Keepabl – building a GDPR compliance SaaS startup in under 3 months

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was set to come into force in May 2018.  For months beforehand, organizations were very worried about how to comply with a complex and, in places, ambiguous law.

From his 13+ years as General Counsel of growth companies, Robert Baugh knew first-hand that people didn’t enjoy being given compliance responsibility, particularly if they weren’t in the Legal or Compliance team.

From his experience in SaaS and implementing risk management and compliance programs internationally, Robert believed most of the GDPR headache could be solved with the right SaaS solution.  A good PraaS solution (or Privacy as a Service as Robert calls it) would take the fear away for generalist business people, helping them get their organizations ready for G-Day and stay compliant afterward.

Robert started consulting to test his hypotheses.  He quickly confirmed the need for a simple-to-use PraaS solution, based on the tools he’d created and iterated with customers, and his experience at the coal-face. This is when he turned to Spark Solutions for help, and Keepabl was born.

The Challenge

Building an app is not easy if you’re already running a fast-growing, full-time business and you have customers to take care of. First, you have to figure out what kind of talent you need, find it, and then create a team. That, in itself, can take months. Plus, you need the expertise that will allow you to build a digital product from scratch. Doing this on your own can be a daunting task, which is why finding the right development partner can make all the difference.  And with 25 May 2018 rapidly approaching, speed was of the essence.

Project Goals

  • Turning Robert’s vision into a SaaS product
  • Defining an MVP by prioritizing features
  • Designing the UX and look of the application
  • Launching the MVP from scratch

The Solution

Thankfully, Spark Solutions had a knowledgeable team in place that guided Robert through the design, build and launch process. The result was a fully functional MVP in just under 3 months. Keepabl’s PraaS (Privacy as a Service) solution, at launch, was capable of assessing an organization’s GDPR readiness, mapping out their personal data flow, and generating needed and valuable automated reports based on the information entered by the user.

More modules have already been added, customer feedback has been integrated, and there’s a fast-moving product roadmap bringing more relief to stressed-out organizations. Thanks to Keepabl, data protection, and GDPR compliance becomes a breeze.

Turning Spreadsheets Into a SaaS Product

Robert had already partially automated his GDPR compliance processes. However, having to go through detailed spreadsheet questionnaires took quite a bit of time, and wasn’t the best customer experience.  It needed lots of in-person interviews. The PraaS solution had to be as self-serve as possible, built for the generalist, not the specialist.

The first thing the Spark Solutions team did was hold a workshop with Robert in Spark’s Warsaw office, to take a look at how Robert was already working with customers and his tools, and break that workflow down into features that could be implemented in a SaaS product offering. This initial analysis phase was crucial for the entire project – a team’s interpretation of a customer’s needs can make or break an entire business.  Spark’s development team and Robert needed to share the same understanding of the issues faced by customers and how best to solve them in a SaaS world. An online, automated product should not be a literal translation of an existing manual workflow, and getting it right the first time is what Spark Solutions set out to do. After the workshop with Robert, the Spark’s team conducted further analysis on their own.

This analysis phase took roughly three weeks, and the most important outcome was a tech stack that would be simple enough to launch quickly, but also robust enough to scale along with the company. Ruby on Rails is at the center of the tech stack. It was an obvious choice, as it’s a framework created specifically for launching apps quickly and easily.

Spark Solutions techstackDefining an MVP, feature by feature

Once Spark Solutions had a clear idea of Robert’s goals, the team sat down and proposed an MVP launch plan. An MVP, or minimum viable product, has to be functional, able to give customers a chance to test the product and give the team feedback on how their product satisfies customer needs and delivers value (or where it’s falling short).

With Robert, Spark Solutions set out an MVP plan for the core features and benefits, namely:

  1. The BenchMark – a checklist to assess a customer’s readiness against the GDPR and UK e-Privacy Regulations
  2. Activity Questionnaires – created by users for every activity within their business where personal data is processed.  And the data entered into these Activity Questionnaires is then used to create…
  3. Keepabl Reports – a set of instant and automated reports, including Article 30 Records, that allow customers to keep track of all their processing activities and meet GDPR requirements
  4. File Library – a file repository that allows users to keep all their policies, DPIAs, processing agreements and other privacy documents in one place, allowing easy access across all departments and branches

Importantly, the architecture of the application not only had to support these features.  It also had to support Robert’s aggressive product roadmap to add modules through the year and beyond, once we felt comfortable that customers were happy with the MVP.

All of these features were reinterpretations of Robert’s manual workflow, optimized to work in a SaaS setting by the Spark Solutions team. The plan was discussed with Robert in a series of video chats and, once the team got his stamp of approval, they got to work on the next step – designing the product.

Features come to life

With the technical details dealt with, Spark Solutions were free to design the look and UX of the application. Based on Robert’s requirements and the user flow in the Keepabl spreadsheet prototype, the Spark Solutions Designer created a menu structure and mockups of all the screens within the application. The mockups were meant to showcase functionality, transforming a manual process into a clean interface and automated features. Thanks to the Spark Solutions Designer, Robert was able to get an idea of how the end product would look before even a line of code had been written.

The Dashboard
The Dashboard
Creating a New Activity
Creating a new Activity
File Library
File Library

The design phase lasted roughly 2-3 weeks and involved minimal input from Robert, allowing him to focus on growing his business back in London. Showing Robert the mockups in our regular video chat was the grand finale of this phase, and his approval meant the team could move on to the next one – coding.

Quick, Agile Development Process

When all the technical and design plans were set, the Spark Solutions team could start writing the actual code that would power the application. Using a modern, agile approach allowed them to cut down on development time and deliver results very quickly, considerably reducing time to market. With GDPR approaching, working quickly and efficiently was a must, and using agile allowed the team to meet the deadline. The mockups created by the Spark Solutions Designer served as a guide for coding both the front- and back-end of the application, as they created a base for the page layout and functionalities. Plus, they left the Spark Developers enough freedom to choose the best technical solutions for the problems to be solved. This particular phase lasted around a month and ended with the event everyone had been waiting for – the MVP launch.

The Dashboard - final look
The Dashboard – final look
Creating a new Activity
Creating a new Activity
File Library in use
File Library in use

The team worked in weekly iterations in an agile framework, using Pivotal Tracker to manage feature implementation. With each weekly sprint, Robert was able to see what had been done, check the progress in the application itself, and approve all work directly within the software. Additionally, the team held weekly video chats to discuss progress and ensure everyone was on the same page at all times.

Launch, Rinse and Repeat

Post-launch, the Spark Solutions team iterated the features and interface based on feedback from both Robert and his customers, and they’ve started on the roadmap, developing exciting new features within the app. With a steady stream of requests coming in, maintaining an organized process allows for quick turnaround and releasing new features each and every week.

Spark Solutions techstack

Plus, Spark Solutions provides (GDPR-compliant!) ongoing Business Continuity Support, allowing Robert to focus on business development and big picture thinking – leaving the day-to-day technology work to the Spark’s team. From customer support and relationship management, through to project management and quality assurance, the Spark Solutions team uses tried and tested solutions like Zendesk, Slack, Moqups, Google Suite, and Capybara to ensure the needs of Robert’s rapidly growing business are met.

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  • The Spark Solutions team guided Keepabl through each stage of the MVP launch – from planning, through building the app, to MVP launch. The team continues to support Robert and has implemented a GDPR-compliant business continuity plan, complete with user technical support, to ensure that everything goes according to plan. This approach allows Robert to save time that he can spend on taking care of other areas of his business.
  • Thanks to a rigorous process, the team was able to launch the Keepabl MVP in roughly 3 months, including planning, design, and coding.
  • The entire process is well-documented, with feature descriptions available in Pivotal Tracker, ensuring everyone is on the same page and has access to all technical information at any given moment.
  • Keepabl owns all intellectual property (IP) in the product and Spark Solutions is able to meet all contractual and compliance needs to keep Robert and Keepabl’s investors happy (he is a lawyer after all!).
  • The state-of-the-art tech stack will continue to grow and scale with the business.
  • The Spark Solutions team helped Robert turn working prototypes and manual processes into a simple-to-use PraaS solution with automated processes and reporting that reduces the risk of making mistakes, makes team-working straightforward, and delivers on Robert’s promise and delivers real value to customers.  
  • Customers across Europe are already using Keepabl’s PraaS to make GDPR compliance a breeze.  More is to come from Keepabl and Spark Solutions in the future, watch this space!
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