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How Heloola used Gadget to power their custom community platform and grow their userbase of readers

Ever since the launch, I felt instantly much safer. Our developers now have the chance to create new iterations of what we're doing and make our dreams come true in a much shorter timeframe thanks to Gadget.
Alice Cancellario, Co-founder, Heloola


By building their platform with Gadget, Heloola was able to safely and quickly migrate off of an unreliable system and onto infrastructure they trusted to scale.


better conversion


platform growth


Dependent on an unreliable system, the Heloola founders were restricted on how much they could grow their platform at a critical stage for the company.


The Heloola founders partnered with Ensoul to switch from faulty infrastructure to Gadget for app development, saving time and unblocking their business growth.


The Ensoul team successfully migrated Heloola's community features to Gadget, creating a unique custom Shopify store experience, and they've seen unrestricted growth and scalability since then.

How Heloola used Gadget to power their custom community platform and grow their userbase of readers

Emma Hyde
May 14, 2024


better conversion


platform growth

The problem

Giada Cancellario and Alice Cancellario set out with a simple goal: to start a book club.

The two sisters found that in Italy, they often encountered people who expressed interest in starting to read again but didn’t know where to start. Most people would say that they read because they had to, for research or school, and there were so few people who would read just because they wanted to.

So, they started by creating an Instagram account.

The book club kicked off under the name Heloola. Each month, the sisters would choose a new book to talk about and dive into. It quickly grew into a thriving community, with thousands of people joining in to follow along and discuss the books. Before long, it was very clear the sisters had outgrown Instagram. They weren’t able to dive into topics and discussions the way their readers needed. The community was limited in how they could engage through Instagram comments.

“We wanted to use Instagram as a test, to see what types of content people responded to, and build our platform from there,” Giada explained. “We wanted to make sure there was a market for this before committing to it.”

The homepage of the completed Heloola platform

With enough support from the community, Giada and Alice began designing Heloola. Although neither sister was technical, they came up with a plan. They would create a platform that offered a subscription-based service and each month readers would receive a copy of a book, along with exclusive access to more than 100 minutes of related content. The content would include interviews with authors, editors, publishers, and translators, as well as time for live discussions between the community.

Building it from scratch wasn’t sustainable. They would have to hire too many specialists and find a way to handle both distribution and payments. They needed a solution that could handle all of the logistics of the book-buying experience, on top of supporting their content subscription model. As they consulted their networks, everyone they spoke to recommended Shopify.

It seemed like a great place to start. Shopify would take care of all the logistical headaches like shipping, payments, and subscriptions, but it still left the question of how to give their readers access to exclusive content. They needed a way to tie their customers and their subscription status to their content, and they wanted it to be contained to a single platform for a better user experience.

They hired a freelance Shopify developer to set up the subscription so they could launch V1 of the platform, and readers could begin receiving their book each month from the official book club. But although the freelancer they hired was talented at creating custom themes and simple apps, it turned out the work that needed to be done to turn Heloola into a custom platform was just too much for one person.

As non-technical people, Giada and Alice didn’t realize how complex their technical needs were, and the way their developer set up the store simply wasn’t stable. The sisters would see orders getting lost and data going missing, and customers weren’t happy. They weren’t sure what was going wrong, but they knew they needed to find a solution quickly. “We realized that it wasn't being developed exactly how we asked.” Alice explained, “And then he dropped everything as soon as the website launched. He just disappeared, and things were breaking.”

Recognizing the need for a true expert, Alice and Giada began looking into specialized agencies, which led them to the Shopify agency Ensoul.

The two came to Ensoul with a 3-year plan on how they wanted to launch and grow the platform. They explained they already had a version of Heloola setup on Shopify, but the project was behind schedule, and seeing some problems. The sisters were constantly overwhelmed with trying to build their platform while continuing to host book clubs, reach out to authors and publishers, and engage with the community.

With the project delays, followers were getting impatient and Giada and Alice didn’t want to risk growing the platform until they solved the existing problems. So Fulvio Romanin and Giulio Pecorella from Ensoul quickly got to work.

The solution

The developers at Ensoul jumped into action, taking over the project and getting up to speed on the issues as fast as they could. They dug into how everything was built, wanting to understand exactly what was happening. Giulio, one of the co-founders, explained, “The routing for all of the traffic was on just one server, with one endpoint. If something went wrong, or the queue stopped, we wouldn’t receive any webhooks, and that would create big gaps in the data that we had on our backend.”

After taking stock of the current systems, they realized that they were essentially starting from scratch with the added work of migrating everything off of the old build — without losing any data. The Ensoul team knew building everything to host and maintain all of the data would be months of work, so hoping to save themselves some time, they took a risk and chose to build the replacement infrastructure with a product they had never used before: Gadget.

An example of a user library in Heloola

Fulvio, co-founder at Ensoul, had a friend from Namastudio who recommended he try using Gadget for app development. They told him about how fast and simple setting up an app was and boasted about how easy it was to set up the Shopify connection. With such a glowing recommendation, he thought that this project was the best time to try out the platform. If it didn’t work, they would be back in the same boat, but if it did, Gadget could potentially save them months. 

“We knew how serious this was. As long as they were having these problems, they couldn’t grow their business,” said Fulvio. “We knew we had to finish this as soon as possible, to unblock that growth.”

So, they set up their first Gadget app. The platform provided the team with all of the necessary infrastructure and databases, with the option to easily extend and customize as needed. But the real kicker was the Shopify connection. When it comes to webhooks, Gadget would automatically handle and process everything. Because the platform was set up to break up the full payloads and format the data into a relational database, the developers could immediately begin working with the exact data they need. 

When it came to dropped or missing webhooks, Gadget would automatically run a nightly reconciliation to check all record changes in the last 24 hours and pull in any changes from Shopify that weren’t reflected. Giulio said, “Gadget was handling all the synchronization, all the webhooks, without the need to mess around and tinker with all the queues. It just worked.”

The discussion area for an individual book

The results

Overall, the project from start to finish took approximately 10 months. However, building the replacement app with Gadget took less than 4 months, including all of the testing and the final migration. “It took us more time to just understand how it was built originally than it did to build it in Gadget.” Giulio shared. “We could have built it even faster but we were being so careful not to lose any data.”

A successful product

The biggest concern was migrating all the data from the old system over to Gadget. “We needed to migrate close to 1,000 subscriptions from the old system,” Giulio explained. “We had to make sure that everything moved smoothly. But Gadget gave us a solid structure to work with.” The team was able to write scripts outside of Gadget to interact with Gadget’s autogenerated API and import data from JS files or CSVs to speed up the whole process. They managed to migrate everything over without a single issue. Every subscription, book collection, and reader note was accounted for.

Despite never having used Gadget before, the Ensoul team was able to create an entirely custom and novel Shopify store experience. 

“It’s such a complex app to build,” Giulio said. “There were a thousand subscriptions, and then a thousand book collections, and then all of the content that tied back to those. I don’t know that we could have done it without Gadget.” The full-stack platform was flexible enough to support the vision that Alice and Giada had, creating a truly unique Shopify store while powering a community of readers.

And the best part is — it looks great. The Ensoul team was able to use Gadget in a way that leveraged theme app extensions, which helped with store performance. “With the frontend, we were able to create a better acquisition process that also improved their conversion rates.”

A look at an individual book page and some of the exclusive content it includes

Unrestricted growth

Since the launch, Giada and Alice have been able to go back to growing the community in full force. When they set out, their goal was to create one central site for their community to order books, check on status, and discuss what they’re reading — and now, that’s exactly what they have. Alice says, "Ever since the launch, I felt instantly much safer. Our developers now have the chance to create new iterations of what we're doing and make our dreams come true in a much shorter timeframe thanks to Gadget, because for a startup, a year is a very long time."

With Gadget powering the community and everything working the way it should, Giada and Alice — along with Ensoul’s help — have the flexibility they need to keep planning for the future of their platform. “We have a stable structure now,” Giulio explains. “We can really work safely in our own environment with Gadget, so we can improve the existing structure and create a better user experience without worrying.” 

They’ve set their sights on expanding the community and even offering new options for one-time purchases instead of just subscriptions. “In the last few months, we’ve doubled our community on Instagram because we’ve really found the right formula for the algorithm and we know how to grow with reels,” Giada says. “And we don’t have to worry about our growth now, thanks to Ensoul and Gadget.”

As they grow, whether they see major traffic increases or need to store all the data powering community discussions, Gadget will do all of the scaling automatically. That means that Giada and Alice will be minimally reliant on Ensoul beyond the 3-year plan both teams have agreed to — unless they think up new ways to expand on their growing platform.

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