Y Combinator alum just shared some super helpful info on how startups can automate their business processes like large companies do (but without the associated costs)

Combining LEAN Startup with Automation

Being a young start-up in a competitive industry, having to compete with the giant freelance platforms, we quickly realized that we needed to get creative. We had limited engineering resources and an increasing pressure to not just compete but to come through on our promises of ‘We Start in 30 Minutes’. Fortunately, we found the silver bullet that saved the day for us – Automation.

Now, we know exactly what comes to mind when thinking Automation –

  • I don’t have enough development resources to Automate!

    Or

  • I don’t know if I want to invest in something that I might not need in the long term!

We’ve been in your shoes and we completely get it.

That is why we want to share this great hack with you that we’ve found to stay extremely lean and efficient.
We use this process to quickly automate prototypes, so we have a quick fix now and when we start developing our own full-fledged systems we know exactly what we need.

Five-Minute Guide to Automation with Kloudio and Zapier

Our recommended approach focuses on Zapier and Kloudio, two automation apps that we have found to be flexible and powerful enough for our needs. At Konsus, we use this agile process to prototype features before implementing them in our internal app.

Some other businesses that have found success with Zapier include ThoughtBot, Medium and Buffer.

If you have never automated, you might be thinking maybe it is too hard and only a tech expert could manage something like that.

The reality is that if you have five minutes, you have way more than the time you need to set up your first automation.

In this in depth guide, we will walk you through every step for 3 basic automations from everyday Konsus workflows. This will help you easily customize and replicate for your own bootstrapped Start-up without any engineering support.

A quick overview of the tools:

Zapier is our first automation tool of choice. The app allows you to connect apps over the internet, enabling you to set up pipelines of work that will be done for you automatically based on triggers that you create. These automated work-flows are called “zaps” and can be set up very easily without any coding.

Kloudio is useful when you want to work with databases, accessing or writing data to a database. It allows you to get access to complex databases using basic SQL through Excel/Google spreadsheets. We find it really handy and is fairly friendly with people new to the world of data.

  1. Automated Dashboards

     For Management (with statistics of projects, client feedback and performance)

     For Staff (with statistics of activity and performance)

    -How we are doing it?

    how we automate

    • Set up an account with Kloudio

      account with kloudio

    • Connect it to your data sources

      Kloudio works with databases such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, Oracle and SAP. It can import data into programs like Slack, Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, Google Sheets and Amazon Echo.

      With a Kloudio sign-up, a helpful tutorial shows you how to connect your databases and read reports from them. The first step is creating a connection to your team’s database, for which you will need to know things like a database host, username, port number and password. The connection setup needs to occur only once, and your later interactions with the database do not require you to provide these details again.

      connect to data

    • Create Reports

      Once you have a connection, you can now create reports. In a report, you choose to show all the data in a table, or to only select certain columns, summaries and other selections of data.

      You can either write basic SQL queries or just use report builder to drag & drop everything you need.

      To allow Kloudio to keep your data synced with the actual database automatically, you can enable auto-refresh on your report.

      new report

    • Create Dashboards in Google Sheets

      Simply use the Kloudio add on in Google Sheets to access the reports and build on top as you like.

      started projects

      And Voila! There you have it, your own custom dashboard built instantly.

    The dashboards we built are for the staff where we display statistics of their activity and performance. These are features that we heavily rely on to help our team track metrics and improve our performance as a team.

    Our team and management then have access to this information at a glance and see where they need to focus on to improve. Implementing this in our app would have taken way more time and resources.

  2. Getting Slack Messages For Projects Updates

     Share client feedback with team after project is completed

     Send updates when a new project starts or a project ends

    -How we are doing it?

    project update

    • Since we have already setup the connection between your database, Kloudio and Google Sheets, we can use the same setup to being with. All you need is to make sure you have set Kloudio to update your Google Sheet at regular intervals. We have it setup for every hour.
    • Now, you will need to sign up for a free Zapier account.
    • On your Zapier dashboard click on “Make A Zap”.

      Make a Zap

    • For the trigger, you will see a range of options. The one we want is “Google Sheets”, which, according to the description, triggers when a new file row is added to the bottom of the spreadsheet.

      google spreadsheets

    • Once you connect and authorize your Google Sheets account, you will also be asked to select the spreadsheet and the tab that will become the trigger.

      select spreadsheet

    Congratulations, you’ve now become a data engineer without doing any actual coding!

    • Zapier then presents you a testing step to ensure everything is set up correctly. When you run the test, you get back a message indicating if the Zap was successfully tested.
    • For our example Zap, we now want to alert a Slack channel that a new project just got created or a row just got added to the spreadsheet.

      So, we’ll go ahead and add an action. Select Slack as the action app and “Send Channel Message” as the action.

      slack action

    • In the next step, Zapier requests access to your Slack account. Once you grant it, you receive a prompt to select the channel to which a new message will be posted, as well as message options.

      slack message

    • Once again, Zapier then presents you a testing step for the Zap. If successful, you can now click “Finish” to save the Zap.
    • With your Zap set up successfully, now you want to activate the Zap so that it starts operating.

    zap works

  3. Automating Follow-Up Emails To Clients

     For Feedback

     For Status Updates

    -How we are doing it?

App Logos

One reason why we enjoy working with Kloudio so much is how easier it has made our lives. The best thing about it is once you have it setup, you can combine with Zapier to get 100’s of use cases.

The first part of the setup is exactly the same as before, so without going into details about that we will start editing the email Zap within Zapier.

  • Select “Gmail” as the action app after you have chosen “Google Sheets” the trigger app, exactly like you did before. Make sure to select the relevant spreadsheet based off of which you will trigger the emails.

    gmail action

  • After you have connected and authorized your Gmail account, it will prompt you to create the email. Now, assuming that you are connecting with a spreadsheet that has a column for email, you can just select the column and it will dynamically be placed as the recipient.

    recipient

    • Bonus Tip: You can also customize the email using columns in spreadsheet as dynamic inserts in other parts of the email, like in our case it can be “Project Name”, “Total Cost” etc. These will be the corresponding columns in the same spreadsheet.
  • Just test the Zap and activate it. And you are done!

You now have a completely automated process from start to finish, within just a few minutes.

Startups Using Automation for Lean Workflows

There are hundreds of apps and potential work-flows. that you can select from. In addition, setting these up is surprisingly fast!

Konsus also has a mix of Kloudio and Zapier doing other things like sending out emails for updates to staff and showing client feedback for our projects in Slack.

Plenty of other businesses have found similar success with these tools. For example, Mention, the brand monitoring startup, uses Zapier to automate lead qualification for their plan upgrades. When a Mention user hits their plan limit, the team’s Zapier web-hooks find the customer’s contact details and then create a task assigned to their sales team to follow up. Zapier has access to data about the prospect’s time zone and so allows the team to pick the perfect time for a sales call.

Another startup, Swiftype, offering enterprise search software, has used Zapier to automate its work-flows. An executive at the company, Ben Lake, wanted to create a complete profile of a customer to better tailor services. The team was using HelpScout for support tickets, and Salesforce to work with new leads. Using Zapier, Lake created an automatic work-flow that takes a conversation from HelpScout and attaches it to the relevant new lead in Salesforce. This way, the team always has access to a prospect’s concerns and needs. The entire process is fast and automatic.

metrics

The Most Important Automation You Can Do

Knowing your business as well as you do, you are the best person to select where you use automation and where it will give the greatest benefit.

When you look at your business, you might come up with activities like feedback collection, social media work, metrics tracking and others as potential targets for automation.

Now, you estimate the monetary or time value of automation. You might find that maybe just one or two of the potential automation targets offer the biggest business payoff. For instance, an automation that allows your sales team to reconnect with lapsed client accounts could end up bringing in thousands or millions in future sales. That would be an area where automation brings in maximum value and should therefore take priority over automations where the impact, while positive, would not be as critical. To stay on track, an analytical approach adhering strongly to metrics can be invaluable.

Your Turn: Do More with Zapier and Kloudio

Automation gives you workable prototypes for a fraction of the time and money investment that developing requires. today. With Zapier and Kloudio, we are implementing things faster and becoming a truly agile startup.

As we saw, getting past the initial learning curve is much simpler than is commonly thought. To really get the most of these tools, you will want to survey your work-flows and determine the approximate impact of different automation targets. Once you have automation in place, maintenance takes almost no effort.

Many businesses like Spotify and BuzzFeed are automating work-flows as diverse as marketing, sales and recruiting. The availability of easy-to-use tools means that you too can use automation to your advantage.