also started to expand to accommodate other services like massage, yoga, acupuncture, cryotherapy, chiropractic, and salon services. We worked with business owners in each industry we entered to tailor features specifically for their type of service.
In 2019, we started marketing to businesses outside of the float industry for the first time and our list of happy Helmers started growing even faster as more people discovered it.
On the Horizon
It’s really exciting to watch something that has been so useful to our own business help other people out in the world. We never stop improving HelmBot, and every single week new features are being released and new types of businesses are discovering exactly how much HelmBot can help them.
We’re not sure exactly what the future holds, but we’re excited to keep developing, keep growing, and most of all, to keep helping other brick and mortar shops to thrive.
When we first started our software, it was strictly for the float industry and was named Float Helm. HelmBot, when he joined the company, was a simple text-messaging robot.
He started out in the mailroom, pushing out notifications about upcoming appointments and tasks, sending off free gift cards – things like that.
Eventually, he was promoted to actually scheduling appointments, but only as a kind of a backup secretary when people didn’t have good enough internet to hit up the slick online booking interface on their smartphones. Kind of like an old school phone operator manually connecting the lines for a call.
As we expanded to other industries, we needed to pick a new brand that wasn’t centered solely around floating. We kicked around a bunch of ideas, debating back and forth for weeks about our new name.
Eventually, we made a decision. In a gesture that conjures thoughts of the Great American Dream, we called HelmBot in for a special meeting. “HelmBot,” we intoned in deep voices meant to convey the gravity of the information we were passing on, “we’re giving you a promotion. Instead of your mailroom and backup secretarial duties, you’ll be running the whole show. And our software, henceforth, will bear your name.”
Designing Around Real-World Needs
When we design a feature in the Helm, we have to use it in our own shop. This encourages us to really take our time making sure we get it right (otherwise our shop staff literally comes banging on our door to let us know how we messed up).
We also actively seek feedback from our clients, and we spend a good amount of time discussing and planning useful features directly with them. We prioritize what we work on by what our customers ask for, and we launch new features to beta testers across the world who put them to the test and help us iron out any kinks.
Small and Lean
We have purposefully kept our team small, and we’ve avoided taking any investment money. This lets us stay flexible and efficient. It also means that the code behind the Helm is incredibly clean, since it was mostly designed by a single, world-class developer (who is also an owner in the Helm).
Staying lean and bootstrapped means we’re not beholden to anyone. This is good, because we have pretty strong opinions about making decisions around more than just the bottom line. If there is a choice between doing what we think is right, or making a profit, we’ll happily leave money on the table (something that investors aren’t always too keen on).
Intelligent (Self-Learning) Systems
When you hear “Intelligent Systems” you might picture some kind of artificial intelligence. What we’re talking about in this case, though, is the structures we create to manage our projects (and our business as a whole).
When left to their own devices, the systems that you build to maintain your business should get better over time, not worse. We believe in creating beneficial feedback systems to help us catch those things that are slipping through the cracks, and to improve even more the things that are already working.
A key to this is having a team that we trust and encouraging them to ask questions and take ownership over their own projects.