Zapptales is a German startup that turns WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger conversations into digital and/or physical books.
This young German company understands the joy of treasuring moments lived over chat and allows users to create and customise books through their platform.
In January 2016, we were approached by two young Germany-based entrepreneurs
whose idea was to convert WhatsApp chats into books. They already
had an MVP with which they were earning their first bucks.
The zapptales web platform allows users to import their WhatsApp chats, and
edit them to their heart's content: changing colours, typographies,
reordering the messages, deleting unneeded ones and adding photos here
and there. These are just some of the things you can do with the online
editor built in the web application to create your WhatsApp book.
Their MVP was good enough to launch and test their business hypotheses,
but if they were to compete against real products, they needed a solid &
scalable solution. At that time, they had identified a couple of competitors in the
same field, and zapptales decided to invest heavily in building a more robust
web application to help their business to ramp up.
The goal of the project was to ensure a correct transition from a working
MVP to a real application without downtime, and releasing constant
improvements to the UX and the feature set for their customers.
The platform was built using Ruby on Rails, so we decided to maintain
frameworks are being used but mainly the platform was using AngularJS 1.x.
One of our current scheduled tasks is moving the AngularJS implementation to
This task will mean rewriting the whole frontend code,
as it is currently making heavy use of shared scopes - which goes against the
modern frameworks components model. We will, therefore, analyse more lightweight
alternatives like ReactJS or Vue.js.
The e-commerce engine is a Shopify, which is one of the largest and most-
reliable e-commerce platforms using Ruby. For the naysayers: Shopify
currently supports millions of transactions per minute with little to
no trouble at all.
We make heavy use of the Shopify API to provide a seamless
integration with the platform and we have never stopped working on
improving the checkout process. It's a critical part of any e-commerce.
From the engineering point of view, the most challenging part of the project was to ensure
uptime as close to 100% as possible in order to avoid sales dropping.
Downtime in early stage startups can kill the business, and even more
so in e-commerces.
Besides that, we also had to reduce the bottlenecks we found in the
initial MVP, in order to scale exponentially (for the always-wanted hockeystick growth!).
This was easy to achieve given that we were already working for high traffic sites
like Zinio or Wuaki or Naiz
that required a thoughtful analysis on performance and optimization
during traffic peaks and high-concurrency conditions.
Another challenging part of the project was to prepare the product
so it would scale as much as the business required. The initial MVP
was running on a single physical server, which was acceptable during
the product validation phase. But once we stepped in, moving to the cloud
turned out to be our main priority.
The process of parsing WhatsApp chats and generating the actual books
involves heavy usage of CPU and RAM. We redesigned the whole process to allow
multiple servers to work on those tasks in parallell and assign computational
resources in a smarter way.
The whole deployment, tracking and monitoring systems were rebuilt
so we could focus less on the operations part and concentrate our efforts
in developing new features.
With the distributed architecture we devised, our client was also able
to store all their customer conversations in a more secure and durable way,
while providing them with faster access to their PDF books across different
regions. Proof of that is that they have begun selling to many different countries around the world.
The platform is currently able to face a large number of book orders. However, our
work doesn't finish here. We are constantly analysing the platform's systems
and evaluating how we can make them more cost effective.
This is how a zapptales book looks like in real life
Another thing worth mentioning, is that books need to be printed. This has required
that we take physical borders into account and other relevant criteria when designing
the layouts of the books.
One of our frontend developers, Javier, used to work in a printing company, so he
knew the procedures & measures inside out, hence reducing the number of iterations
required to get it right when printing the books out.
Finally, WhatsApp are changing their platform constantly, as it
is a breathing product, sometimes altering the structure of their
chats and the messages. For instance, when they allow new file
types to be sent through their platform or that time when they
allowed human emoticons to have different skin tones.
We needed to react rapidly to these changes. This was done
by having a fluid communication with the zapptales team using
our shared Slack chat and touching base multiple times per week
when such changes were detected and there was a risk of not
being able to process chats for a limited amount of time,
thus potentially affecting sales.
Our relationship continues well after the first year and
looks like the future is bright for zapptales.
We are really happy to have helped them so far, and look
forward to working together for many years.