An everyman’s hackathon: Veem’s journey with Zapier
October 25, 2019
As Veem’s CTO, I’m always working to identify opportunities for our platform to deliver value to new categories and verticals. Recently, our CEO, Marwan Forzley, and I were discussing how to extend our market distribution as we strolled about Jackson Square in downtown San Francisco. As we chatted, Zapier bubbled to the surface as a tool with significant potential to grow our network.
Zapier is an automation tool that harnesses a product’s API in order to connect it to numerous other apps, platforms and products (called ‘Zaps’). Zaps are easily set up without coding: users simply identify an action performed in one app (called the Trigger) that ‘triggers’ an action in another (called the Action). For example, when an order is received in Salesforce, users can automatically request payment in Veem with a Zap.
Internally, several of our teams have leveraged Zapier to automate operational processes. Zapier and Veem share a complementary user base of entrepreneurs and small-to-medium-sized business (SMB) owners looking to save precious time. With this in mind, we made the push (with the help of LeftHook Digital) to build out the beta version of our Zapier application.
As we entered the beta phase, our team was at a crossroads regarding the direction of this offering. The feedback received during alpha testing was limited at best, so we didn’t know how our customers would chain our integration with their other, existing integrations. Given the ambiguity of use-cases, we wanted to frontload our beta to understand any technical, usability, or messaging issues that would cause friction as soon as possible. Even more fundamental, we wanted to ensure that the automated process templates (called ‘Zaps’) we created provided the maximum value to our customers. It was the perfect opportunity to practice what we preach: “Move Fast, Learn Fast, Innovate”, one of Veem’s core values.
So how did we tackle these concerns? A company-wide Zapier hackathon.
As we set out to design this effort, we first laid out our goals:
- Deliver ten highly useful and innovative Zap Templates. These needed to be either ‘Triggers’ (if this) or ‘Actions’ (then that) to help automate our customer’s workflow.
- Validate the usability of our Zapier App and determine any gaps or productivity blockers.
- Educate our entire company on what Zapier is and the power it can unlock for our platform.
- Get our business-facing teams “coding” and our technical teams “hustling” their ideas to the company.
- Have fun and build comradery across diverse teams.
With these goals in mind we tackled the key components of this “hackathon:”
First, we defined the deliverables for the hackathon to lay out the scope of the effort. Each team needed to deliver a Zap Template leveraging Veem’s Zapier App integrated with another technology. Additionally, each team needed to create a pitch deck describing their Zap, the market opportunity/product-market fit, and any bugs or improvements to the experience.
Given this was a company-wide event spanning two offices, we needed to break up the event into multiple sessions, across multiple locations. We chose four hour sessions, as we had timed that a basic Zap can be built in less than ten minutes. Teams were blended based on department, attempting to pair teams to play to their strengths (Factual vs. Passionate, Detail-Oriented vs. Creative, Restrained vs. Outgoing).
We structured each session into four phases: an introduction and basic training, a ideation phase, a “coding” phase, and the “pitch.”
The introduction was an overview of Zapier. Additionally, we provided an overview of Veem’s Zapier App, and some basic examples of Zap Templates leveraging our application.
In the ideation phase, we asked the teams to investigate other Zap apps in their ecosystem. This analysis spanned from an inspection of competitors’ offerings, complementary offerings, and even left-field apps that on the surface appeared unrelated to our offering. While we had asked the teams to build a list of three Zap Templates, we found that most teams came up with five or six different ideas.
Once the teams had ideated, they immediately went into execution. Given the generous amount of time we allocated, most teams implemented three or more Zap Templates.
The final phase was the pitch where all the teams in the session presented their work and voted on the winner.
What did we learn?
- Clearly this is not a hackathon in the traditional sense. But as a team-building exercise that delivers real value to the business, I couldn’t think of a better way to invest our time.
- It was a great way to promote innovation in the right way, namely by tying creativity to a tangible deliverable. Allowing employees to get their hands dirty achieves company-wide understanding of our product and its capabilities. Anyone can come up with an idea. But as soon as you empower your employees to execute and solve the problem, it opens doors of understanding into the nuances of the platform and strengthens the direction of future ideation.
- In terms of a beta test, this hackathon was a great vehicle to quickly test, validate, and understand how the app would be used in the real world. We had sixty-four participants assembling Zap Templates, several of whom identified key usability issues. This exercise also helped to suss out issues with the usability of our externally facing APIs, which is very valuable for understanding how developers interface with our platform.
- Some of the best Zap ideas came from our business facing teams. One such example was an integration into Harvest that read time sheets in the program and converted them into Veem Invoices that could be paid directly on our platform. It met a key use case for our contractor user base, helping them automate an important part of their business processes.
- A hidden timesink was the considerable amount of time required to setup different Zapier accounts and API keys. In the future, we’ll account for this downtime upfront during setup to avoid losing value cycles from our team. To truly gain value, the outcome of the hackathon needs to tie back to the launch of your Zapier app. A smaller team made up of key members of Product and Engineering reviewed the full set of Zap Templates to determine which would provide the most real value to customers and were worthwhile to include in the Go To Market.
- All in all, the hackathon was a great experience and a novel way to educate and empower employees. I highly recommend this approach for any company looking to strengthen its product offering, while having a lot of fun in the process.
See everything that’s possible with Veem and Zapier here, or learn more about how to set up your very own Zaps.