My company uses automation everywhere: Here's 5 things I've learned
No-code automation tools are running wild at car subscription company FINN, with pretty cool results.
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Car subscription startup FINN is a shining example of what no-code can do for a growing startup. Automation tool Make has become integral to how the business operates. Here operations and automation manager Cornelius Schramm gives us the inside tip.
If you want to see an example of how to grow a startup using no-code, look towards FINN. The German car subscription company launched in 2019 with the aim of taking away the complexities of car ownership – taking care of all the usual admin and paperwork involved in owning a car while providing a seamless digital experience. And no-code tools played a prominent role in how the business scaled to over $100 million in ARR in 3 years. A combination of Webflow for their website, Google Sheets for their database, and Make to automate processes and sync data allowed the company to quickly make a website, get their first customers and raise some cash.
As the number of subscriptions has grown, FINN has reached natural limits on what certain no-code platforms, like Airtable, can do for their product. But no/low-code tools remain fundamental to how the business runs – particularly when it comes to automating processes for the operations department. And when you’re talking about car ownership, there’s a lot of process management involved.
‘Think of a car’s life-cycle,’ says Cornelius Schramm, operations and automation manager. ‘We buy cars from manufacturers, move them to physical locations, get them ready with registration and licence plates, clean them, organise delivery with delivery providers, offer 24/7 roadside assistance, process tickets and deal with problems. Then we take back the car, sell it, or put it up for a new subscription. [Automation platform] Make is involved in every one of those steps – that’s over 10,000 automation scenarios!’ With a background in data science and business, Cornelius started at FINN as an intern in 2021 working on process automations. Here he shares his key learnings from a company where working with no-code automation tools has become second nature.
1. The right tools feel like a superpower
‘It was quite stressful in the beginning. I’m an intern at this company for 3 weeks and I’m owning production processes that make a difference to what cars are on the website, what images are being used, and how things actually work on the back-end! But it was also incredibly fun and empowering. I was amazed the first time I used Make because it’s basically just visual programming with much faster implementation speeds. It allows you to knock out menial or complex tasks insanely quickly. It was a real ‘wow’ moment. If you’re tech-curious and able to learn quickly, it allows you to build and iterate on processes and workflows at rapid speeds.’
2. Some businesses are better suited to no-code than others
‘FINN is well suited to the use of no-code tools because it’s a very complex business, and it’s okay to sometimes use rather slow tools. Although you’re moving 10,000 cars, you don’t need to process millions of rows of data per second, like you would in a product-led company like Facebook. The value we create is being an engineer of efficiency in the old-school automobile market and creating a seamless customer experience. For us, there’s a lot on the operations side of orchestrating different service providers. Pulling data from one place to another and automating the operational grunt work of it. I don’t think every company will have that exact use case.’
'We have a culture of usage around these no-code tools: everyone has access to it, everyone is expected to learn. It’s part of the onboarding.'
3. Bake it into the culture
‘We have a culture of usage around these [no-code] tools: everyone has access to them, everyone is expected to learn. It’s part of the onboarding – we have an internal Make academy where, along with tutorial videos and articles, we present challenges for people to solve. It’s a very practical introduction.
Mistakes do happen, but we can recover stuff so quickly and we have a very helpful culture. The most critical core processes are owned by people who know what they’re doing. In the US there are maybe two to four people in charge of the business-critical stuff. The mentality is that it’s better to have a solution that works today rather than the perfect (or over-engineered) solution in four months. There’s definitely a mentality of: hire smart people, give them a lot of responsibility and they’ll figure it out. And it’s really worked for FINN; I think it’s been a tremendous success story.’
4. No-code remains useful for moving into new markets
‘In the US, because it’s a new market, we rely on no-code tools a lot. We didn’t try to implement the coded site from Germany that we have, because the philosophy is we want to be able to change quickly and have very fast iteration cycles to adapt quickly to different needs and constraints. What things are the same? What things are different? We use NocoDB for our database, which is like Airtable, but more scalable.’
5. Find a flexible, hybrid approach
‘At some point, you find an appreciation for the limitations of these tools that you don’t have at the beginning, whether that’s computational constraints or how many API calls you can process per second. But the really cool thing is that [with Make] you can then plug in something like a lambda function [with your own code] and continue processing.
You can get a lot further than you think you should be able to with these tools.
You can get a lot further than you think you should be able to with these tools. They can be used as a proof of concept machine and in iteration cycles, but once things are stable and they run, there’s no need to change until you really run into the limits of the tool. The direction we’re going in is that the core processes that are very stable will gradually be put into code. But we’re also trying to find novel ways to integrate code with low-code. Basically, this toolset will remain part of FINN’s tech stack forever.’
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