A virtual holiday tradition.
Normally I keep these case studies short, but this one is a bit of an exception. Read on to find out why.
Every year, thousands of families crowd in line to meet Santa at their local malls or community centers. But due to the ongoing pandemic, this wasn't possible.
Certainly a disappointment for those who look forward to sharing their good deeds with St. Nick, but even more disappointing for those who rely on that usual holiday income. Because of the pandemic, large industries have suffered, specifically the acting community. My hope was to help not only families have a more magical holiday season, but help out those who normally depend on that extra income.
I was approached by David and Joan O'Connor of O'Connor Casting, one of the largest casting offices in Chicago, to help with this very issue. They knew of the difficulties this last year had posed for the acting community, and were looking to help.
October 19th, 2020
Our First Meeting
We held our first of many video calls on October 19th, 2020 and discussed the project in depth. We agreed the ideal solution was a platform that allowed families to book a video call from Santa. We wanted to take what had once been in person and adapt it for the current circumstances. After flushing out the details a little more, we decided the ideal time for us to launch would be the day after Thanksgiving, approximately one month away. But with zero Santas and zero tech of any sort, we had our work cut out.
October 20th, 2020
David and Joan began reaching out into their network to find and interview Santas. I started the frightening task of creating the whole infrastructure. This included designing and building a website, creating a scheduling platform for both families and our numerous Santas, collecting payments, internal management, and of course the video calls themselves. All in 30 days. I was excited for this challenge, but also worried about how I was going to achieve this. There wasn't a lot of room for error and backtracking.
There was also the difficulty of how to price our services, market ourselves, pay Santas, and all the non-technical-but-important details that go into launching a new business. I sat down and assessed the landscape.
I normally create custom software solutions for my problems, but this project didn't have the time. I also knew we had a very clear expiration date: December 26th. The only thing to do was to use existing services. The real skill would be how I tied everything together into one cohesive package.
I found a Wordpress theme that had a holiday flair to it (it was actually for snowboarding). I researched Calendly (and after this project should have a certification), figured out the nuances to Zoom, and started tying everything together to create a cohesive, and more importantly working, customer experience. I also needed to make sure the system was not only simple for our customers, but also for our Santas. The Venn diagram of the traditional Santa actor demographic and technical savviness does not overlap much.
After lots of fiddling, I had a working system. It wasn't perfect, but it worked pretty well. I felt almost like a conductor, weaving together a melody of tools and services into a symphony of functionality.
November 22nd, 2020
Bring in the Santas
I spent the day meeting with each Santa to get them acclimated to the system, explaining how to use it, and answering any questions. It was a little surreal as some showed up in full costume for their promo video shoots with Joan. Things were shaping up and I was getting excited.
An example of one of our Santa intro videos
November 27th, 2020
The day after Thanksgiving, we launched the site and kicked off our marketing campaign. I checked my inbox incessantly waiting for our first customer. Or worse, for something to break.
November 28th, 2020
Our First Paying Customer
Success! We had our first customer. Actually, we had four that day if memory serves correctly. They all successfully scheduled a time for Santa to call and paid. I waited for the first call to complete that evening to finally relax. I got the email from Zoom saying the call had wrapped. I checked in with the Santa and found out everything went smoothly and the family was thrilled.
December 1st, 2020
After a few days, we'd really found our groove with not just the Santas, but with our marketing and pricing. We were even featured on Fox News! The next 24 days were a blur. We had bookings for Santa to join a family call with a few dozen relatives across the world. We had teachers booking for their virtual classrooms. We had bookings for hospice patients. And of course we had families book Santa who had watched their children's world be flipped upside-down and just wanted to bring a little familiarity back to the season.
After the call would end, we would send a recorded video of the call to the family. It was a last minute add-on we added right before launch, but it turned out to be the best part of the whole process. Being able to see the joy the children had when they got to meet Santa was worth all the work itself. Watching their eyes grow wide as Santa read them stories and how they jumped around excitedly explaining what they wanted for Christmas that year was really special. And the Santas were very happy to be able to retain an important part of their holiday traditions as well.
December 24th, 2020
Finally, we finished our last booking and sent our last email. We were done. We were happy to be finished and that everything went smoothly. Overall, the families were thrilled, the Santas were jolly and grateful, and I was happy to have been able to spread a little holiday joy. Not bad for a project built and launched in a month.