AppFolio recently held a company event called “Hack Day.” The Hack Day concept is simple: Gather a group of creative people for a period of twenty-four hours and see what new ideas, features, and products they can produce. There were only two rules: “Share your results with everyone else” and “Don’t work on something that you normally do”.
A “Hack Day Deputy” was nominated to preside over the event, and we kicked it off on a Thursday afternoon. To promote a creative atmosphere, we made costumes available those who wanted to dress the part. During the breaks, we set up a canvas for group painting and musical instruments for jam sessions. And, of course, we provided food: a group dinner, breakfast (some people slept in the office that night – the majority, more sensible people went home) and a group lunch followed by a celebratory end the 24 hour creativity-run-wild day.
The energy and enthusiasm throughout Hack Day was absolutely contagious. It was hard not to get excited about the visionary projects people had. Some people worked in teams, others worked alone, but everyone worked for the prize of the coveted Hack Day Golden Keyboard. The winner was selected by vote after everyone gave a final project presentation. Our champion Fredrik Valeur, now programs AppFolio software using his signed golden keyboard.
For any business, taking a large number of team members and having them spend a significant amount of time doing anything other than the critical things needed to run the business is expensive. Yet, we had our entire engineering and product teams along with a number of people from other parts of the company participate in AppFolio Hack Day. Why?
One of the reasons we feel we have had so much success with AppFolio Property Manager is that we spend a lot of time and effort trying to do something new and different – something we hope is innovative in a way that allows our customers to be very successful. The area of innovation that I am focused on as the CTO is the engineering of our products, but we also strive to innovate in the services we provide, the way we sell our products and even the way we price our products. AppFolio believes that that innovation is a big part of our success. However, we also know that although some great ideas “just happen” you need to actively promote innovation if you want it to happen in abundance. Of course, we are also encouraged to innovate by property managers, who as a group, are hungry for new and better ways to do things.
What was the payoff for our attempt to stimulate innovation? Hack Day participants generated 50 project ideas that turned into 17 completed projects. A few of these are already part of our latest product release and a few are great ideas that will make it into future versions. In short, there was a tremendous amount of value created for AppFolio and our customers in a very short amount of time.