How we work to achieve game-like simplicity and performance at HotelTonight

Welcome to the new home of the HotelTonight Engineering blog. We’ve been heads down building a best-in-class mobile experience and getting to profitability — and now we’re excited to get back to blogging regularly, sharing how we got here, and where we’re headed. Now let’s get to it!

I think HotelTonight (HT) is the best way to book a hotel — bar none. And (forgive my prejudice), I’d say it’s because of our engineering teams’ insane attention to detail and dedication to delivering what I like to call game-like simplicity and performance.

For us, game-like simplicity means building efficient apps that consumers don’t have to learn how to use. It’s about achieving that feeling you have when you’re playing a game where everything happens in real time and you don’t have to wait for anything to load. That’s the kind of seamless experience we want HT users to have.

The first step in achieving this lofty goal was building a team where performance was the #1 priority. We’re all about performance testing, and we regularly punish systems (but not people) to push them to their breaking point. When things finally break, the team gets going on fixing and then breaking them again. Rinse and repeat for the past three years, and now our platform team has built a system that can serve three orders of magnitude more inventory over ten times faster than it had originally. This increase in performance allows for easier expansion, improved stability, and most importantly, a better user experience. One recent update we made — where we halved our response times — increased conversion on our Android app by over 35%.

Our Booker Team (dedicated to the mobile app experience) achieves game-like simplicity through constant testing, monitoring, and optimizing. Animations, for example, are meticulously tested to maintain 60 frames per second. Other core metrics like app size, download time, payload size, time to interact, and time to book are monitored regularly to ensure that we’re as good as, or better than, the apps out there we respect the most.

The other token we borrow from the gaming world is our focus on real-time streaming data. We receive hundreds of gigabytes of data per day and we stream these data in real time to an array of data-crunching machines. These machines employ AI to protect our transactions against fraud, monitor our user-generated content for quality, and feed back into our algorithm to optimize our marketplace. This is the piece that’s making it much easier for our users to find places to sleep that’re exactly right for them — it’s the largest area of growth and innovation for HT.

I’ve spent the past 20 years building software and teams focused on these same core principles of game-like simplicity and performance. Starting at Adobe, I architected the systems and worked with the teams that delivered never-before-seen experiences for feature phones. Then at Autodesk, I built teams that delivered platforms for next-gen user interfaces and high-performance graphics systems. These successes (along with some bumps along the road) have really helped me hone an approach that drives these principles at HotelTonight.

Mobile ecommerce is a demanding business, and I’m excited we have such a talented team that’s thinking about it the right way: game-like simplicity and performance to serve up the best deals on demand.