Become a mobile-first company with frequent deployments and provide the small business owners with a dynamic and personalized experience.
Initiate a nine-month engagement with Very Good Ventures using pair programming and design to update the Flutter codebase and train the in-house team for best practices.
- Doubled mobile user base.
- Established two-week deployment cadence.
- Enabled mobile-first deployment for some features.
- Positioned other teams to adopt best practices.
Small business users need mobile-first apps.
Everyone at Nav Technologies, Inc. is focused on making life better for small business owners. They work to provide a diverse population of busy, passionate business owners with a platform that combines powerful business insights with the largest network of financial providers in one place — helping business owners make the right financial decisions.
With the help of Very Good Ventures, Nav was able to quickly elevate their mobile application, position their development team for rapid feature addition, and improve customer interaction.
The leading financial health platform for small business, Nav has 1.7 million users. Nav has helped over 380,000 small businesses find financial products, and also provides small business owners access to an expansive network of business services like accounting, payroll, and tax services.
Nav had migrated to a Flutter codebase for mobile development in 2019, successfully uniting the iOS and Android applications in feature parity. Fast forward to 2022: activity in Nav’s user base was picking up. Attention turned to becoming a mobile-first company. It quickly became clear that updating to the latest major version of Flutter was too much of a lift for the internal team alone. Ammon Lockwood, the Director of Software Engineering for Nav, analyzed Nav’s users and found that 67 percent were using mobile browsers on their iPhone, iPad and Android devices to access Nav. “It makes sense, small business owners are strapped for time and are always on the move. We need to be able to serve them where they are,” said Lockwood. A full-featured mobile app would clearly get a lot of use.
Requirements: Null safe, easier development, and added features
Upon digging into the details, Lockwood and his team discovered there were more features to add – some of which were core to Nav’s business but were not yet available on the mobile app. The team also uncovered that their state management application was also not updated to the latest version.
Then, there was the concurrent effort to migrate to the latest versions of Flutter, including Dart null safety. Null safety is valuable for developers, preventing hard-to-locate runtime errors. But the migration requires a close look at existing variables and dependencies.
All of these requirements added up to a multiple-month project before the team could start adding features at the cadence they wanted. “There were a lot of roadblocks between us and starting new feature work,” said Matt Coburn, Staff Software Engineer.
Choosing the opinionated partner.
Looking for an outside consultancy to augment development, Lockwood and the team evaluated several firms before choosing Very Good Ventures (VGV).
“What we liked about VGV was that they were opinionated. There are always many ways to solve a problem, but as long-time Flutter experts, VGV came in with specific recommendations about best practices,” said Lockwood, “Their proposal showed us how we could efficiently and consistently deliver improvements for the user.”
For Nav’s Head of Product Zain Khan, project success is always defined by the user experience. “Small business owners deserve an engaging, personalized, and dynamic platform,” he said.
Having addressed feature parity between Android and iOS, the team wanted to get as close to feature parity between the web app and the mobile app as possible. This would require a rapid cadence of releases. Two of the most important features of the web app were not yet fully functional in the mobile app.
Opinionated, yes, but also flexible
Nav and VGV kicked off the project in July of 2022. Very quickly Lockwood saw that they needed to make modifications to the project structure. Very Good Ventures jumped in to help by establishing daily developer pairing sessions, adding a VGV designer to the core team, and modifying the VGV project management to suit Nav’s workflow.
“We come in with our own assumptions and experience, but the in-house development team’s insights are so critical to what we do. We were happy to change things up,” said Erin Callahan, the VGV project manager for Nav.
“I appreciated that they said ‘this is how VGV works’ and then we made adjustments together,” said Lockwood. “That seems small, but it was so much easier to start the conversation there, and it set us up to do great work together.”
Work and banter – the way to build together
As the combined team accelerated, Lockwood noticed that working with VGV was different. “We use other consultants. VGV is by far the most tightly-integrated with our team. They were in our channels, getting involved in the banter. It worked great for us. They acted as true partners and core members of our team.”
The result is not just a better workday, but better work. “You will hear this word over again: Trust,” Khan said, “there was a genuine trust between our team and the VGV team. I speak for everybody; we did not think there was a VGV and a NAV team. There was one team.”
Meeting requirements, seeing benefits
With the augmented team, Nav was able to get their packages upgraded and establish best practices. Both their codebase and their workflow were refurbished to enable mobile-first development. It was months of foundational work that wasn’t immediately visible. The pressure was on to show company leadership that all of that effort would propel the company to the next level.
“Once we got all the packages upgraded, we had a base, but no features. But because we had implemented VGV best practices recommendations, we could accelerate more quickly,” said Lockwood, “For the first 4-6 weeks, we were constantly asked ‘When are we going to see features?’ But those conversations stopped when we started releasing on a two-week cadence. We have been able to stick to that consistently since then.”
With analytics now integrated to the app, the team could be more data-driven about development. They measure feature importance to make decisions about the product. Code coverage has dramatically increased on the way to 100 percent.
Advice for those seeking consultants
Taking on a consultant or team augmentation is a big deal. Lockwood had advice for anyone considering it. “Be clear with the level of engineer you need for the work you do, and stick to that. Because of the mountain of technical debt, we needed someone who had helped convert companies from a legacy situation to an established process. For that, we needed experienced, senior engineers.”
They also found the pair programming approach very useful. It gave the Nav team an understanding of the changes that were made, and how to work with them going forward.
Outcome: mobile-first, new features, easy rebrand
Everyone is seeing the benefits of the project. Lockwood calls the development process “consistent and confident” and notes that QA and engineering know when they need to be involved. Project management and leadership have unprecedented visibility.
“Where the app is, we can really accelerate the kind of features that we want. We are now called the Mobile Foundations Team. We are creating the basis for all the other vertical teams to start building on mobile. Now we are populating our skills to other teams, and they will start building directly on the mobile app,” said Khan.
Most importantly, small business owners are downloading the app and using it to improve their own business.
According to Khan, the numbers tell the story. Between the start of work in July 2022 and March 2023, the Nav mobile app has seen dramatic increases in downloads, users, and engagement:
- 100% increase in registered users.
- Monthly active users doubled by April 2023.
- Average number of logins per month, per user doubled by April 2023.
- The count of daily active users is growing rapidly, projected to double by the end of 2023.
During a recent rebrand project, the benefits of a well-built Flutter codebase hit home: The mobile team was able to accomplish all the refresh work with a single developer.“It is great to see our work have such a meaningful impact on our clients and their users,” said VGV program manager Erin Callahan.“When Nav users flock to the mobile app, we know we have done what we set out to do.”