This startup hires hackers to build apps

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Hackerbay’s story begins with foosball. But it’s not the typical story about foosball tables and startup culture.

It starts with Twitter hiring the four founders to digitize a foosball table in their Berlin office: Every time someone scores a goal, a tweet should go out automatically.

With the help of sensors, the founders made it happen in 24 hours.

Programming is nothing new for the team of four. Before starting Hackerbay, Christian and Michael Strobl, Marc Seitz and Tobias Jost were organizing hacking games and managing a Hackevents website. But it wasn’t until they worked with Twitter that things really started moving.

“We noticed how much fun this is, through our contract with Twitter,” said CMO Tobias Jost.

This inspired the team to launch ‘Build me this App,’ in January 2016. The contracts they received further propelled the four programmers into the hackathon network. “In the beginning it was a simple, disgusting agency business,” Jost said.

During this same time period, the founders were keeping a close eye on their competitor Gigster, a startup backed by Y-Combinator, that set out to change how apps are developed by leveraging a network of programmers and fixed rates.

As Hackerbay’s founders searched for investors in Germany, they also started looking at NFX, a US-based accelerator backed by Greylock.

“We hacked into the program, reset the password – and then told one of the NFX partners,” Jost said. The partner, it turns out, was impressed with the “four crazy German guys,” and offered them a spot in the program.

Hackerbay withdrew from other opportunities with German investors and in May 2016 they went to the US for several months. The accelerator provided 250,000 USD for seven percent of the company’s shares.

A first draft in 24 minutes

The US was a wake-up call. “Our mentors dismantled everything,” Jost said. In three months, the founders adapted their business model over and over again. But finally, Hackerbay launched with a new approach: Deliver an app draft, or mockup, to clients as quickly as possible.

“We manage to deliver the first designs within 24 minutes using a high level of automation,” said Michael Strobl.

A recent example of this is when Mobile.de asked for a mockup chatbot, Strobl said.

Hackerbay drags designs from the autoportal website and uses different templates to build the app’s design, providing an idea of what the chatbot could look like.

“People are still needed for the text and other intermediate steps,” Jost explained.

If the customer decides to move forward with the app, Hackerbay searches for a team capable of developing the project. They select from a network of 1,600 programmers.

“We want to set ourselves apart from suppliers, like Gigster, with our quick prototyping,” Jost said.

Hackerbay has completed a total of 36 projects this year. Their customers included big names like Twitter, Facebook and Lyft. Hackerbay developed a live-ticker for the UEFA’s Champion League final. Startups in Germany are also turning to Hackerbay.

Focusing on the US market

The average price for a fully-developed app is 15,000 euros, Strobl said. Far lower than normal market prices, he explained. The startup takes 20 per cent of the total amount and the rest of the money goes to the freelance programmers. Fair payment is important to them, Strobl continued. “The programmers are all super intelligent. If we rip them off, they’ll be gone,” he said.

Since completing the accelerator program, all four of Hackerbay’s founders chose to stay in Palo Alto, to focus on the US market. “Companies are just simply more open to such new models,” Jost said. The company has seven employees based in Berlin.

In 2017, Hackerbay hopes to collect around 2.5 million USD. They are currently talking with investors in Silicon Valley.

“Social Capital said we need to have 3,000 USD of net sales per day for us to be interesting to them,” Jost said grinning. “We’re working on that – and we’re close.”

A black sign with this number is hanging in their office.

And the founders have already played a trick on Gigster: They secured the startups Twitter name. They plan to string along Gigster employees with funny news articles, Jost said. Humour fitting for a hacking startup.

This article was originally published on Gründerszene.

Photo via christiaan_008 via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA