Software development house and Python specialist STX Next has successfully assisted pet food subscription provider tails.com in building a customer-facing application and a suite of products to manage and fulfil customer orders for the Republic of Cats, the company’s new subscription services for cats.
Founded in 2014, tails.com is a nutritionally tailored pet food service that creates unique recipes and meal plans for every individual animal that it serves. This month, over 10 million unique meals will be served to pets across nine European markets. Although the subscription service previously focused exclusively on dog food, the Republic of Cats signified a shift into a parallel service for felines.
Since its launch in August 2020, users have been able to register up to four cats, inputting data such as weight, breed, health conditions, age and goals to create their personalised recipe. Upon receiving this data, a taster box is sent out with a variety of flavours to choose from. These flavours can be altered from month to month in line with the customer’s preferences.
tails.com approached STX Next with the request to build applications for the Republic of Cats project. The main challenge was launching the product within a short timeframe and assisting in its growth towards a positive ROI that would warrant continuation of the project.
tails.com was looking to build three apps from scratch:
● A user application to help customers manage their subscriptions
● A back-office application to support the management of customers
● A back-end factory application to streamline order processing.
The customer applications had to be delivered on a very tight schedule, with the factory app following in early 2021.
At the start of the partnership, the STX Next project managers were armed with initial product research and business goals. However, most branding elements and feature specifications were not yet available to aid the team in its work.
As a result, tails.com needed flexible, scalable design and development teams to help it refine requirements and produce the full service in a timely manner. After considering a dozen other software providers, tails.com chose STX Next, due to its proven long-term experience, highly skilled team and the fact it is based in a similar time zone to the UK.
“They were the only company that ticked all the boxes”, said Mario Behrendt, Head of Engineering at tails.com.
Being able to assemble a complete team and start working within two weeks (a design sprint process) was integral to the project. Equally as important was striking a balance between producing high-quality code and delivering it fast.
Due to the Republic of Cats’ startup-like culture, some of the business needs were being defined as the work progressed, leading to a number of changes to the workload. However, both the STX Next design and development teams were flexible in accommodating them mid-sprint.
A major challenge facing the STX Next development team was to begin working on the user-facing site and the customer management application without specific guidelines from the client. This was met by working at an intense pace, with an emphasis on incorporating quick changes when needed. The developers decided to reuse some of tails.com’s existing components and build others from scratch, which ensured time was used as efficiently as possible.
As for the design aspect, Marcin Siemieński, Product Design Team Lead at STX Next, said: “The interface is an extension of branding, so we had to design something that would be consistent with the client’s tone of voice, which we didn’t know at that stage,”
Despite this, the team of developers produced a black-and-white sign-up interface and architecture flow using their previous experience in similar projects.
Commenting on the process, Mario Behrendt at tails.com said: “It’s very easy to work with Norbert Lehmann [Head of Service Delivery at STX Next]. If I need to add more people I just send him an email and he gets the job done.
“He is very proactive. He always keeps an eye on every single engineer at STX Next and knows about their availability and skills. Norbert is also very good at reacting to whatever challenge we throw at him. I don’t need to worry at all because I know things are in safe hands.”
The Republic of Cats team started shipping the products to customers at the end of August 2020, only three months after putting the task to STX Next. Between November 2020 and January 2021, the project doubled Republic of Cats’ conversion rates, measured by customers that went on to purchase a second box.
Republic of Cats’ base of active customers has also grown tenfold since the end of its initial 12-week pilot in December 2020.
Commenting on the technical expertise that STX Next provided, Franki Lake, digital product manager at tails.com, said: “The quality has always been good. In fact, I often have to tell them to rein it in and stop worrying about the details! They’re so keen to make every little detail perfect.
“STX Next engineers show how much they care about their craft. They take things into their own hands, see it as their project, and take pride in what they do.”
The project continues to grow at a fast pace, and the STX Next team, which now includes nine members, is working hard to continuously provide additional functionalities.