“There’s no app for that.” — Slack as a platform for your product.
Let us begin this article with two questions: how many mobile apps do you have on your smartphone? How many do you actually use?
According to Nielsen, the average smartphone users have around 42 apps on their device, but 87% of them claim they use less than 10 on a daily basis. There are indeed more and more mobile apps created for very specific cases that may not happen everyday.
But besides the app clutter, both on appstores and on smartphones, other impediments come to mind when talking about B2B applications.
The first problem with multiplicating apps on employees’ smartphones is that they sometimes lack room to stock all of them. Another issue is that IT managers usually struggle installing these apps on all smartphones. And I’m not even talking about other problems on our side, such as app maintenance, compatibility with different platforms and resolutions, OS updates, etc. It took us a whole year to figure out creating a mobile app for our users may actually be nonsense.
This year was also the one that saw Slack growing tenfold and becoming more and more popular among companies. We had been early users of Slack and it quickly became indispensable to our workflow. Slack is an awesome tool for collaborating, and supports a big number of integrations and bots, from Google Drive, Intercom or GitHub to…Birdly itself.
We recently ditched our mobile app to concentrate on our Slack integration, the first bot that does your Expense Reports.
Here are the reasons why we took such a move and how we did it!
The Story: let’s be where our customers are.
Beginning June 2015, we had been developing a mobile app for around 6 months. The principle of the app was easy: take a snap of a picture and get an Excel expense report inside your mailbox.
Then we added a Dropbox integration.
Then we added tags and comments.
Then we began supporting digital expenses.
Then we added mileage calculation.
And then, we took a look at our analytics.
The app neither skyrocketed nor plummeted. It did well among solo companies, so we had quite a lot of users from different backgrounds, but we couldn’t manage to onboard entire companies, be them as small as 3 people. We had to figure out why.
The answer was actually simple enough: not everyone in the same company would download the app. It was too much of a pain for them to download it, learn how to use it, remember they had downloaded it, and use it as we wanted them to use it: on-the-spot. After all this time working on the expense reports business, we figured out that the success of an expense reporting tool depends on its adoption rate by employees and the ease of deployment by CFOs. Being the next expense report SaaS solution wouldn’t solve these 2 problems. We needed to solve that before moving on.
And then we began thinking about how we could make it easier for people to do their expense reports with Birdly. Was it becoming the first SMS-based expense reports app? Was it creating the first “Expenses as a Service” product?
The answer was under our nose for all that time! Slack, the first tool we ever used at the beginning of Birdly; the one we had been tweaking and improving with bots and integrations (check the list here!), was the providential solution.
Beta testing our bot
A high-growth product people love, a lot of integrations, the fact we could take advantage of the platform on all devices, the whole company being already registered, made it the obvious channel for us. Inspired by assistant-apps using SMS as their main medium, or other useful bots, we eventually figured out Slack could be the answer to all our wonders.
But we had to test the idea before attacking the market, and we thus asked 70 companies from 12 different countries to try our bot beforehand.
We joined these Slack teams and started doing expense reports for people. This period of beta tests helped us do two things: begin onboarding a few teams before our launch, thus giving us good testimonials and support for our launch, but most of all, it helped us detect use cases we hadn’t thought of, and we implemented the ones that were the most common. Typing help, receiving intelligent reminders, or even telling jokes were not things we had on our minds, but we developed these features thanks to these teams.
Obviously, it enabled us to improve our product, but it also allowed us to get a few paid teams, even though we weren’t selling it yet.
How our Slack bot works
Birdly is a Slack bot dedicated to making expense reporting as short as possible. Here is how it works.
1/ Send a receipt (or a PDF invoice) to our Slack Bot from the Slack app (web, desktop, mobile)
2/ Let the data be recognized automatically
3/ Receive a link to your personal spreadsheet. (See example)
Just easy as ABC. At least, for the final user. This bot took us a few weeks to develop and you’ll see how in the next section!
Technically speaking: playing with Slack’s Realtime and Web APIs, and creating an interface for our team.
In a more technical approach, we have been struggling many times with the doc of different APIs, making our learning curve a bit slow. Fortunately, Slack’s documentation is well made and allows you to test things easily.
Digging deeper into the doc, we eventually figured out we would need to use both Slack’s Web and Real Time Messaging (RTM) APIs.
First, we had to be granted an access inside the teams, to get all the users inside them and be able to chat with them. Then we would need to monitor DMs sent to our bot through the RTM API, as well as download all attachments (expenses) sent to us. And finally, we’d have to find a way to talk back to them, again with the Web API.
But our development process was obviously not limited to Slack, as we had to give our team a good interface where they could interact with people and be notified when something didn’t fit the usual process.
We thus recreated a Slack-like chat inside our backoffice, and integrated with Trello to automatically create cards when we detected interesting use cases, or create text templates from Trello to go faster. Our product becomes our customer-support, without people even noticing.
All in all, developing on top of Slack is a great experience… and our current users agree!
We use Slack for everything, and using it for expenses was completely seamless and everyone loved it. The adoption rate is really fast.
Romain | CEO of Wisembly
With Birdly, no need to make each employee download a mobile app. Great way to save time… for them and for me!
Marine | Financial controller at Drivy
I love this concept. Our company has a pretty terrible expense system and I’ve been looking for a way around it for quite some time. I’ve only tested a few receipts, but I think the Google Docs system is really nice and allows me to at least have my report done — even if our finance team then requires me to use a separate system, I have everything logged in one place.
Justin | Executive producer at Droga5
I am incredibly impressed with Birdly, I have so far today alone shown how it works to three different companies.
Nathan | Founder of OneNine