When Wild Apricot Membership Management Software lunched four years ago, Chief Apricot Dmitry Buterin made it our mission to help simplify running small member-based organizations. Now, over 3,000 Wild Apricot customers are spending more time with their members and less time on tedious things like updating contact files,sending emails, and processing member registrations and payments.
As we get ready to launch a major upgrade with Version 4.0, we thought it was a good time to sit down with Dmitry and discuss not only the new version, but the ongoing improvement that is part of Wild Apricot's approach.
Q: Wild Apricot will soon be upgrading to version 4.0. What is most significant about these changes?
A: It's so significant that we renamed the upgrade - which was originally called version 3.5. Since we were making so many changes to all of Wild Apricot's functionality, we needed to boost this version to a higher level - 4.0.
The highlight is our Financial Management module. We make it even simpler to use Wild Apricot and it provides another time saving bonus by helping association and nonprofit managers manage their receivables and cash - and visualize the financial health of their organizations.
Q: How will they be able to "visualize their group's financial health"?
A: Version 4.0 will give leaders and volunteers easy-to-view snapshots of their organization's income, payments and aging receivables. They'll be able to pull up a member's contact file and see all their information in one view - including whether they are current on invoices. Plus, every single transaction will be easily invoiced, matched to full or partial payments and so on. These are big improvements to our overall offering.
Q: Managing member ship data is a key part of what Wild Apricot does, what improvements will we see in that area with 4.0?
A: Data about an organization's membership is its most precious resource. So when new customers subscribe to our web-based software, one of their first tasks is usually importing existing members and contacts into the system. Before, you had to use one of our import templates and convert all of your data into one of those templates. It was a good system, but we wanted to make it better. Our goal was to make ramp-up to Wild Apricot easier and totally seamless.
So we redesigned the entire import process and we've been testing it with nine beta-testers for a few weeks. We've never had this much field testing (because usually our development cycles are much shorter and we can't fit it) and our development team is pretty excited about it.
Q: So how will importing membership information be different?
A: Version 4.0 lets you upload a variety of file types, like comma separate value files (CSV) Excel (XLS) and XML. If you already have a member list in one of those data formats you won't have to download our template and move your data into it. Also, system will allow you to create new data fields on the fly during import - and populate existing fields with whatever you have in your current file. That's a big time-saver.
Q: Does that mean the improvements to importing will only benefits new Wild Apricot customers?
A: This will benefit existing customers as well. Say your organization co-sponsors a big event and you're sharing membership lists. That third-party list may be in manual form, so you can now easily import it to make a donation request or send follow up emails to an expanded universe of prospects. Also, many of our customers are using a combination of manual and automated processes to manage membership. Improving the import process gives them a greater incentive to switch to automated data management.
Q: What is the thinking behind Wild Apricot Version 4.0?
A: Two things. First, our goal is to make the transition to Wild Apricot as we have to seamless and easy as possible for our new customers. Second, our customers are attracted to Wild Apricot's affordability and they lack the budgets for extensive training. In fact, we don't sell training service, we provide online videos and documentation to support our customers. Our model has to be based on self-service and automation.
One task during set up is take existing membership data -- whether in Microsoft Outlook, Excel, or in an Access database -- and move it to Wild Apricot. We're dramatically simplifying the import process, because our users -- and I personally -- felt the prior version was a bit too complicated. We always had a lot of questions from customers during this process, and basically that meant we had to improve upon it.
Now, our customers can in essence just give us their files and we'll guide and help you get your membership list into the system. You tell us what to do with it and we handhold and guide you through so it's much easier to transfer existing records into Wild Apricot.
Q: Will customers have to do anything to their systems to get the upgraded version?
A: No, they won't have to do a thing.Because Wild Apricot customers subscribe to our "Software as a Service" on the Web, all of their systems and data will get upgrade d and converted automatically.
There will be many changes, some noticeable, others that are not. But they won't have to do anything to take advantage of them. Plus, we're creating even more online help and video tutorials, and we are training our support staff to assist with any customer questions.
Q:How did these changes come about?
A: Everything we do at Wild Apricot is based on the experiences of our customers. We have many evangelist customers who go out of their way to give us great feedback and constructive comments.Version 4.0 is our response to many of their requests, including many that they shared on the product Wishlist and Roadmap Discussion Forums.
Q: How often do you update Wild Apricot?
A: It's a never-ending process. Even as our latest improvements are in the testing phase, we look ahead and begin a detailed analysis of the features planned for our next version. As soon as we've implemented our latest update,we start working on the next one. That's the beauty of the Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) model. We invest the time and resources in the improvements by tracking issues our customers are having and listening to them when they ask for certain features. We continually focus on the customer, and keep improving our product so they won't have any reason to leave. We also know that the leaders and volunteers of small associations and nonprofits don't have the time to shop for software, so we want to make our product the best possible.
Typically, we implement our updates every two months. It's taken us nearly six months to make all the improvements planned for our September update, which is Wild Apricot version4.0. (Of course, many other software houses only update their product once a year or even less often - I consider this crazy!!)
Q: Why did you spend so long on this update?
A: The improvements that customers will see required us to change the underlying structure of how our system dealt with financial transactions - invoices and payments - plus a redesign of import function from the ground up and dozens of other improvements. After we launch version 4.0, we plan to return to our regular two-month upgrade schedule.
Q: During the last four years, how much have you invested in Wild Apricot software improvements?
A: We've invested over $2.5 million dollars into Wild Apricot R&D so far. It's a pretty good deal for our customers who pay just $25 to $50 per month to use it!