How We Built a Slack Bot and Won Slack’s Best Custom App

Slack App - Hackathon Winner

Igor Boshoer May 18, 2020

This past March Slack hosted a Virtual Hackathon where the task was to build a Slack bot in a limited time frame, showcasing a novel use-case on top of Slack. To be precise, the language the splash page used was ‘a more modern and engaging’ app for our users.

We were given a week to go from idea to prototype to launch. With some nice loot to go after such as two passes to Slack’s 2020 Frontier Conference and $5,000 in AWS credits, we quickly got to work thinking about what our users would need.

I run a rapid prototyping-to-launch studio that hosts monthly meetups around the topics of SaaS, film, VFX, and entrepreneurship in general. Over the years I’ve grown the community to over 5,000 members in two cities (LA/ Bay Area) and despite weekly emails, I wanted a better way to engage with my community. My partner in crime, Will Chertoff, and our advisor Alex Haque, quickly conceptualized a few ideas: slack bot for meetups / slack bot to message users about meetups / slackbot to ping about meetup emails? Each idea seemed lackluster.

So we dug deep: what is the lightest touch point to get in front of our community? Something that doesn’t rely on our community being in Slack? Well for starters everyone has a phone. Everyone texts. Lightbulb moment: what if we could enable messaging our community right from Slack. Clerk.Chat was born.

Our goal over the next week was therefore to build a messaging system that enabled two premises:

  1. Communicate with our community through Slack
  2. Leverage Slack to communicate with a community, not within Slack

Generally 1. is handled by most people inviting their community to a Slack group to mediocre results. Just ask Jason Calacanis, he grew his Slack community to 10K+ members but the engagement is low and the conversation is noisy. There had to be a better way. Premise 2. leverage the convenience of Slack for our internal team management but stretch the limits of Slack by enabling outward communication.

So we got to work. Having built some small projects with Twilio, the infamous anti-telco that powers the SMS service used by Uber, Doordash, and more, we wanted to evaluate whether we could create connectivity between Slack and Twilio SMS. Luckily the Twilio API is well documented, robust, and easy to navigate. In fact, a quick Google search revealed that many teams prior to us had already built successful Slack + Twilio integrations. But what we found was that they all leveraged notifications as opposed to truly leveraging Twilio within Slack to recreate an authentic telephone experience. That is one where you could send and receive messages right from Slack. And even more essential features:

  • Group messaging
  • Auto-responders
  • Contacts Management
  • CallerID

Thankfully, the recently released Slack App Toolkit elevated the experience for building on the Slack platform through their new permissions models and new surface areas such as Home Tab & Modals – oh, and don’t look past the beautiful ‘checkbox’ Blocks! All this means that we could indeed build a Slack app that could recreate the look and feel of a mobile phone within Slack. At the end of the Hackathon, we had successfully deployed this Slack bot and we were ready for evaluation by the Slack Developer Relations team and the Slack judges (comprised of some incredible Slack staff).

After a few hours of deliberation and evaluation, we were thrilled to have been voted the Best Custom App for Slack 🎉 .