SaaS technology has changed the way software is purchased, and now Zylo is changing the way software is managed. Zylo is a SaaS company that provides the leading SaaS optimization platform. More specifically, their software allows businesses to discover, manage, measure, and optimize all SaaS applications from one system of record. Zylo is based in Indianapolis, Indiana, and works with customers that are industry leaders in pharmaceutical, financial services, cloud consulting, and technology sectors.
I spoke with Ryan Carroll, VP of Engineering at Zylo, and Kyle Bowerman, Community Architect at Topcoder, about Zylo’s work with Topcoder, what it takes to be successful with crowdsourcing, and the importance of agility in design and development.
Crowdsourcing is more art than science
Ryan leads the engineering team at Zylo, which has quadrupled in size over the last year. He works closely with the services and sales teams to ensure that customer needs are met with new product functionality. There are always more requests than resources to get work done though, and that’s where Topcoder comes in.
“When we started out, there were just two engineers: a front-end engineer and myself. We leveraged Topcoder to build most of the initial MVP of the product,” Ryan says. “We’ve run close to 150 challenges.” Kyle and Ryan initially did much of the work together, with Kyle teaching Ryan how to run his own challenges through the Topcoder Community, but now Ryan only has to call on Kyle if he encounters something new.
“We often say that what we do is more art than science. It’s just kind of a gut feeling,” Kyle says. “There’s no formula to figure out how many submissions you’re going to get. With this, you have three factors: prize money, duration, and the scope of the challenge. And you can adjust those things — you can measure the prize and you can figure out how many days the challenge is — but there’s no way to compare how difficult this challenge is as compared to another challenge.” While clients focus on quality submissions and end results, experts on the Topcoder side (i.e., community architects, copilots, and reviewers) manage both the art and science of the process so clients don’t need to be experts in crowdsourcing.
Ideation and results in just days or hours
Asked about the benefits of crowdsourcing in general, and with Topcoder in particular, Ryan says, “It’s definitely the speed. We switched after months of doing five- or seven-day challenges to First to Finish (F2F) challenges. For someone who’s really impatient, as I am, I really like that we’re able to get through things quickly.” In keeping with the name, F2F challenges are speed-based challenges for binary tasks, in which the first person to submit a passing solution wins.
“I also like the idea of geographic diversity,” Ryan says. “With the Topcoder Community, there are no time constraints.” And though Zylo is growing their internal engineering team, they look forward to continuing to leverage Topcoder for proof of concept client work. For Zylo’s recent API project, they ran a challenge through Topcoder because they were working on a new way to build test data. Ryan says, “It allows us to ideate before we get started on an internal sprint.”
Crowdsourcing works for companies of all sizes
Today’s startups often have the budget for technology projects, but not the internal teams or time to devote to them. For evolving companies like Zylo, that’s where crowdsourcing comes in especially handy. It’s an ideal way for smaller startups to get work done — from initial ideation all the way to deployment. Through crowdsourcing, companies can tap into new skill sets and tackle multiple projects at once — without having to manage all parts of the process themselves.
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