We are no longer tracking you

We all use Google to search the internet. It is great. But let’s face it: Google is not a search company, it is an advertising company.

Like most companies we have used Google Analytics (GA) on our website. We had some concerns with this when GDPR was introduced here in Norway but with their IP Anonymization setting we continued using it.

However we rarely looked at the statistics. Partly because we were too busy with other things but another reason is that GA has become quite complex. While GA can give you many detailed insights, getting a clear simple overview of popular content, best performing lead generating sources or device usage was always a quest within many layers of menus and functions.

But not only wanted we something simpler we also wanted a solution that would not track behaviour of our users and used gathered data to sell advertising.

The solution for that is simple: Use an analytics tool that do not use cookies to identify users and track behaviour beyond simple page metrics/events. After some research we found the plausible solution for us was Plausible Analytics. It has a basic set of features including event tracking, an easy to use webapp and good support. And most importantly: they took privacy seriously and store data within the EU.

Not only does this align better with our company goals but it also allows us to delete the following section from our terms of service:

This information can be shared with third parties that may aggregate and sell this usage information to others, in such cases user and end-customer, including IP-address, is anonymized.

The above sentence has now been removed from our terms.

We have also had email open tracking enabled for a while. This is now disabled. Not only do we think we should not be able to see when your customers opens an email booking confirmation, but we actually very seldom had the use for it (only occasionally when a customer would complain that an email was not sent - in most cases it showed as ‘opened’ though).

Note: The MakePlans booking site will continue to support Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager if you choose to add those services to your account. Our Google Analytics snippet has always anonymized IP. This will allow you to use GA/GTM to see statistics and track events such as completed bookings. The booking site can also be used with Plausible Analytics and other third party solutions but we do not offer a built-in way of including it. You can however add their snippets in the footer section of the booking site settings in your account.

Published 21 Apr 2021

Avoid Stripe currency conversion fees using TransferWise

Like most SaaS-providers we charge in USD even though we are not based in USA. MakePlans is based in Norway and NOK is the currency of choice here (along with Brent crude oil of course). While we do have some expenses in USD most of our revenue would eventually end up in our Norwegian bank account in NOK. When using Stripe for card payments they will handle currency conversion when they pay out in your local currency. While doing this they charge a 2% currency conversion fee. That is on top of their already high fees (2,9% for foreign cards here in Norway!).

Unavailable options

Turns out avoiding Stripe currency conversion fees wasn’t that easy. Here are the options we investigated:

Use a local USD account

From the start we assumed this could easily be solved by having a local USD account. Most bigger banks offer USD accounts and we could easily open one. There would be some incoming transfer fees payable to the bank but a lot less than the 2% Stripe charges.

But Stripe only supports USD payouts to bank accounts in USA and Canada. So while we did some research here it was pointless as such an account could not be used for payouts from Stripe.

Open a bank account in the USA with a local bank

Our next research mission was to open a bank account in the USA. The easiest would be using a local bank but going into the process we were informed that it was not allowed to open what they call a personal account. Even though this would be a business account this rule comes into action when the business is majority owned by one person. As is the case with MakePlans. And that person would not sell of half of the company just to get a bank account in USA.

Open a bank account in the USA with an American bank

So as a European company this leaves us one option: open a bank account in USA. While starting a US company is a lot more complicated than starting a company here in Norway (can be done in less than 30 minutes including getting a bank account) there are options for opening up a company fairly smoothly. And no reason to follow all the Google search results - Stripe actually offers a way to this. It is called Stripe Atlas. If you need a US company for other reason this seems like a good way to go. But it will mean that have all the obligations that comes with having another company and it being in USA. It will also complicate tax reporting in your company structure. So while some research was conducted here we quickly dismissed this idea and I don’t recommend it unless you need a US company for other reasons.

Enter TransferWise

I have used TransferWise a few times and it seems like a good option for money transfer and while I knew about their card offering I never really looked into too much as I was using Revolut when travelling to save on currency conversion fees for private usage. I guess it was around the time when Revolut launched their business offering I started looking into TransferWise Business. It got me excited but Revolut Business only offers a USD account in the UK, and as you already know now Stripe only supports payout in USD to accounts located in USA and Canada. TransferWise however do offer a USD account in USA. You will get a fully functional business bank account with routing and account number. Yay!

How to set it up

Getting instant 2% profit is quick and easy:

  1. Register for a TransferWise business account.

  2. Open a USD balance in TransferWise.

  3. Enter the TransferWise USD bank account details in the Stripe dashboard ‘Payout settings’ section.

From now on all your USD charges will be paid out in USD and you will no longer pay any currency conversion fees to Stripe.

As a bonus you can use your shiny new TransferWise card and pay your expenses such as Heroku or Amazon directly in USD. Saving you even more in currency conversion fees as your local card usually will charge 2% as well. Double win!

How much does it cost?

  • Free to open account.
  • Free debit Mastercard.

Transfer of $1000 USD to Norwegian bank account by converting to NOK:

Method Variable fee Fixed Fees Total Fees
Stripe 2.00% Free $20 USD
TransferWise 0.44% $0.80 USD $5.18 USD

If you do not need to transfer to your local bank account you can spend using your TransferWise card. Fees for $1000 USD spending:

Currency Variable fee Total Fees
USD Free Free
NOK 0.44% $4.38 USD

For other currencies and amounts see the pricing calculator and full price list for TransferWise multi-currency account.

To get started with TransferWise you can register here - this link will also give you fee-free transfer of up to 500 GBP.

Published 19 Jan 2021

A five year dreaded feature request done in 15 minutes

11PM - Notification of new support case received.

A client asks how to allow booking every 30 minutes. I quickly type up a reply saying available slots are generated based on the length of the service. So if you offer a service that lasts 60 minutes then every available slot is 60 minutes starting from the initial opening hour (or first availability if you have any bookings).

There have been similar requests over the years but not many. I always felt it would be a bit complicated and also dreaded the potential added tests to make sure it would not break any old behaviour. So it was never prioritized. Another major reason is that such a setup could easily result in gaps in the calendar. Let’s say you have availability from 9AM to 2PM, offer a 60 minute service and allow bookings every 15 minutes. You could end up with a booking from 9:45AM to 10:45AM which would mean that 9AM to 9:45AM would be unbookable as it would be too short of time for you to perform your service.

0:30AM - Beer in hand, thoughts wondering.

Could it be as easy as just having a dynamic setting for the next time instead of the service length? When there is availability in the calendar and a slot is generated, MakePlans will just add 60 minutes (the length of the service in this case) and check if the next slot is available or not. And so on.

Could it be as easy as changing one line of code to three? Some keystrokes later a new browser window is opened up. It works!

0:45AM - Green tests.

A new dynamic setting in the configuration and even a simple test is added. All is green and a new feature is committed.

After five years of not wanting to dive into the investigation of this feature it was implemented in just 15 minutes. Sure it took a few days of adding more thorough testing and trying to overcome the doubt of releasing quite a major feature modification just from 3 lines of code, but it shows how important it is to sometimes dive into practical coding instead of over-thinking to visualise and grasp implementation scope.

Published 09 Dec 2020

We are not a platform

We see that some of our competitors are trying to create a platform for online booking in some industries. While this have some benefits: the end-customer can easily find and compare service offerings nearby and a business can attract new customers without advertising, we ultimately believe it leads to a poor experience for the end-customer and that it’s hurtful for small businesses and the industry they compete in.

What is a platform?

You might have booked a holiday apartment with Airbnb. They have built a platform that makes it easy for property owners to rent out their property and lets travellers experience something different than a hotel. This is quite different from other booking scenarios, for example hairdresser or a massage treatment, as historically it was quite difficult to find, book, and pay for private house rentals (which is not the case with getting a haircut). While there is a big debate about the influence Airbnb have on tourism and local property prices in some cities which I will not get into but let’s look at the key issues with a platform:

  • Your company is no longer in control of its own brand. The offered services and company is presented the same way as any other listing. The customer will not be able to differentiate your brand from your competitor.
  • You are at at the mercy of the algorithm and platform decisions. While this applies to search engine results such as on Google as well, a platform is much more focused and in control over the order your listing appears in. Some platforms have accepted payments for ranking higher in the listing (not possible on Google - except for advertising). On Google more popular and quality sites will be displayed higher, that’s not necessary the case on a platform.
  • The platform owns the customers, not you. When a customer makes a booking on a platform they give their personal information to the platform. They have the platform app installed. All communication is branded as the platform. Your company is just part of a transaction. It makes it much more difficult to develop customer relationships.
  • Your loyal customers are now presented with a choice. Moving on to a platform you move your previously loyal customers into an environment where competitors are listed next to you. Now they have a choice which previously they had to actively seek out. Are you sure your customers are satisfied enough to not be lured into that 50% promotion your competitor above you in the search result are offering?
  • The customer is not paying so the customer is the product In most cases these platforms are free for the end-customer. But they have to register and install an app so everything they do is tracked. Information is aggregated from all vendors and are in some cases also sold to third-parties.
  • The risk of being on a monopoly platform. What other options would a traveller consider than Airbnb if they want to book private accommodation? What if your business was locked into a platform that had in practice a monopoly of online bookings in your industry?
  • Expensive - pay per booking. With many of these platforms there is a fee per booking. Paid for either by your company or your customer. That could end up being a lot more expensive than the $9/month it costs to use MakePlans.

MakePlans will not:

  • List or compare your brand or services with others.
  • Push our own brand to your customers. Yes really - and while we would love to reach new customers we believe that what we sell is a way for you to not only accept bookings online but also a way for your company to build great customer relationships. We don’t want to get in the way for that. So we have tools that allows you to customise most information and communication being sent from MakePlans. You can also use your own domain and SMS sender ID (both are options available at a fee). There are also many other ways to customise the booking site to make the booking experience in line with your brand.
  • Sell any usage activity or information about your company, your employees or your customers to others.

But we will:

  • Use, promote and fight for open standards. Our booking site is clean and simple. We are also in the process of providing more meta information that will can be used by Google and other search engines to make it easier for new customers to find your business.
  • Provide more ways to customise the booking site. Including offer more design themes. Your brand is your brand; the end-customer should form a relationship with you not us.
Published 13 Dec 2018