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Business in Vancouver

OpenCal aiming to organize your business appointments calendar

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business in Vancouver October 19-25, 2010 issue #1095 High Tech Office column

Arash Shiva of Vancouver startup OpenCal (www.opencal.com) admits that there’s nothing new about keeping your calendar on a computer.

For instance, Sidekick was released in 1983 before either Microsoft Windows or Apple’s Macintosh put an appointment calendar on millions of computer-users’ screens.

Lots of you are probably using Microsoft Outlook – part of the Microsoft Office package – as your calendar, possibly making it available across the network to colleagues – but not to clients or others outside your closed network.

Others (including me) are using Google’s online calendar, which can be accessed on any computer or device that can go online. I’ve embedded a Google Calendar into a web page. It’s displayed online but no one can edit or add events to it from there – not even me. (Depending on what you want, that’s either a feature or a limitation.)

OpenCal’s service offers something different from these. Its goal is to let potential customers of small service businesses book appointments online, while giving businesses the tools to manage these appointments and to do it all with tools that are attractive and easy to use.

An estimated 25 million appointments are made with 11 million businesses every day in North America, mostly using telephone, pencil and paper. OpenCal hopes that its service can provide an alternative way to book many of these and offer a better way for customers, business owners and employees to stay in sync.

The “open” part of the name doesn’t imply open source software, as in – say – OpenOffice. Instead, as with the OpenTable service widely used in the restaurant industry, it implies that potential customers can book an open slot 24-7; no need to wait for business hours to set an appointment.

Both of OpenCal’s founders, Shiva and Simon Vallee, come from design backgrounds, and it shows in OpenCal’s clean interface. Shiva notes that their goals were to make booking online faster than making a phone call and easy for first-time users. Time slots can be dragged to make them longer or shorter as needed, while appointments can be dragged between staff members.

Businesses signing onto OpenCal get a snippet of computer code to insert into their website. It provides a book-online-now button linked to an appointment page hosted on OpenCal’s server. It also shows days with openings. When customers pick a day, they’re offered their choice of available time slots. They pick a time, enter contact information and they’re done.

Businesses can require that clients add additional information – perhaps address or allergy information or feedback following their appointments. As well, businesses might prefer to approve appointments manually or automatically and to automatically send out email reminders. The business may allow customers to make their own cancellations or to change appointment times online.

Once a client has entered contact information, it’s stored in a built-in database; businesses can quickly find client information and appointment history by typing the first few letters of their name.

If a business lacks a website, OpenCal offers free space for a simple web page – business name, logo, description and that all-important book-online-now button.

OpenCal is offered at two price points: $19 per month for a single-staff appointment calendar and $39 per month for multi-staff (up to 10) businesses. Both plans include a 30-day free trial. Shiva notes that while the founders imagined consultants and contractors, beauty salons, health-care providers and the like using the service, it’s also being used by a Singapore client to book hotel rooms.

Because it’s an online service, updates and improvements to OpenCal immediately become available to all users. OpenCal plans to add a variety of features, including Google Calendar sync, PayPal payment integration, mobile apps and email marketing integration.

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