How We Built a Community Platform in One Afternoon with Free Tools and a Bit of Automation Magic

No coding needed. A little manual on how to connect 1200 applicants with 25 hosts thanks to Zapier, Google Spreadsheets, Gmail, Typeform, Mailchimp and Eventbrite

When we set out to create Techfestival this September, a collaborative festival that brought together more than 16,000 people across 132 events within 6 days, one of our challenges was to create a platform that connected event hosts with participants in a meaningful way.

An event format at Techfestival were summits: intimate one-day workshops that brought together experts on a specific topic (such as Sex Tech, Blockchain or Artificial Intelligence) to discuss and share. Each summit was hosted by one or several experts in the field. Anyone could apply to join via a simple Typeform application form.

As a team of just 7 people organizing the entire festival we didn’t have much resources to draw from. So how do you make sure that 25 insanely busy summit hosts connect with 1200+ applicants in a meaningful way?

Within one afternoon we created a working solution using free online tools and a bit of automation magic. No coding necessary.

1. The Challenge

Our goal was to connect summit hosts with applicants in an effective way that requires a minimum of management from our side. Hosts should be empowered to manage their events individually and retain complete ownership. Applicants should get timely responses to their applications and be well informed about the event they’re participating in.

As a result, summits during Techfestival should bring the right people together and allow all participants to have an enriching and insightful experience.

One of the events during Techfestival

2. The Stack

You are only as good as your tools. Luckily we are provided with a wide range of affordable, easy to use software tools solving almost any need today. To solve our challenge we used the tools below:

  • Typeform: a free form builder tool to receive applications
  • Google Spreadsheets: a free spreadsheet tool to manage applications
  • Google Mail: a free email platform
  • Eventbrite: a free ticketing platform
  • Mailchimp: a free newsletter service
  • Zapier: an automation platform. The connecting glue between all of the platforms above. (Also free, unless you scale your commitments like we did!)

Most people who work on the internet have probably used any of the above tools a million times. So did we. The “heureka” moment really came when we started to bring Zapier into the game.

Zapier is a marketing automation tool that allows you to create “Zaps” that automate a certain action for you. It works across a variety of different platforms and therefore is a super helpful tool when it comes to building small-scale community platforms just like we did.

3. The Setup

To apply for a summit applicants fill out the Typeform application. In our Typeform they could select the summit / event they want to attend and then fill out a basic questionnaire about their motivation and basic contact details.

At this point we set up a Zap that automatically recognizes the keywords we pre-selected for each event and distributes the applications into the right spreadsheet. The access to this spreadsheet was shared with the event hosts beforehand.

As soon as a new application came in, the hosts were notified via an automated email (by another Zap). The hosts could then access the spreadsheet to read the entire application (of course we had added a direct link to the spreadsheet in the email).

Now the hosts could decide whether to accept the application or put the applicant on hold by simply selecting a “Y” or “N” option within the spreadsheet.

Either option triggered an automated email to the applicant via Zapier. If put on hold, the applicant received an email that informed them about their application being on waitlist and sent back to to discover more events they could participate in.

If accepted, they received an email that congratulated them and directed them to a password protected Eventbrite page where they could fill in their details and finish the application.

Eventbrite was our main hub to manage all attendees of Techfestival. Each event had their own sub-page on Eventbrite that included details on the exact time and location the event took place. By finishing your registration on Eventbrite you received your ticket with those details via email and got a reminder about your event 2 days prior.

With all these sub-events on Eventbrite we then created a Zap that consolidated all registered attendees into one email list on Mailchimp.

A drip-email campaign was sent through this list (via Mailchimp’s native automation tools) to prepare the attendees for Techfestival.

As we had applications coming from many different ends and angles, this made sure that even if you only signed up for one specific event you were informed about Techfestival as a whole. By that we were able to direct people to more events happening in the same week and thereby grew overall participation. On average, people attended 3 events during Techfestival.

If you want to know all the details on how we set up each Zap on Zapier, here’s the detailed manual that we produced for our own team:

Learnings for Next Year

While this system served us well for the first Techfestival there are certainly some things that we would improve going forward.

  1. Set up a master document for each host that includes a step-by-step manual to the process. Keep it open to comments and feedback so people can help each other.
  2. Reduce complexity in the sign-up process. Many applicants who received the “Great news, you’re in!” email were under the impression that their signup was now completed and needed reminder emails to make them finish their registration via Eventbrite. Next year we’ll try to send the data directly from the Typeform registration to Eventbrite.
  3. Enable hosts to design their own drip email campaigns for their participants. This year hosts needed to update their participants via manual emails. Next year we’d like to introduce a process that easily allows hosts to share important information with their participants.

Now Go and Make Your Own!

We hope that this little manual is useful for you. If you design a community platform or campaign with it please do let us know and share your findings. We’re keen to develop this process further and help other people create similar ecosystems.

Your truly,
Severin & Kristoffer

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