On the Platform: Simple Poll’s Wilhelm Klopp on the power of the Slack API
In this first edition of our “On the Platform” series, hear from Wilhelm Klopp about what it takes to build a friendly enterprise-level app.
On the Platform is a new series where we’ll host members of our platform community — from developers, to chapter leaders, to folks building their own enterprise business. I’m Shay DeWael, a Senior Developer Advocate at Slack, and each month I’ll chat with members of the Slack community about a variety of topics that surround their personal story and thoughts on building the future of work.
Back in 2017, London-based software engineer Wilhelm Klopp found himself bunked in a crowded room at a German hostel along with seven strangers in town for the same conference. The crowded cots and pungent smells led him down a path familiar to many young hackathon attendees: He found a corner in the lobby and built a prototype of Simple Poll.
Motivated by difficult experiences of reaching consensus with his team, Simple Poll began as a bare-bones polling app for Slack. It didn’t take long for it to become a hit; Within days, Simple Poll was giving hundreds of workspaces a new way to “keep their fingers on the pulse” of their teams. Since the first version, Wilhelm has continued to grow Simple Poll with new feature-sets and a continued investment in a Slack-first experience.
Wilhelm joined us to share his experience about building Simple Poll, as well as the increasing value of automation in a remote-first environment.
The following is a condensed transcript of our interview; Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What made you want to work with the Slack API? Walk us through the early days of Simple Poll.
In the early days, my prime motivation was to get a job with Slack. What better way to do that than to build something specifically for them?
From the beginning, what drew me to Slack is that it’s an enterprise software that feels like consumer software. The UX was really polished. Simple and straightforward. That’s what I wanted to do with Simple Poll, to create something that felt like it was made for the end user and not just the buyer. But at the same time, it needed to be a tool that could meet big enterprise challenges.
It really speaks to the power of the Slack API. I don’t need to keep up with complicated documentation that changes every few minutes in the goal of serving some big enterprise need. Building an enterprise app would be a lot harder without that consumer-level base layer.
COVID itself is the first thing that comes to mind. Some of our most active new user behavior was COVID-adjacent usage … Things like COVID research groups creating polls to coordinate virus tracking or medical efforts.
But the broad usage changes from the shift to remote work, like you said, those are probably here to stay. Before COVID, the leading case we used in our marketing copy was the “lunch” use case. You can use Simple Poll to ask your team, “Where do you want to go to lunch today?” Then your team could cast their votes in-channel, based on the options you entered. But obviously, this example doesn’t work as well when everybody is working from home.
What about hybrid or remote-first usage? Has there been any change there?
We have seen big changes in both of those. Our hybrid use case is the manager who creates a recurring daily poll that asks, “Who is coming into the office today?” It posts automatically at 7am, and the team submits their answers in-channel. It’s a good sense-check on what the day is going to be like.
For remote-first users, the feedback-loop case is the big one. Pre-COVID, a good manager had to remember to check in with their people regularly in order to establish that feedback loop. To ask, “Hey team, how are you feeling today? Good? Bad? How’s your mental health?
Now, our users are creating polls that automate that feedback loop. It doesn’t take good team management out of the equation, but it does reduce the friction on the team lead. This concept is what got us started building out the Surveys product.
Simple Surveys was a big step for your product. Can you tell us more about that?
With the big shift to remote work in early 2020, we had a lot of users requesting a more extensive and confidential way to interact with their team.
Simple Surveys was our response. This is a type of poll that isn’t posted in a channel, but goes out to a manually selected group of users. It has a lot of the same functionality as Simple Poll: It can be anonymous, private, plain text, multiple choice, checkboxes. But only the person who created the survey can see the results.
Speaking of Workflow Builder, how are you approaching that from a Slack app perspective? How does Simple Poll fit into the Workflow Builder realm?
Our default approach to Workflow Builder is that if there is a new capability that is even remotely relevant to Simple Poll, we’ll build for it. That enables our users, both in the medium and long term, to achieve better integration with a greater number of apps.
Where things become really interesting is steps for apps. Without requiring any code, users can add custom steps into their workflows that can be executed by different apps. When a Simple Poll is closed, that can trigger a workflow for something else to happen.
The “Create poll” step fits neatly into any workflow where it’s important to gather quick input from your team.
Results can be automatically shared or updated to Google Doc, for example. Or, if a Zoom all-hands concludes and that shows up as a notification, immediately afterwards it can send a poll or survey in that channel to all attendees. This is a very popular use case now that we’re remote.
Slack is the pulse of the organization. After Zoom, you go back to Slack. So that’s where you should immediately be asking for feedback. I’m really excited for the future of workflow triggers by Simple Poll, as well as other Slack apps.
To change gears, how do you see the remote work shift going now that we have the tools to more intentionally engage with it? What do you think the next few years will look like?
In the rush to remote work, everything became less intentional. We mapped everything 1-to-1, which really wasn’t making the best of the new world that we were entering.
When I was with GitHub, everything was very asynchronous even before the pandemic. We had people spread across time zones, which meant that work was happening in a way where some things were blocked if they involved other people.
But these slower, long-form conversations actually unlocked a deeper side of thinking, thinking that could get lost in meetings. It gave everyone a chance to chime in, especially those who were in different time zones, or who were simply less commanding in meetings. I think there will be more of that. There needs to be more of that. A new approach to a new world.
Polls are a lightweight way to open up dialogue with a group.
How do you see Simple Poll handling that new approach?
I think with tools like Simple Poll, there is a big opportunity to help folks do the right thing by default. As a Slack app, we’re right in that critical path of where communication happens. If we can guide users to the directionally correct path from the start, without the manual effort, we can reduce more friction.
Take those famous Gallup survey questions. “Do you have the tools to do your job?”,” Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?” That kind of thing takes manual effort. But if you had those systems by default, it all comes down to one click. You can start with something and tweak your needs, rather than start from scratch.
Which is your favorite or most used Slack app besides Simple Poll?
I can probably cheat and say GitHub, but that’s probably not what you’re looking for.
Simple Goals is one. It’s like Simple Poll in that it brings our team’s goals into the workspace where they’re just one click away, not ten or fifteen. We do a retrospective with the team every 6 weeks, and Simple Goals reminds us of our action points for the quarter.
Donut is great for finding time to meet with people. This is especially true in community-based Slacks, I’ve been seeing a lot of that.
What advice would you give to someone who is building an enterprise app for the first time?
Enterprises care a lot about data security. So, I’d say make sure that you’re using the minimal amount of data that you need to provide your experience. This can be tricky when adding features and needing to grow. But a big part of our early success with Simple Poll was that it required so little in terms of data.
One key component is working closely with your users’ Slack admins. A lot of Slack admins have the reference point of wanting to help their employees get the best out of Slack. Help these people help their users, and they’ll become your internal champions.
Aiming for a decent onboarding experience is another one. With something like Slack, you have a huge opportunity to expand someone in the workspace. So, plan that path, and share it with everyone else so you can really bring people in.
As always, we are here for you. Never hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org.