From zero to 4 million in months: Designing a complex product that can scale swiftly

thoughtbot built a robust Neighborhood Alerts platform that integrates data from multiple 3rd-party sources while handling astonishing user growth

I was surprised by how strong thoughtbot’s talent is and how much they feel like ‘our team.’  They’ve thrown their heart and soul into making a great product, and it shows in many ways.”

–  Jed Carlson, Product Owner, Three Ships

The Challenge

How do you deliver a new product with multiple integrations, developed within months, while managing rapid growth into millions of users?

Home Solutions is a home services marketplace company specializing in the digital distribution of products and services. The firm, with a small product/tech team, wanted to develop a platform for homeowners that would offer relevant local alerts. Because the data would come from third-party sources, consumers could avoid the drama that often results from similar platforms—from listservs to apps—that rely on user-generated content.

A simple MVP offering real-estate related alerts quickly evolved into a robust product, offering local crime reports, severe weather warnings, restaurant and bar openings, news of missing and found pets, and more. When user engagement took off—subscriptions jumped quickly to 4 million, with high email open and click rates—thoughtbot’s team pivoted swiftly from product launch to scaling and performance.

What We Did

The first priority for thoughtbot’s development team was to build a full-circle flow of data from a single source, do some aggregation and processing, and send out email alerts to relevant users. The team — Sally Hall, Senior Developer and Eric Milford, Development Director — integrated multiple third-party sources, which was challenging enough because none of those initial sources used APIs—and then subscriptions went viral.

“We had to balance the development of new features while monitoring performance and tech debt [when speedy delivery is favored over perfect code],” Milford says. “We recommended a focus on scaling to meet their goals while sustaining the product. The client appreciated us pointing out bottlenecks and giving them a prioritized list of immediate needs that let them manage their budgets.” 

The thoughtbot team is made up of talented, no-drama, get-it-done people, The engineers have integrated easily into our team. There is never any issue around getting them to take ownership or to care deeply about the work they do. If they make a mistake, it's like we made it ourselves. If they come up with an elegant way to solve a problem, it's like it was solved by our team.”

–  Jed Carlson, Product Owner, Three Ships

The Result

Launched in 2023, Neighborhood Alerts continues to grow in features and subscribers. Carlson and his team members say thoughtbot has been an invaluable partner with the rare ability to both build the product and guide the work around its scalability.

“What stands out about thoughtbot is the high caliber of the people. The senior engineers are very experienced and well-rounded. And the support that can be brought in from other areas of expertise around infrastructure and development operations is excellent,” Carlson says. “You get the entire team you need to do the project from start to finish, but also the flexibility to have certain experts come in and out of the project as needed.”

Try it out for yourself

"thoughtbot engineers integrate easily into your team - becoming a trusted part of it. It never feels like ‘outsourcing’. Most companies make you feel at least a little bit at arms-length, and thoughtbot does not. I think that’s wonderful and very very productive."

–  Jed Carlson, Product Owner, Three Ships

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