The History of "Plan My Fringe"


The Story so Far - by Maddie Henson, Sales Director, Henson IT Solutions

People often ask me how we arrived at the idea for Plan My Fringe. And most that assume there was a huge amount of investigation and market research behind it. But the truth is Plan My Fringe was the brainchild of two normal Fringe-goers (if there is such a thing πŸ˜‰).

When my husband Mark and I met, as a great fan of the Edinburgh Fringe I was very quick to introduce him to it. Despite this I was very aware that introducing a complete newbie to the Fringe can be a challenge - the scale of the brochure alone is enough to put people off. But to my delight he was instantly hooked. However, half an hour and over 100 shows added to our must see list later, I panicked.

Mark on the other hand – always quick with an answer for everything calmly came up with a solution – he designed a spreadsheet to help us work out a schedule, far more efficiently than the human brain ever could, and the first "Plan My Fringe" was born.

Within 10 years this spreadsheet has gone from a small toy for two young lovebirds to what you see before you. This is the story.


  • August 1947 - The Fringe is born

    8 uninvited theatre companies arrive at the official Edinburgh Festival and took over the cities smaller performance venues creating a whole new dynamic to traditional theatre festival. This group would soon be known as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

  • 1947-2006 - The Fringe Grows

    From its humble beginning, the Fringe grows into the largest arts festival in the world with half a million visitors to it in 2016. It is internationally renowned and some of the most famous names especially in comedy have started there.

    The result of this unprecedented growth however is that it becomes nearly impossible to navigate. People are simply unable to plan to see a fraction of what they would like and they are left feeling overwhelmed, whereas shows (especially the up and coming talent) have much smaller audiences than they might have.

  • August 2007 - Maddie goes to the Fringe for the first time

    Before leaving for university I decided to treat myself to something that I had always wanted - a trip to the Fringe. So I ordered the brochure, and I was off.

    I had a truly fantastic time but even with a lot of knowledge about what is involved I'm still overwhelmed and am only able to get a fraction of the shows I hoped for.

  • July 2008 - Maddie and Mark meet

    Whilst back for the summer from University I was invited to a local pub quiz and there I met the man I was going to marry – Mark Henson.

  • January 2009 - Maddie convinces Mark to go to the Fringe

    As a great fan of the fringe and this time with someone to potentially go with, I soon set about convincing Mark to go to the Fringe with me. Not a difficult task when I related the wonderful time I had had the previous year. He soon agreed.

  • June 2009 – The Fringe Programme arrives

    When the programme arrived Mark finally understood the scale of the Fringe and why I had raved about it so much. So we set about making a wish list of shows we would like to see. We went through the brochure with a fine-toothcomb and made a wish list of over 100 shows. Totally impossible for the human brain to handle and certainly not feasible in the week we were planning to be there.

  • July 2009 – The β€˜First’ Plan My Fringe

    Undeterred by the enormity of the task I sat down and tried to work out the best possible schedule of shows from our wish list, just like I had done on a smaller scale last time. This time however I quickly realised that it is beyond me and started to get stressed.

    Mark as the IT Director and Senior Programmer for his current company quickly decided that there must be an easier way of doing things, and created a spreadsheet with macros (apps to me and you) which did a lot of the work for you.

    It was quite rough and clunky (having been designed just for us and with no proper user interface to speak of) but it still took my rough attempt at a schedule with about 20 shows straight up 45 in a fraction of the time. Unsurprisingly this is the schedule that we followed for our first Fringe together.

  • 16-23 August 2009 – The Fringe Proper (bragging alert)

    Our first Fringe as a couple was sensational and we had a fab time. Whilst up there in true Fringe style everyone we met was bragging about the number of shows they'd seen. That was until we showed them our schedule. It soon become clear that next to no one we met had been able to fit in as many shows as us. Consequently we left feeling really smug!

  • Summer 2012 – our return to the Fringe

    Mark and I had been away from the Fringe for 3 years and the draw had got too much, so once again out came the spreadsheet, and we made some improvements to it. This time we were able to schedule even more shows.

    Once at the Fringe we no longer felt like novices, and this must have shown in our conversations with people we met, because this is when the discussions moved from people simply being impressed with our schedule to some early requests for using the tool!

  • April 2016 – We form Henson IT Solutions.

    Times change and so do we. A baby later and we decided neither of us wanted to continue working for our multinational companies. So we take the decision to use our IT skills to found a company of our own. This company has the aim of providing services to make people's lives better.

  • July 2016 – The birth of Plan My Fringe

    I honestly can’t remember who it was who said it but before we knew it we suddenly knew that one thing that absolutely fitted what we wanted our company to do was our Fringe Scheduler. So fresh with the idea Mark redesigned the calculations behind the spreadsheet for multiple users and we were off.

  • August 2016 – Road testing

    Keen to see how the expanded tool would perform live, Mark and I took my sister and brother-in-law to the Fringe. As complete Fringe virgins we thought it would be good to see if we could use the existing tool to give them the best Fringe experience possible. We succeeded even better than we expected, and we were able to schedule every single show they wanted to see, and still allow them time to see the sites of Edinburgh.

  • April 2017 – the "Plan My Fringe" Web Application goes live

    Flushed with the success of the previous year, by the time Fringe season approached the next time we were ready. Mark had spent the intervening time rewriting the clunky spreadsheet as a fully-featured web-application, so it could work for everyone, not just us. He also redesigned the calculation algorithm, and linked the app to the shows database so that all show details were available (instead of us having to type in our wishlist details manually). And he also came up with the user interface you now see before you.

  • July 2017 – the IOS version goes live

    By this point from word of mouth alone we already had over 200 users, but we knew this was only the start, and the schedule had to be portable in order for people to be able use it in real life. So, in a race against time, just before the start of Fringe we released the IOS version. This was far more popular than the web application, but we were shocked when we had more than 2000 downloads by the end of the Fringe.

  • late July 2017 – we are officially "Boffins" (according to Chortle)

    As a proof of how many shows we could see, we added all the shows to our Wishlist in bulk, so that we could see how many shows the algorithm could schedule in. We then sent out a press release confirming that it is possible to see 314 different shows in the 25 days of the Fringe, averaging over 12.5 shows a day and costing Β£1878! We published the schedule to prove that 314 shows were possible, or on a limited budget you could see 264 free shows.

    While this press release did not make too much impact, the Chortle web-site re-wrote our press release in their own style (read it here), calling us Boffins. Thanks Chortle, we are proud to be Boffins!

  • August 2017 – the App in live

    Any excuse to go to the Fringe and testing Plan My Fringe was definitely important so off we went for our 4th Fringe together. This time with me pregnant with my second child and our first in tow!

    Whilst there, along with ensuring that we had our usual great time we did our first bit of active advertising for Plan My Fringe. Complete with personalised "Plan My Fringe" t-shirts we joined the hundreds of flyer distributers.

    Anyone who has ever been on the advertising side of the Fringe will tell you there are always stories, and it was no exception for us but some moments do really stand out.

    One moment I often remember is passing a flyer to someone as they walked past who turned to me slightly taken aback and even a little annoyed and asked "What is this, it's clearly not a normal leaflet?" I explained what it did and he grinned from ear to ear saying – "This is quite possibly the most useful thing anyone has given me this month!"

    My second favourite moment was when we had a gap which we had left for dinner in the schedule, so we let the app find a show for us on nearby. It was a Free Fringe event and it was a proper old fashioned audience interaction show. The artist looked at us all in our t-shirts and got us to stand up and explain what we did – our first Fringe performance.

  • February 2018 – New Additions

    Henson IT Solutions expanded by employing 3 talented apprentices in 2017, which meant that Mark no longer had to do all the programming himself. He still did most of the Plan My Fringe work as it is his baby. And in February we had another real baby! But that didn't stop the business continuing with various projects and work for other companies, and the Android version of Plan My Fringe is being completed by one of our apprentices.

  • July 2018 – New Features

    While "Plan My Fringe" was perfect for our method of scheduling the shows we wanted to see, it was not for everyone. Some people wanted it to do everything for them ("it should just Plan My Fringe for me!"). Others preferred far more control over what they wanted to see each day, but did not have a tool to do so. So we provided a solution for both types of people. So you can now Plan My Fringe in 3 different ways!

    • Classic - the way we prefer! Just look through the programme, and flyers while in Edinburgh, and if anything takes your fancy add it to the WishList and rate it depending on how much you want to see it. Then click Calculate to let "Plan My Fringe" fit as many of your shows in as possible!
    • Recommendations - let "Plan My Fringe" just Plan Your Fringe! Tell "Plan My Fringe" about the types of shows you like to see (and / or select a few shows that are the types of thing you like), and "Plan My Fringe" will make recommendations. Just add any recommendations you like to your Schedule (or just add all of them), click Calculate, and in a very short time you could go from nothing planned to having a complete Fringe Schedule produced for you!
    • Fringe Trail - for any particular day, pick a starting show or place and time, and see what's on nearby. Add it to your schedule, and then use "Plan My Fringe" to see what's on nearby after that show finishes. Repeat until you run out of energy or money! Great for squeeezing in as many shows as possible, reducing walking time, and seeing shows you wouldn't normally come across.

    And you can use a combination of any or all of these. We certainly will be!

  • August 2018 – Take Off

    The iPhone app with the new features was released at the start of the 2018 Fringe, and the download and user count just took off, far beyond our expectations. Plan My Fringe was very quickly in the 2nd or 3rd position for any App Store searches relating to the Fringe, with higher ratings than the apps above it, and this was reflected in the large number of downloads and registered users. It was great to see our tool helping so many people. Thank you to everyone who planned their Fringe with Plan My Fringe!

  • mid-August 2018 – Android Version Released

    The Android version was released around the middle of the Fringe, better late than never! We were determined not to release it until it had all the features of the iPhone version, and had been fully tested, resulting in a slightly delayed release. But it had a very good reception, and we will build on it for 2019!

  • 2019 - more features and many more users

    In February we updated the web-site and both apps to use the 2019 Fringe data, so as shows were officially released in stages during the year they became immediately available on Plan My Fringe. And our user count and usage of the web-site and apps has continued to grow greatly during the year, far exceeding 2018 numbers in every area. We also introduced some new facilities during the year, including allowing a Random show to be selected, putting our own Fringe experiences into a Fringe FAQ, producing an interesting Fringe Stats page based on the Fringe data, and developing an online Fringe Map.


The Future...

Throughout the lifetime of the Plan My Fringe app, we are constantly asking for feedback. The new features for 2018 and 2019 have directly come from these discussions but "Plan My Fringe" is still in its relative infancy.

We are adding features as people ask for them so what the future holds is largely in the domain of what you want. Several of the suggestions from the 2018 app have been included in 2019, and we continue to add new features as people ask for them or as we think of them.

There is still one aim that we have above all others however and that is simply to help people have the best possible Fringe.

If you want to binge - Plan My Fringe