If You Can Dream It You Can Build It

by Rob Caldecott

Posted March 23 4 min read

We all have those ideas in the back of our heads, often they come to you in the shower (there’s actually some psychological theory behind that!), but rarely we get the chance to turn them into a reality. Back in 2015 I was given just that opportunity – at work – when we announced we would be holding our first CDK Global Hackathon.

So what was my idea? Having worked in automotive technology for 25 years, and as the owner of an automobile myself, I noticed that there was an opportunity for our customers to embrace mobile technology and be more transparent when completing a vehicle health check using our products. When the garage calls to say ‘you need a set of new tires and a new exhaust’, wouldn’t it be great if they could also say ‘let me show you’? And so DealerTube was born.

But was it possible to build an App in just 24 hours? I gambled yes, and set about assembling a team of wizards, enter Ramona Markova & Steve Powell, based on the three things I figured we’d need to build:

  • The client App (the bit on your phone)
  • A video server
  • A customer email

We wanted to build a fully working demo of the product, which involved recording a video, uploading it and actually sending out a real email. Oh… and we wanted it to run on any modern mobile device and the email itself needed to look amazing.

So how did we do it?

We used this as an opportunity to use the latest and greatest technology to build the project components. That’s the beauty of a Hackathon - you can play with new toys! I built the mobile App using JavaScript/HTML5, Steve built the server using NodeJS and Ramona built the email template using CSS3 and SASS (all these things are very cool!). 

Oh, and we needed a fake dealership for the demo so Ramona came up with ‘House of Cars’ and created all of the branding from scratch. It looked awesome (and it actually looks better than most branding you see at a real dealership!).

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What made this work was that the three members of the team could work on their parts of the project independently of each other. Well, more or less: there was some wiring required towards the end but the guts of the project were carried out via three separate tracks.

Everything went smoothly. And no-one needed to stay up all night. But we did take advantage of the free food and my waistline is still showing signs of all the chocolate I consumed (!!). 

The result?

The demo went without a hitch and the judges seemed to like it because they crowned us the winners of the Hackathon….yes that’s us with that tacky trophy! 

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But our story doesn’t end there. The next step was turning it into a real product and for that we actually needed to wire this thing into our very own Dealer Management System, Autoline Drive. As we kept things super-simple this integration only took a few days and in May 2016 the application went into pilot at a large dealership in Kent, officially going live with a VW dealer in Canterbury, UK on Thursday 5th May 2016. 

Sure, there were some tweaks and polish required before getting the App into production but what is being used today is effectively the same product we built in that 24 hours…And the customers using it are recording around 500 videos a month (per dealership). Not too shabby for something that was built by a handful of people fuelled entirely by Diet Coke, Skittles and Dairy Milk chocolate (other brands are available)

The most important thing of all? We had FUN building it. It was a total blast. The atmosphere in the room was amazing: everyone involved had a great time, got to play with some cool new stuff and we ended up with a smart new product. 

If you’re interested take a look at a video made of the event. Yes, I really did say ‘I was like a kid at Christmas’.

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