Pitch It to Win It: 2014 Whitepages Hackathon

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Last Friday, we kicked off our first ever Whitepages Hackathon. It was a fantastic event with huge participation, great ideas and lots of fun. The idea behind it was a long time in the making. Every day at work I hear questions or suggestions on how to best leverage our data. Whether it’s an engineer, member of the marketing team, or one of the folks from HR—Whitepagers are constantly dreaming up new ideas to enhance our business. I finally decided it was time to round up all the Whitepagers to spend an afternoon brainstorming ideas and focusing on the ones that would best serve our customers. We kicked off the Hackathon at noon on September 12, 2014. Here was the format for the day

  • Pitch your idea in 1 minute
  • Form teams around the best 6 ideas
  • Spend 6 hours on execution
  • Present your idea in 5 minutes
  • Crown the winner

The level of participation blew my mind. Nearly a third of the company pitched a total of 28 ideas. Participants included members from Whitepages PRO, marketing, HR, engineering, ad sales and the interns. Pitches were one minute long and had to focus on a business problem with a way to solve it. The ideas pitched represented different business units and customer personas. We had something for Whitepages PRO developers to help them play around with our APIs, some great features for Whitepages, and we had ideas on how to leverage our Identity Graph data to solve the business community’s pain points.

Voting for the best ideas. More chaos = more fun

Voting for the best ideas. More chaos = more fun

 

Next, each participant voted to select the six best ideas. Over 60 people voted—that’s more than half of the office. That’s a great testament to the culture here at Whitepages, where everyone is working hard to make the customer’s experience the best it can be.   Once the voting was complete, the teams formed around their six chosen ideas. They were instructed to fine-tune their idea, think about user experience, and then create mockups, prototypes, or something more fleshed out so that the judges could better understand the problem, solution and user experience.   The next six hours were spent on execution. It was intense. There were heated debates, challenging questions and last minute coding to come up with something cool.   Then came the time to present. The judges were asked to focus on:

  • Relevance of the solution for Whitepages
  • The customer’s experience
  • Execution
  • Quality of the presentation
The interns presenting their mockups followed by a real demo

The interns presenting their mockups followed by a real demo

The teams ensured that the judges had their work cut out for them. If the top six ideas were all good, then the execution went above and beyond. For example, one team created two mobile apps (Android and iOS) from scratch complete with design and coding. Another did an entire demo all from the command line. And the next team created cool visualizations that would enhance our data’s value in the realm of business. All of this was done in just six hours! In the end, it was a single point that separated the winner from the runner-up.

 

For the grand prize, each of the winning team members received: (1) bragging rights as the winner of the first ever Whitepages Hackathon; (2) the potential opportunity for their idea to be productized; (3) dinner at the Space Needle.   For me, the best part of the Hackathon is what comes next. I am already in conversations with one of the teams to open source their project. The idea would improve the developer’s onboarding experience for our Graph APIs. Additionally, one of the product teams is keen to see if they can prioritize another idea for early 2015. We are also trying to figure out if we can create a sample app from one of the pitches. In short, the Hackathon was a real win, and of course, lots of fun. It made all the planning and effort behind organizing this experience totally worth it.   What do you think? Let me know (kshah [at] whitepages [dot] com) if you have interesting ideas for our data. And if you now find yourself wishing to take part in some competition, then enter Whitepages PRO API Mashup Challenge. We’re taking submissions until October 31st.

In meantime, I’ll be planning the next Whitepages Hackathon.

Best Practices for Increasing User Conversion

Ashkaan

My name is Ashkaan Khatakhotan and I was a web development intern on Whitepages core site team this past summer.

Over the course of my internship I built the UI of a V1 rails web app for collection and distribution of contact information. During this time I had to deal with issues of attracting and onboarding new users. Because of these experiences I decided to make the topic of my intern presentation “Best Practices for Increasing User Conversion”.

User conversion can basically be defined as the percentage of users who take a desired action – such as signing up for a service. New user conversion is obviously a hugely important aspect for any company, and is one of the strongest ROI arguments for better user experience. To create this presentation I scoured UX blogs and over a hundred different websites to gather information on what user conversion practices work and what practices to avoid.

Please direct any questions you have to my email, akhotan10@gmail.com.

How WhitePages Went Green (And How You Can, Too)

going green, whitepages.com

When the economy crashed almost two years ago, we as a company did what everyone else did and trimmed the fat, which included our snack budget. In looking at what we spent on snacks, one thing that stood out to me was how much we spent on kitchen paper and plastic products for the convenience of our employees. These buggers are expensive!

going green, whitepages.com

It's easy to find ways to go green. (Image courtesy of Atul Tater via Flickr)

Before the budget was cut, we spent more than 3k a year on various and sundry paper cups, bowls, plates and cutlery. I thought to myself, if we purchased a dishwasher and people brought mugs, plates and silverware from home we could not only get our ROI within a year, but we could continue to provide the snacks that the employees were accustomed to having. We would lose a bit of convenience, sure, but we would also reduce the waste that our office generated, significantly.

To me, it was no longer just about saving money, but also about being part of the green revolution at the office! Most of us are conscientious at home but are we as conscientious at the other place we call home for at least 40 hours a week? We’re in Seattle for Pete’s sake, how hard could it be? Well, as it turns out…it’s not that hard.  Here are some examples of things that we did to green-ify our office kitchens:

  • We brought in compost bins.
  • We (of course) already had our recycling in place, but we created a separate bin for those annoying plastic bags we get at the supermarket.
  • We use phosphate free dishwashing detergent.
  • We use reusable plates, cups, bowls and cutlery.
  • We purchase recycled paper towels.

We also founded Ban the Phonebook, an initiative to promote opt-in legislation for the delivery of White Pages phone books. We’re at over 38K supporters, and growing every day! (Find us on Facebook here!)

So far, it seems like everybody here at WhitePages has been on board with this mini green revolution. Sure, I still occasionally have to pick paper towels out of the garbage and put them in our compost bins, but it is great to see how significantly we have reduced our waste. The revolution has to start somewhere, and I’m glad that our office is a part of it!

What does your office do to reduce waste and go green?

PS – Follow us on Twitter @WhitePages

Value Is Much More Than A Good Deal: How WhitePages is Bringing you DealPop

WhitePages is proud to announce DealPop, your local source for insider information on the best places to eat, drink and play - right in your neighborhood!

WhitePages is proud to announce DealPop, your source for insider information on the best places to eat, drink and play - right in your neighborhood!

Value Is Much More Than A Good Deal

Today the Seattle Times announced our new service DealPop, which will soon offer great deals at the best places to eat, drink, and have fun — right in your neighborhood.

Sure we are going to offer incredible discounts, but we are also focused on providing a great customer experience and selecting great places for you to enjoy and discover.

We built DealPop as a service and not just a transaction.  Our project is centered and driven on a set of guiding principles that reflect the following core values of  WhitePages:

Connect with Confidence

We are on a mission to help consumers connect with confidence.  Millions of consumers trust WhitePages as the leading web and mobile service for finding both people and businesses.  Searches on our site allow us to see both the most popular and up and coming merchants.  From these findings, our DealPop team, including full-time sales reps that are a part of the local community, select a target list of businesses to provide the best offers for a location.

As a company that is hyper-focused on providing the best experience, we also want to make sure the consumers redeem the deals they purchase.  For those that opt-in to our email list, we will send a reminder.

We also want to make sure the merchant is prepared before a consumer walks into their shop, so our head of sales Cindy Hewitt has put together a comprehensive training and support program to help the merchants provide the best in-store experience.

We’re Entrepreneurial

What first began as a conversation several months ago with our CEO/Founder Alex Algard, Board Director Will Griffith, colleagues Joe Heitzeberg and Jason Milstead is now a new and fully staffed service.  Our board and leadership team funds ideas and then we empower our sprint teams as self-run start-ups to move quickly.  Eliminating the need for executive review allows the team to focus all resources on the quality of service.

Work With The Best People

The DealPop team puts their heads together.

In order to empower a team, you have to hire the right people.   We selected experienced A-team players that know how to create mainstream consumer services and have a deep understanding of both online and local.    The launch team, some of them featured in the picture, (and in order of when they joined the project) includes Troy Morris, Julie Pitt, Elizabeth Rogers, Cindy Hewitt, Travis Pearl, Bobby Cox, Rebecca Carroll, Aaron Oak,  Thaddeus Gunn, Melissa Bower, Roger Rignack, Drew Hackleman.  We have a lot of fun teasing each other and finding humor in every situation.  Julie has a laugh all of downtown Seattle can hear,  while Troy is determined to create a promotion that involves him wearing a Gorilla suit .   If you don’t have a team that enjoys working together, you can’t build something fun for consumers.

Our fantastic marketing maven Liz Powell is already building a great media buzz, following on the footsteps of the recent press she secured for WhitePages in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.   Just check out the Twitter and Foursquare stream of Marie Langhout and you can see she has been to almost every bar, salon, and restaurant in Seattle .  Marie is  building a great presence for us on Twitter and Facebook even before we officially launch.

Finally, Susan Fincher from our HR department stepped in to help with recruiting and developing interviewing process to make sure we continue to hire the best people as we roll out to more markets.

One Mission, One Team:

In addition to a great DealPop team, we have leveraged the talent and resources of WhitePages to launch DealPop.  Our finance head Suki Hayre and legal counsel Jolene Marshall helped us navigate through a lot of details to make payment simple and easy for consumers and merchants.

This was not a secret project at WhitePages, we had several open “brown bags” and reviews to get  feedback and input from our colleagues.  Every sprint team and business unit helped with ideas, advice, and work – and all the critical components needed to provide the best merchant and consumer experience.

We will also leverage the +20m consumer reach of WhitePages and serve new customers because DealPop is built on the same principles we work by at WhitePages to provide consumers and merchants with more than just a good deal.

Interested in learning more? Head to our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And don’t forget to sign up at DealPop.com!

Follow me on Twitter: @knakao

Follow WhitePages on Twitter: @WhitePages

It’s dirty work, but we’re more than happy to do it

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It was an exhausting day to be sure, but after a day of attacking invasive ivy, blackberry, and clematis vines that were strangling the trees in Interlaken Park in Seattle, the WhitePages team had a lot to be proud of.  We cleared over 45 trees and six thousand square feet of overgrown hillside and placed mulch there to prevent regrowth until the Friends of Interlaken Park can return later this year to replant native, tree-friendly plants.  We joined over 9,000 volunteers county-wide on September 11th who participated in the United Way of King County Day of Caring, 2009 that helped 270 nonprofit organizations.

Paul rocked out to tunes as he fought the hillside tirelessly, and Devin, Greg and Kevin pretty much looked like they had been run over by a truck at the end of the day.  Somehow mysteriously, Andrea’s shirt managed to stay just-washed white.  And it was good to see that when our community calls, Zoe is willing to go without her heels for a day.  The next week, my arms still looked like I got into an alley fight with a cat (I did not heed the warnings to wear a long sleeve shirt, which clearly was in order given the blackberries).

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