How we condensed five years of learnings into an 8-week product build 👀

How we condensed five years of learnings into an 8-week product build 👀

Carefree's multi-award-winning digital platform has a bold new look. And it's not just the outside that's shining pretty. We've re-wired pretty much everything over the past 8 weeks to give our users the best version of our service that we could have imagined.

Bold steps, big consequences

Truthfully, we hadn't expected to be doing a rebuild.

Our previous platform had won multiple awards last year, but it was inextricably linked to a tech partner's booking API for open hotel inventory distribution, and when they had to pivot their product, we had no choice but to find a new underlying solution for ours.

In plain terms, we were facing a change-or-die moment that required bold steps to mitigate as many bad consequences as possible.

New solutions - future problems?

Three things gave us an incredible leg-up for being able to quickly dive into building a new version of our platform.

  1. Preparedness: In his "spare time", our CTO had been working up an idea for how we'd mitigate this risk if it occurred and had been experimenting with a Glide specialist freelancer on moving part of our community referral pathway onto their no-code platform. We still had no idea if Glide's functionality would be able to stretch to our Breaks Hub, but we had done quite a bit of due diligence scoping their product. Here's where we were up to after 3 days 👇
  1. Resource agility: So, as CEO, what was my role in this? Moving quickly to make sure we had the resources in place to support such a huge operational change was key to ensuring that we could avoid delays in getting the work started and absorb the new workload that we'd be facing at all levels by bringing all sides of our operation in-house. Within two weeks, we'd put our freelance Glide specialist onto a bigger contract, hired our key account manager from the tech partner company so that she could continue to run customer operations management for us from our side, secured a part-time product manager to bolster Joey's team and restructured the existing staff team's responsibilities.
  2. Collaborative culture: From the off, we felt good and confident in our ability to do this work because we were taking it on together. Everyone found ways to contribute, and we've never been stronger in our project management and communication.

We were also acutely aware that the choices we made today would affect the organisation for years to come, and we were making a lot of technical decisions without full information on the impacts.

Good practices to anticipate and avoid future problems that we picked up were to: track what the unintended consequences of your decisions might be, consider long-term costs but build-in long-term efficiencies and be prepared to make compromises, at least in the short term.

What were we actually building?

In tall and short order, we needed to build:

  • Back and front-end systems for hotel partners to upload and manage their inventory
  • Back-end systems for carer verification, account creation and login
  • A front-end Breaks Hub for carers to search inventory, select dates and make payments
  • New operational flows for managing breaks requests through automated communications and new customer service processes
  • Transition our existing carer self-referral and community partner referral pathways into the new system
  • Migrate all of our past data into our new system so that we can continue to track break delivery numbers and ensure no user falls through the gaps

Plus, running user testing, debugging and running the existing service and systems as long as we could to minimise service disruption.


A step-by-step breakdown of the development phases


"I don't know how that will work yet!"

During the build, our CTO, Joey, was caught short on one key trip wire. Much of our wrap-around service delivery to support carers in booking a break is underpinned by Intercom. Carefree only has a handful of staff and nearly 10,000 service users, so the only way to manage that is through smart customer service tools.

Though Glide had an integration with Intercom in the works, it was only slated for release in Q2, and we had no idea how far they'd gotten with it. But after reaching out to them directly, we became their guinea pigs for the integration - granting us early access to their new system and bam, customer service saved!

Integrating learnings

Some of you will have previously read our blogs on how we use live feedback loops to make continuous improvements to our service; however, there were some heritage systems that were more difficult for us to uproot.

For example, having a custom-code-built front end to our Breaks Hub meant that it was much harder to make changes to the user experience, particularly for the search filters and calendar. We knew users were getting tripped up, but we didn't have the design or engineering resources to support a refresh.

Moving all of our systems over to no-code puts us back in the driving seat, and we're smashing through our wishlist of product changes!

Key improvements

We couldn't be happier with what we've achieved and the difference it's already making to our beneficiaries. Some big wins from this process have been:

⭐️ By bringing break requests in-house, we're now able to ask hotel partners why they've had to reject a booking - providing key data to better forecast room availability and improve our conversion rate of existing gifted inventory.


Hotel partner view

⭐️ All carers now have their own personalised online Carefree space to take them through from registration to booking. No more separated systems - just one platform with lots of scope to build new well-being content for them.


Inside the Breaks Hub

⭐️ The move to Glide takes us a big step closer to delivering real-time impact reporting. With nearly all of our data now held in one system, we can finally turn that information into live impact dashboards for our referral partners, accommodation donors and funders.


Community partner dashboards

Final note

There are only a few organisations that could have pulled off such an extensive revamp in such a short period of time, let alone small charities. We can do it because the digital skills we've embedded have given us a tremendous adaptive capacity, and I'd love for more funders to recognise that when you invest in technology projects, it's not just the tech your funding - it's the organisation's overall resilience and ability to withstand shocks to its operating context.

The superhumans that delivered this project are Joey Ceunen, Miruna Harpa, Adriana Trzeciak, Peter Causer, Sarine Sofair, Philipp Friemann, Michele Bucceri and no-code extraordinaire Petr Shimaigin, to whom we owe a huge debt 🫶

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