John Kestner

U-Haul Online

Original digital designer

1997-2004

My roles

I was U-Haul's first webmaster. At the time, a good portion of my job was to sell the potential of the Internet internally.

After we established that the Internet was critical to business, we built a team and I became the company's lead digital designer. I was tasked with being the product designer and initial developer for new initiatives. My design team was an internal agency for the many branches of the business, designing and executing subsites.

You name it, I did it. Design, code, user research, prototype, communicate, lead.

uhaul.com

A product manager and I faced a skeptical organization. We took it upon ourselves to learn about every department, write copy and digitize what resources we could. I then designed the website and maintained it. We were even the online customer support for a while, which was invaluable in understanding customer needs. As departments began to respond to our evangelism, we were able to write mini apps to expose internal data to address common customer needs.

In addition to HTML, CSS and JavaScript, I learned whatever I needed to work with the variety of systems across the company, where many divisions had their own IT team. PHP, ASP, C#, Oracle SQL, etc.

I also set up and maintained the web servers (Apache on Mac OS X Server 1.2, before Mac OS X 10.0 introduced the Aqua interface).

Online reservations

The third person to join the team was a programmer, tasked with bringing equipment reservations to the web. We had to work with a hoary existing system designed for a phone-based reservation agent to complete on a terminal.

I designed an efficient customer flow, fought for whatever technical and organizational changes needed to be made to support it, won more than I lost, and then implemented the front end. When we rolled out the site, the national reservation phone bank, then handling hundreds of thousands of calls a month, saw its volume drop in half. Inevitable, but we saved a lot of money and opened a massive new revenue channel.

Dealer portal

Created an online portal for U-Haul's 15,000 dealers, giving them access to things they previously had to call to get changed, as well as an array of new services. This introduced massive efficiencies for both the corporation and countless small businesses that were able to more easily generate revenue for both parties.

Written in Java and WebObjects, which had a database mapping tool that was especially useful, as I had to create order out of hundreds of tables across a 20-year-old tangle of company databases that managed to stay in sync with each other, without adding to the entropy.

eMove

Designed and built a marketplace for moving families and independent movers to find each other. The service screened movers (who could be professionals, or college students looking for extra money), facilitated the transactions, and allowed customers to rate movers. This was Uber-type stuff back in 2003.

I wrote the backend in Java, WebObjects, and SQL Server, with integrations to payment processing, background checks and U-Haul reservations, which securely passed the customer on to eMove.com at the end of a U-Haul equipment reservation.