Exsportia is a comprehensive solution for sports venues and their customers. Businesses receive a CRM tailored to the sports industry that they can customise. Venues also benefit from a custom mobile booking app, eliminating the need for back-and-forth communication via phone calls or messengers. The app is always up-to-date and works in the background.
Beware! It's a long read... 👻
Challenges and constraints
Since 2018, the Exsportia team had been slowly developing a customer app MVP, but their focus had been entirely on the Back-office app as a back-end basis. In early 2021, I joined Exsportia. Together with the design lead, we examined everything done before to identify flaws and possibilities for further improvement.
At that time, the mobile app was in an extremely raw condition due to several factors: Exsportia had only one designer with no prior experience in application design; the application logic was created without a technical background; and the developers' team was small and overloaded with tasks on the Back-office, resulting in technical debt.
We used it as a technical foundation and built upon it, creating a new set of features and completely changing the design approach. My role was to lead the design of the mobile app, while the design lead focused on the Back-office app.
Exsportia's CEO, Justin Cohen, spent years in the sports industry speaking to businesses of various sizes and disciplines. He gathered their backgrounds, challenges, and goals. This experience inspired him to create Exsportia, the "Airbnb for the sports booking industry", with a clear concept and feature list.
We spent hours discussing venues’ feedback to outline the main blockers and pain points:
Businesses often struggled spending hours on routine communication instead of automation due to a lack of technical skills;
No one likes changes: venue owners were afraid to try new tools, experience transition issues or lose data;
Most CRM/booking products lacked unpopular features that were crucial for venues, preventing them from switching;
Many adopted booking tools still required using a separate CRM or spreadsheets in addition to booking software, or vice versa;
Most aggregators operate in big cities or focus on popular activities such as gyms, fitness studios, and martial arts.
Users, on another side, had some of the same and different issues:
Miscommunication: venues cancelled classes or changed schedules and failed to inform clients;
Making phone calls was uncomfortable for younger audiences, who have become accustomed to booking things through apps or chatbots.
Venue networks developed their applications, but small and medium-sized enterprises failed to offer a convenient user experience to their customers. Often, they resorted to cheap solutions, such as linking to trainers' schedules in Google Spreadsheets or sending images of upcoming classes via Viber/WhatsApp.
We then audited the closest competitors and services with similar target audiences. We analysed the business models and features of Hussle, Playfinder, Vagaro, Glofox, Upper Hand, Mindbody, Virtuagym, TrueCoach, and Gymdesk, among others. We examined the reviews from users on App Store and Google Play, as well as from venue managers/owners on Capterra. This was then compared to the feedback we had previously received, and the results were similar.
After the initial research, we used the Kano model to prioritise the feature set and its implementation: crucial features and simplest UI updates first and delighters second. We used Whimsical to map out the app's future information architecture and create low-fidelity wireframes, making sure to consider the possible edge cases before getting into the nitty-gritty of the design.
The perfect concept of the Exsportia mobile app was an aggregator for different sports venues that could be booked within one app. Each venue had its own profile with available classes and activities, subscriptions, etc. We called it the Exsportia Marketplace.
However, a venue aggregator is useless without a base of venues, and sports venues won't join aggregators without a base of users. To address this, we started building a simplified version of the Marketplace as a white-label app constructor that could be easily customised and published for each business joining Exsportia. Later, once a comprehensive base exists, the venues will be unified into one Marketplace.
Our research showed that big venues were the primary audience of our closest rivals, so Exsportia focused on providing services to small and medium-sized venues from any sports disciplines that weren't covered by existing services and didn't have sufficient resources to build their own products, like extensive gym networks.
🔮 A bit of time travel in this story: by the end of 2022, we added over 250 sports and activities categories.
This approach also helped us collect better user feedback. Venues' customers felt more comfortable sharing their experience about an app with administrators, trainers, and owners of the venues, as they were part of the community, rather than giving feedback to a booking platform they barely knew.
We designed booking flows to be as seamless as possible, whether the user books a simple session with a trainer or several class sessions included in a subscription with friends and rented equipment included. Working on bookings, we made the most iterations and edits in logic, layering product decisions one upon another throughout months for the best experience possible within the technical constraints.
We created two basic booking types for class sessions and areas time slots:
Choose an area or class from the venue profile or subscription;
Select one or multiple sessions on available dates;
You can also add extra participants to any of the selected sessions and rent equipment during your visit;
Next, select or add a payment method or pay on arrival if the venue accepts local payments. We initially launched in Israel, so we chose Tranzila for in-app payments processing;
Finally, review the booking summary and confirm the reservation. Hooray 🎉! The confirmation popup will take you to the home screen or the Bookings section.
Initial testing uncovered some major issues with the multi-booking process, so we made major improvements to the date preview, added a "calendar" (as participants referred to the monthly view), and made several small but significant updates.
We added a Waiting list feature for popular, full classes. Users can get wait-listed and be notified when a spot opens up, or it can be booked automatically. We also added search filters, calendar synchronisation, and booking validation for when two users try to book the last spot at the same time.
Profiles provide detailed information about venues, trainers, play spaces, subscriptions, and classes. They serve as a gateway to the booking flow and include an image gallery, description, available facilities, operating hours, and a cancellation policy.
We designed Subscriptions to make customers feel familiar with the experience of joining a gym or other sports venue. The hero image of each subscription resembles a membership card, granting access to certain amenities and activities.
What’s included? Our subscriptions offer the same benefits: users can access selected classes, sports, trainers and areas. Classes can be limited by the number of sessions, while managers can limit other activities by the hours included in each period. Subscriptions may also include specific venue facilities, such as access to a spa or sauna, reserved parking, free rental equipment, etc.
Duration and Payments: Most venues offer monthly and yearly subscriptions/memberships or one-time purchases. However, some businesses offer alternative options, such as:
Paying for a few months of the subscription in advance;
Making a one-time purchase that provides services without time constraints;
Monthly subscriptions start on the day of purchase. Some businesses also sell subscriptions only starting from the beginning of the next month when it comes to group training.
We considered all these scenarios and created a flexible experience for venue managers and their customers. We also added split payments, allowing users to pay in instalments for long-term subscriptions.
One of the latest features allows businesses to sell goods via the application and prepare them for pickup on location in advance. Users can preview the list of goods, open product cards for details, add them and checkout using a familiar shopping cart UX pattern. Afterwards, the user can view all orders: their statuses, pricing and pickup location.
Working on this feature, I used the UX patterns we used in the booking flow to keep the checkout experience consistent and minimise the development time.
Venue managers can add products with standard or custom parameters, such as size, colour, and volume. We decided to initially test the Shop feature within the venue profile. Depending on its popularity among businesses, it may be moved to a special tab for it in the future.
Apart from the main features, I also worked on supportive functionality such as user profiles, app preferences, customer support, notification settings, and check-in. Also, we paid special attention to push notifications to make them pertinent and useful for users and businesses.
How did we test?
We gathered testing data in three ways:
From businesses that adopted Exsportia early. We got feedback from managers and owners who spoke directly with customers about their experience with the application, comments, and observations.
From user support. We collected and analysed insights from chats to identify recurring issues and used this data to improve the UX.
Through in-house remote moderated user tests. This approach helped us diversify our research data and draw reliable conclusions before making changes.
Conducting guerrilla user-testing
Once we had the first functional version of the mobile application, I conducted remote moderated user tests to determine the most crucial flaws and issues with primary user flows: registration, subscription purchase, multi-class / single-class booking, and reservation cancellation. At first, our CEO hesitated to conduct user testing since it can be time-consuming, and we had already collected data from real venues. However, Vova, our design lead, and I understood that we needed unfiltered feedback to make informed decisions. We decided to proceed with the tests and present the results instead of waiting for permission. Show, don't tell 👀.
We began collaborating with the large dance studio Muza, which had over 300 children attending classes. Their parents were responsible for managing the kids' schedules, so they were our primary target audience. I identified 8 participants who fit the profile of a typical Muza customer: 25-40 years old parents with young children attending sports sections. We reasoned that there would be no better test participants than busy, time-pressed parents who would be easily frustrated by any application bugs. We were correct.
I used Notion to collect and manage all research data:
Pre-test message for participants explaining the context and what is needed for a flawless session experience. Since there were fewer surprises during the session—better results;
A session plan with tasks, test-app credentials and helpful questions;
A full report containing each insight and valuable comment from all participants, their technical background, devices information and tests results;
Final report concluding repetitive issues in flows, divided by screens in order of appearance during tests.
We used the test results to significantly revamp the booking flow, checkout experience, and venue contacts and make other small yet essential UX improvements throughout the app.
Later, I put together an internal presentation with all the results and shared it with the Marketplace and Back-office developers' teams and Justin, the CEO. I went through the methodology, data gathered, any 'obvious' issues we had overlooked before, and potential changes we could make.
The presentation was well-received. The back-end developers were enthusiastic: "This is great! When can we start testing?" We also received support from Justin to conduct further user testing. I conducted a follow-up test with the same user flows and similar participants to try the implemented changes and measure the progress.
Automating the visual output for App Store and Google Play
The app was ready to be adopted by businesses at scale. We needed to publish it with all assets attached and with the best quality possible.
At first, we manually prepared two apps for App Store and Google Play. This allowed us to understand what we could automate, how much time it took, and what could go wrong visually with different app styles, titles, etc.
Each app took around 40-50 minutes to prepare. This included collecting the venue data, preparing the logo avatar, five screenshot previews in different sizes (Android, big + small iOS), and a cover image for Google Play.
We saw the perfect solution as a web app. Here, a new client would fill out forms and upload assets to Apple and Google app markets after moderation. However, we couldn't afford to use developers' time for this idea, so I made a Figma template instead.
We showed the vital features via screenshots: the venue profile, booking flow highlights, subscriptions, and check-in with an app.
I spent a day building and testing the template, automating as many details as possible for ease of use. I added a to-do list with links to follow throughout the process, which shortened the time spent on each app from 40-50 minutes to just 5-10 minutes.
In action, the designer opens a file, adds images in master components, changes highlighted texts and two colour styles, then exports a light or dark version and reviews the result.
Easy peasy 🍋 squeezy!
“I tested your template for applications. Awesomely convenient. I change 2 colours, and everything adjusts. Nifty.” – Vova, design leader.
Finding the balance between innovative and simple decisions while adjusting the changes to the technical legacy of the product was the most difficult part of the design process. At first, I conceptualised and collaborated with one developer. After months, we established the design+development process as a dedicated team.
Working in a startup requires wearing many hats, and I thank my colleagues for the challenges we overcame! It was truly an experience.
👉🏻 Check out the Exsportia Design system case study to see the technical backstage of our app!