We asked GoSaily co-founders, Stefano Failla and Paola Ginella, about building an app that connects private sailboat owners to sailor crews through a two-way marketplace. Stefano has a background in finance, tax and accounting and has dealt with information technologies and software-related building processes. . They chose Bubble because the no-code platform offers advanced no-code functionality and the right architecture that allowed them to build their app and scale.
Tell us about your app and what it does.
GoSaily is a web app with a long history. It was first built with code in 2015 and then converted to no-code with Bubble in 2017. GoSaily has always essentially been a marketplace for booking sailing experiences from private sailboat owners. But over the years GoSaily went through substantial changes (that I later explain).
GoSaily started as a two-sided marketplace, where private sailboat owners post ads about their planned sailing experiences and look for sailors crew that want to get on board. There are no fees for sailors but there is a 15 percent success fee for boat owners. Money cashed in are kept in an escrow account and transferred to boat owners after 24 hours from departure if no complaints were made.
Back in 2015 in Italy a new regulation allowed private boat owners to “rent” their boat if they were onboard as Captains and our GoSaily was one of the first marketplaces addressing this specific niche.
Since operations were all pretty much on autopilot, me and co-founder, Paola, were able to easily manage this activity with more than 300 beautiful sailing boats available for rent. But for some reason at the end of 2018 we decided to stop. The Bubble site was shut down and we shifted to a Wordpress site for promoting only our own local sailing activities with our boat.
It was last year, during the second wave of the pandemic, that I decided to re-open GoSaily on Bubble, making changes to the business model and adding many new features.
The “new” GoSaily is now ready to welcome a community of sailing enthusiasts. Sailors and boat owners can start personal connections and become “friends”, share messages in their private chat, ask or offer advices about sailing gears and equipment as well as post, reply and comment on a brand-new community forum.
Needless to say, that the historical marketplace is still there. Not in front page anymore, but richer than ever. Now everybody can post ads. Boat owners that want to rent their boat with or without Captain, as well as Sailors who do not own a boat and are looking for a sailing experience or want to charter a boat without a captain.
How does your app work?
The way GoSaily works is quite simple. Every new user is assigned the “sailor” role and with this role has access to pretty much all of the web app features. A sailor user can subscribe to forum channels, post and comment in the forum, ask other sailors for specific sailing related advices, upvote other sailors’ advices, post new advices. Under the friend section users can ask to be connected to each other. Users connected can privately chat. In the chat, users can share links to boats available for charter or to organized sailing experiences.
All users can search for boats available for rent as well as for upcoming sailing experiences. Booking process is quite straightforward. Sailors can fill a form with the request for a specific announcement and the boat owner will be notified. No intermediation fees are applied.
If the right boat or sailing experience is not available, sailors can post their own ads. In those ads, sailors can detail all the information needed by boat owners in order to reply to the post.
When a sailor user is also a boat owner and wants to list his/her boat, it is required to pay a small annual fee to subscribe the boat to the boat ads services. Once a boat subscription is paid, the boat owner can post unlimited ads for rentals with captain (the sailing experiences) as well as publish a permanent boat page with the price list if the boat is available for bareboat charter (without Captain). Price lists can be detailed based on seasons and rental duration.
Tell us a little about your background and how you discovered no-code tools like Bubble.
My professional background is in finance, tax and accounting. In the early 2000 I founded my first digital start-up for offering outsourced accounting services. Since then I had to deal with information technologies and software related building processes. I have also owned a small software house for about 10 years, and I have served for several years as a business process consultant for a large IT company.
At the time of the GoSaily 1.0 launch, no-code tools did not exist like we know them today or were largely immature. So, I had to go with the full code option. GoSaily 1.0 was entirely built on Ruby-on-rails and hosted on Heroku first and then moved to Digital Ocean. Three months after launch GoSaily had 150 sailing boats registered. But maintenance was costly and time consuming. At that time we thought to have good chances to offset those costs with the first revenues.
Unfortunately, things turned out to be different. The Italian sailboat market is relatively small and GoSaily had to deal with some well-funded competitors, willing to spend a lot of money in web and social media marketing in order to grow the user base. The market of boat owners reacted as expected to this new opportunity of selling their boats through these marketplaces that were basically paying for their own advertising. And very soon most of the boat owners were listed in all the existing platforms, creating a number of unpleasant issues (available seats were not reliable anymore, overbooking easily happened and so on).
Since GoSaily had already gained its niche in the market, I did not want to shut it down. But the business model was clearly not economically viable. That’s why I started looking for a solution that could reduce the day-by-day running costs of the platform and giving the same number of features that GoSaily users already had. And then I found an unbelievably smart, revolutionary, game changer tool named Bubble.
It took me 3 months to re-built, alone and in my spare time, all the features already existing in GoSaily. The learning curve sometimes was steep, but the amazing people of the Bubble forum helped me a lot in those days to resolve what I found to be some very challenging tasks.
By the time GoSaily 2.0 was released on Bubble, I was completely fascinated by the potential of the tool. So I started to add features and I was able to run the business for other 2 years without breaking the bank. The market was still difficult and competitors started to shut down one after the other. At the end only a few other platforms survived, even if they were losing money year after year.
Then at the end of 2018, more for personal reasons, due to lack of extra time available to run GoSaily, me and my partner Paola decided to take a break and temporarily close GoSaily. We switched from the Bubble built marketplace to a simpler Wordpress site for promoting daily sailing activities aboard our sailing boat for the summer of 2019.
What happened in 2020 with the pandemic Covid-19 social distancing rules is well known. The sailing activities with guests on our boat was totally out of question. And the Wordpress site had to be closed too, but that was not the end of GoSaily.
Back in November 2020 I reopened the GoSaily Bubble platform, with some important changes in the business model. I did not want to make the same mistake again. So, instead of following a two-side marketplace model with complex money management activities (escrow accounts, commissions, cash out, complaints managements and so on), we decided to switch to a more basic subscription model. All user accounts had to be free of charge, only boats listed should had to pay a small fee for a yearly subscription.
After making those changes in the Bubble pages and workflows, we started adding features like an internal chat available for sailors “friends”, the friendship connections, the gear and equipment expert advice section, the crew ads and lately the new sailor community forum.
Now as before, since we do not consider GoSaily a real start-up but more of a service for the sailor community, we are no investing in web and social media marketing. GoSaily has a small number of daily visitors, but sailor users are slowly but steadily signing up and connecting to each other. We have not seen a significant increase in the number of boats listed, but this is probably due to the fact that sailing activities are still affected by the Covid-19 restrictions.
Why did you build your app on Bubble?
When I made the “platform selection” to find the right tool to re-build GoSaily with no-code, the no-code movement was in its early stages in the USA. But when I saw and tested Bubble, I really had an enlightenment!
I perfectly knew what I was looking for and Bubble was able to offer the right architecture for a small monthly fee. It was scalable too. There is no doubt that Bubble was the right tool from the start. And I can confirm all the original reasons after 5 years and a few other web apps built on Bubble.
- Bubble offers a real database. It’s not full relational, does not support SQL syntax, it’s not noSQL either … but this is no-code. So what’s the problem? Data can be stored, organized, referenced to each other, one to one or one to many. What else do you need? For most of the application that I have seen in my professional life, this is more than enough.
- I have been obsessed with the MVC model for years. Model, View and Controller must be separated in any decent web app. And when I saw that in Bubble you have no choice but keep always distinct the design (UI Builder) from the database architecture (Data) as well as from the business logics (Workflows), I was very very happy!
- I was looking for an all-in-one platform. One of the most scaring things for me was to adopt a tool requiring a lot of different integrations just to get the basics. Like for instance some tools to be run locally and then deployed in the cloud separately. Or like having to use other project management tools to keep track of branches, to do backups and restore or other systemic activities related to performance, cache, CDN and all the bunch of invisible tasks that make your web app reliable and available to user. And Bubble proved to be the all-in-one platform that I needed.
- Flexibility. I wanted a tool capable of doing well its core functionalities, but also able to offer a number of plugins and/or integrations with other non-core functionalities that could be needed from time to time. And, again, this is what Bubble does.
- Last but not least, as I always say when I am asked about the pro and cons of no-code versus code, we should always remember that all the features available in Bubble are virtually bug free. User can always make mistakes and build something in the wrong way, of course. But we should always remember that every element, action, expression or workflow is 100% correct and bug free. And this means a lot … especially if you have experienced how frustrating Q&A activities can be in full-code development environment!
What have been your milestones or successes so far?
The first milestone was to be able to re-build the existing full-coded GoSaily marketplace with Bubble, offer the same features and keep all the 1500 existing user onboard. Back in 2017 this goal was achieved quite easily and user did not event noticed that we switch to Bubble.
The second important milestone is the 2020 full re-factoring of GoSaily. In just a few months, working part-time, we were able to offer so many new features to our users, from the chat to the community forum, from the crew ads to the gear and equipment advices.
What are your future plans for your app?
Sailing is a passion. If you love the sea and have experienced what sailing life is, it’s hard to believe that nothing has changed inside you. Most likely you keep living your normal life but can’t wait to go back on board of a sailing boat. No matter how big or small, how new or old, how comfortable or spartan. There is something inside you that take you to the sea again and again. Being in this situation myself, my dream is to offer to all enthusiastic sailors a digital place where they can share their experience, know other sailors, ask for advice or find a boat or a boating experience for their next adventure.
People today do most of these things on social networks or via boat rentals listing sites.
But social networks, like Facebook groups, are eating all the conversations in a continuous flow of new feeds that keep them alive but loose memory of any good advice, information or other opportunities to sail together. Have you ever tried to find an old post on Facebook? Or a file with some technical specification of a boat? Well, that’s kind of hard to do …
And boat rentals listing sites, like the French Click & Boat, are just travel agencies for boating. How do you know if a boat has been well maintained, has all the safety features, is ready to take the sea or if the captain has enough experience for a specific coastal zone?
My vision is that GoSaily should become a platform for all sailors, of any skill level, but acting as a community it should offer the right insight and the proper information to all passionate sailors. Good advices receive most votes and are easy to find. Forum posts are divided by topic channels. All boats available are linked to boat owners that can be easily reached, contacted and asked for any kind of information. People sailing together will form a crew on GoSaily and may be share memories as well as get in touch for future planning of other experiences.
This is what I would like GoSaily to be. And in order to reach this goal, the first step during this summer will be to make it available in English too. Using the language management in Bubble!
Bubble is a leader in the no-code movement. Bubble offers a powerful point-and-click web editor and cloud hosting platform that allows users to build fully customizable web applications and workflows, ranging from simple prototypes to complex marketplaces, SaaS products, and more. Over 500,000 users are currently building and launching businesses on Bubble - many have gone on to participate in top accelerator programs, such as Y Combinator, and even raise $365M in venture funding. Bubble is more than just a product. We are a strong community of builders and entrepreneurs that are united by the belief that everyone should be able to create technology.