Elon Musk is known for his extremely ambitious and admirable visions, SpaceX being one of them. Based on the title, it might look like we want to copy him and do something in space exploration… Even though I'm a big fan of physics and it would be really cool, that’s too big of a fish to fry. However, we’ve kicked off a project that involves both space and time, so why not use a catchy name for it? In this article, I’d like to elaborate a bit and explain one of the directions we as Mews are currently heading into.

The COVID-19 crisis of the last few months, and possibly multiple months going forward, has impacted the travel industry hardest. Accommodation providers were the first ones to feel the impact — which very quickly impacted their tech providers, us included. The different players in the hospitality industry are responding to the crisis differently, but one of the bigger unifying themes is diversification. Everybody is finding ways to utilize what they have for purposes that aren’t as impacted as transient accommodation is right now. Not putting all your eggs into a single basket is a well known truth which has gotten a lot of attention lately.

Diversification is something we were looking at prior to the crisis, but didn’t focus on enough during our rapid growth. By diversification, I mean both diversification of the business of our clients, but also diversification of our own business. For our customers, the solutions we offer should not only allow them to diversify their business, but help streamline it. We saw that the COVID-19 crisis is the perfect springboard, and we decided to kick off the spacetime project that is supposed to answer our diversification needs.

The origins

In the beginning of Mews, our goal was to build a system for hotel management. So we designed it accordingly and introduced concepts like room and room category which you could configure within a hotel. Shortly after that (early 2014) we partnered with Mosaic House, which was a hostel at the time. Suddenly the system for hotels was not enough and we had to support reservations both for individual beds and whole dorms. Luckily, it was still in the early days, the codebase wasn’t as big as it is now, so it was not a big hassle to generalize the rooms to spaces and allow creating spatial hierarchies. (That means you can define a space that consists of multiple “child” spaces — a dorm consists of beds, for example — and offer either of them to customers to book.)

Thanks to such generalization, our system became quite successful in the hostel market. This functionality wasn’t present in competing systems. And even though we haven’t expanded outside of the hospitality sector since then, we were already aware that it could be used to solve a much broader range of use cases.

Thinking about this now, we figured that spaces are not at the end of the abstraction path. A space is just a single case of a more general concept which we now call a resource. From our perspective, we understand a resource as an entity that could be utilized by a single customer (or group of customers) at a single point of time. That definitely holds for spaces within the hospitality industry: rooms, beds, dorms, apartments, etc. But it also holds for other types of resources:

  • Spaces: parking spots, sport courts, meeting rooms, storage, etc.
  • Objects: bikes, boats, cars, sports equipment, extra beds, etc.
  • People: instructors, lecturers, barbers, massage therapists, etc.
  • Other: e.g., virtual resources (we haven’t even researched this area yet)

Real world vs. Commercial view

Great systems are very accurate models of reality. Our initial design with rooms and room categories doesn’t represent reality all that well. You have to first define your categories and only then are you able to create rooms in Mews with their categories. This is not what’s going on when a hotel is being built: first an owner builds/rents some spaces — it is not clear what the purpose of those spaces will be, but the system should already be able to track their existence. Subsequently, the owner decides which services they want to offer and which spaces would be offered through those services. For example, spaces on the first floor can be offered as meeting rooms within a meeting room service and all other spaces as hotel rooms within an accommodation service. That means a space, or, more generally, a resource, does not have any category on its own. The category is assigned only within the context of an offered service. So “space 101” can theoretically be a small meeting room within a meeting room service and also a single room within an accommodation service. Which one it actually is at a given point of time depends on which service was booked at that time.

Currently in Mews, you can have only a single service where you’re able to offer resources. It’s the accommodation service. One part of the spacetime project is to rectify this and allow the clients to offer more services and handle more types of resources within Mews. Or repurpose some of their rooms and offer them as coworking spaces, for example.

Time is the 4th dimension

We’ve already covered the “space” part of the spacetime project name. In physics, spacetime is any mathematical model which fuses the three dimensions of space and the one dimension of time. At the moment, we’re not really flexible when it comes to the time dimension. Guests of hotels are able to make reservations for discrete multiples of days (1, 2, 3, etc.). It works well, but if you recall some of the other types of resources we want to support, it starts to break down. Most people I know wouldn’t want to rent a bike for a full day from 3 PM, overnight, until 11 AM the next day.

Our vision is that for each service, our clients should be able to choose the time unit they want to offer the service for. And we want to open it up in both directions — time units shorter than a day (booking by hours or minutes) and time units longer than a day (weeks or months, or years). The hospitality industry will really benefit from this since there are many accommodation providers who offer rooms by hours or long-term rentals that offer a stay by months. For other types of resources and industries all of this will be possible and the sky's the limit with what you can build on that logic.

IT’S (SPACE)TIME TO BUILD

As Marc Andreessen pointed out in his famous COVID-19 reaction article, it’s time for us in the tech world to build and we agree. I believe that this project will bring benefits to everybody in our ecosystem and family of partners. It feels like a win-win for everybody. Of course there’s lot of work ahead of us, but when it is done:

  • Our existing clients will be able to diversify their businesses more and come back from the crisis even stronger than before.
  • Our clients will be able to handle more of their services within a single system, eventually leading to better customer service, the ultimate goal.
  • Clients from other industries could join Mews and benefit from all the great features that are already built for the hospitality industry (which is one of the most complex).
  • Mews will be able to learn from the other industries and apply those lessons or principles to the hospitality industry, effectively expanding the horizons of hotels.
  • Our integration partners can use this as an entrance to other industries. Of course it would be up to them whether they want to stick to hospitality or not.
  • Mews will be able to diversify its business, rendering us more robust and protected against crises.

We’re really excited about this and very soon we will be releasing the first feature that moves us one step closer to the end goal. This is not another dream vision, this project is real and the wheels are already spinning. We aim to deliver the ability to offer multiple services and various types of resources by the end of September. Afterwards, we will be working on configurable time units.

Our customers are a huge source of inspiration, if you have ideas how you could use what’s described above, please let us know. The more we know now, the better we’re able to design the solution and cover all the various use cases. If you’d like anything clarified (I know it might be a bit more abstract and technical), don’t hesitate to ask. You can contact the team working on this project directly at spacetime@mews.com.

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