Developing a complex, innovative, and never seen before product that can be used by anyone - including your grandpa - is quite a challenge. To explain how we did exactly that, we sat down with Wix Branded App co-managers to talk about the process of building one of Wix’s most exciting products
“In short, the idea behind Branded App was to allow people to create mobile app the way they create websites on the Wix platform,” says Omri Bruchim, Wix Branded App’s co-manager. “Those would be native apps that look like any other app - totally whitelabel, without any reference to Wix on them, just like it is when you pay for your own domain after you build your site on our platform.”
The project was born out of our engagement with our users. “Since I started working at Wix 5 years ago,” Omri says, “people have asked us to create a tool that will enable them to create their own apps. It took us some time to get into it, but after researching the topic, we’ve decided to go for it. At first - and that was only about 8 months ago - there were 3 of us, but we’ve grown really fast and we’re 25 team members now.”
Shay Cohen, who co-manages Branded App alongside Omri, started working at Wix around 3 years ago after many years in development, product, and managerial roles. “I was always connected to the main idea behind what we do at Wix - helping the denizens of the digital world achieve anything online. This way of thinking naturally led me to focus on mobile because it's what people mainly use these days. Going into this project, Wix was in a good place because we had the solid infrastructure to support this shift.”
How did you go about with the project?
Omri: “We approached 5 Wix users from different parts of the world and offered them a collaboration in which we’d build an app for their businesses and give it to them for free, forever. In return, they would give us feedback and tell us what they’d like in such an app. In March, we decided that we’ll launch the product during the summer, and started working. We built a server team, a web team, a mobile team, and an analytics team. We hired a Designer and a Product Manager. We built the whole team from scratch.”
During the first 6 months of the project, the newly assembled team worked around the clock to meet its own deadline. They widened the beta phase to include 10 more users whose Wix sites were now built as apps, and during August, launched Branded App gradually and offered the new capability to design agencies who work with Wix. “The cost reduction is enormous because building an app would cost you 15-20k dollars, whereas doing it through Branded App costs you about 200 dollars a month. Our partners of course loved it and gave us very valuable feedback that allowed us to further improve, and that brought with it a need for more team members. Basically, we became a startup within Wix,” says Omri.
How does it work?
Omri: “First, the user needs to have a Wix site. It doesn’t have to be live, but it serves as the first building block that enables anyone to build an app on top of it. They begin by defining the sort of app that they’re building on a computer screen and then go on to choose a logo, a welcome screen, a cover image, and the basic colors. That takes about 2 minutes. Building a branded app is the same as building a DIY website on top of our platform. You don’t need to know how to code and anyone can do it. Having said that, we will soon have a version that will enable coders to to develop their own components for their app with our Velo platform. Then the user scans a QR code and downloads the new app they’ve just created. Finally, they’re asked to download another mobile app called Wix Owner that basically lets them insert their content into their new app and design its layout. This process enables you to track your progress in real time. If all your content is already on your Wix site and you only have to integrate it in your new app, the whole process is over in 10 minutes. At that stage, you send the app to Apple or Google for review, and after they approve it, you’re done!”
What are your biggest challenges and plans for the future?
Shay: “It’s a combination of two things. On the product level, our users pay to have their own apps, and many of them want to be able to control everything in it. That requires us to develop solutions for them. On the technological level, the biggest challenge is automating the interaction with Apple and Google so that our apps will be uploaded to their stores as quickly and seamlessly as possible. This process is always ‘alive’ and ongoing since not only new apps are sent over for review before they are authorized to enter their stores, but also existing apps are always being updated and they need to be authorized again too. Not everything in this process can be automated since the users need to do a few things we can’t do for them because of privacy reasons, but on the Wix side of things, about 95% of the process is already automated. This is a crucial thing as we grow and need to adapt to operating at a much larger scale.”
Omri: “As we continue to grow, we’ll need to grow our team further in order to tackle these exciting and interesting challenges. Our rapid growth made us change our organizational structure and create smaller teams. This change facilitates internal growth since more people can become Team Leads. On top of that, the people who will join us will all have the opportunity to make a substantial impact since we want everyone to own and lead at least a certain aspect of the product’s development. A good example and that is our ‘Adopt a User’ policy. Each and every one of our group members is assigned a user. It enables us to help them with anything they need while seeing the world through their eyes and better understanding their needs so we can address them.”