2020 was quite the year, a rollercoaster of highs and lows. From a global pandemic affecting everyone and gyms especially, to launching a brand new version of our software, we wanted to look back and recap everything that happened.

January: Relaunched our software with a new user interface

Martial Arts on Rails originally came online at the beginning of 2016. Our initial offering was vastly different to what we have today. We learned a lot from our users as we grew, and added many new features.

Eventually the time came to redesign our user interface to better accommodate everything that changed since we originally launched, as well as updating the look and feel to more modern standards.

This was a long and exhausting process that spanned over 4 months, from designing the new interface and planning out the new flows in the software, to implementing it while allowing the old interface to be used at the same time, to allow people to migrate on their own terms.

The overall reception has been incredibly positive, and we did our best to address any concerns users had about switching to the new version. Eventually we retired the old interface at the end of January, and are very happy with how the new version turned out.

A lot has changed with the redesign, and many features were added or updated. You can read a full breakdown of the update in our January announcement.

February: Mass check-in and launching our partner program

We shipped a few new features in February, punctuated by our mass member check-in feature, for those schools who prefer that staff checks-in members.

We also launched our partner program, in which we pay commissions for successful referrals. You can learn more about it when logged-in to your account, go going to “Account” -> “Partner Program“.

March: COVID-19 Becomes a Worldwide Pandemic

In the early months of 2020, news of a new virus hitting China hard were circulating. Little did most people know that the virus had already spread to most countries, and by March most of the world had declared a state of emergency.

Initially, reliable information was scarce, and many places shut down their non-essential businesses. As safety guidelines began to formulate with how to operate in-person businesses, it became clear that specific types of businesses would struggle – gyms and martial arts schools being on top of that list.

Holding in-person classes was initially completely out of the question, and many moved to some form of remote classes and instruction. As restrictions relaxed somewhat, in-person attendance was allowed in some places, but still heavily restricted.

We did our best to adapt to the new conditions and add new feature to make life easier for our users. We had just released our new booking feature earlier in March, and we quickly adapted it to enforce capacity limits at gyms.

We provided a series of articles, offering advice on dealing with the situation and later a guide to re-opening safely, as well as a personal account from some of our users.

April: Features for online instruction and dealing with shutdowns

We added a content section to the member portal, where instructors can upload lessons and technique videos for online consumption. We also added mass member operations, one of our hidden features, to allow for easy bulk freezing of members. It has since expanded to include many other operations, such as mass Emails, document assignment, discount application and more.

April and May were the height of the pandemic uncertainty in the US, and we felt it as a business ourselves. Many of our users have asked to freeze or cancel their accounts, which we accommodated without question.

Luckily, many of our users continued to support us despite likely being closed or severely downsized. We hope their members were doing the same (I was personally paying membership dues for 2 people for 4 months while our school was shut down).

May: Refreshed gym website, improved member onboarding

We’ve continued to improve on the features we’ve added the last couple of months – additional customization for member content, showing membership contracts during sign-up, customizing the lead capture form thank you message and more.

We released a major update to our gym website feature, which includes a refreshed design, additional customization options, a dark layout and more.

During May we also worked on a new version of our homepage that better reflects our current look and feel.

June: Dynamic SSL Certs generation and improvements to acquiring members through ads

We’ve offered support for using custom domains with our website feature for a long time. However, until May, we were not able to offer SSL certificates for those domains and it was becoming a pressing issue.

We integrated Let’s Encrypt to dynamically generate SSL certificate for users using a custom domain with our website feature, at no extra cost.

We also added improvements to the lead conversion forms, allowing to track conversions through different online ads providers.

Another big feature we’ve added during June, was the ability to add multiple payment methods to a member profile. This allows members to have backup payment methods, allow child member to have both members pay them and other similar scenarios.

July: Membership Cards and Sales Invoices

Printing membership cards can be an expensive proposition with card printing machines in the $1000+ range. After doing research over a period of time, we settled on a relatively inexpensive method that would allow our users to print their own PVC plastic membership cards, that can also be used to check-in using a barcode scanner or a QR code.

Another often requested feature we added was the ability to send invoices for gear sales that can be completed later, instead of immediately at the digital point-of-sale.

September: Booking wait-list and membership notifications

Ever since we added the capacity limitation option to our booking feature, one of the commonly requested features was to allow members to join a wait-list for a session, in case someone cancels.

In September we finally added that option, allowing users to open a wait-list for sessions, that automatically rebooks open slots when someone cancels.

We’ve also added a feature intended to support our users who process their payments through a 3rd party, by creating a section capturing all membership changes. The membership notifications allows manager to tell when to activate or pause payments for a member based on the status of their membership.

October: Automations and member message history

In October we were hard at work adding a significant expansion of our Email marketing capabilities – automations. Automations are a sequence of Email or text messages (or both) that are sent at predetermined times after a specific event, such as a new signup, or a new lead, or a member getting promoted.

To support this and to add more transparency into what Emails or text messages are sent to members, we’ve added a message history on the member profile, showing all the automated messaging being sent to them.

November: Additional billing timezone, auto check-in for bookings

While the majority of our user base is based in North America and in Europe, we have quite a few users on the other side of the world, in Asia and Australia.

Since we run scheduled member payments once a day on US time, this created an issue for users in opposite timezones, as it would run for them late at night, or in rare cases, early morning the next day. To accommodate this, we added a second timezone for scheduled payments, which runs at 6am JST.

We’ve also added another convenience feature for booking – the ability to turn on automatic check-in for active bookings, so that members who booked would not need to check-in to class if they haven’t canceled.

December: Online Shop and Gym Owner Interviews

In December we launched a big expansion to our website feature – an online shop, that can also be used as a standalone with external websites. This turns our digital point-of-sale feature into a fully fledged ecommerce solution, allowing our users to sell their gear and products online, for in-person pick up or shipping.

We also started a series of interviews highlighting our users, and getting insights into how they run their gym or martial arts school. Check out our first two interviews:

We also already completed another interview with Reuven from Pinellas County Aikikai, which would be published next week. If you are interested in interviewing with us as well, send us a line and we’d be happy to add you to the list!

Looking forward to 2021

2020 has been a rocky and eventful year for us and many of you. We look forward to continuing supporting you and improving our product in 2021, and we expect a strong bounce back for gyms and martial arts schools, as vaccines and other measures get COVID-19 under control.

Have a happy new year everyone!

Published by Eran Galperin

Eran has been building software and companies for over 15 years, and is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In 2016 he founded Martial Arts on Rails, online software for managing gyms and martial arts schools.

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