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Why we built Vacation Tracker – an employee attendance tracker

by Lav Crnobrnja Jun 21 2018, 7:35 pm

After 2 years of on and off work, as of today, we’ve finally launched the public beta of Vacation Tracker! Along with the launch, we’re publishing a short article about why we built Vacation Tracker and the journey we took to where we are today.

Vacation Tracker: The Journey is the Reward

The problem

When our company had 5 team members, it was really easy to keep track of our employee vacation calendar. However, as our company grew to 27 people, it became increasingly difficult to do leave management for our team. At first, we tried simple solutions like Google Calendar and Excel. And this worked for while but it became more difficult to manage as the team kept growing. The other problem was that Google Calendar and Excel did not notify our team when somebody was going to be on vacation.

Then we tried a few employee attendance tracker apps but most of the products we tried were overly complex. They also had a bunch of features that we did not need. We wanted something simple for our employees and managers to use.

We use a lot of tools in our company and we do not use any big HR software. So signing up for a web based leave tracker was just going to be another login that our team members had to remember.

Since we use Slack as the primary communication tool in our team, and since our CTO is a bit of a bot guru and was exploring Slack bots since they were first introduced, we decided that the simplest way for us to build our own leave management system was to build it directly in Slack.

The main problems that we wanted to solve are:

  • No new logins or tools for our team to have to use
  • Reduce the complexity of requesting and approving vacations
  • Making sure the whole team knew when people were off or when holidays were coming up in one of our offices
  • Management should easily be able to manage team members, vacation days, sick days and days out of office

And so our adventure began in August 2016, we set off to build the simplest possible employee attendance tracker we could make!

Vacation Tracker Version 0.1

The initial idea to build this ourselves actually came during an internal hackathon Cloud Horizon held in December of 2015. At the time we had a team of about 12 people and it was already becoming challenging to keep track of employee attendance. We were searching for an idea that we could do in 1 day and a leave management system seemed like a simple enough idea that 12 people could prototype in a day.

We ended up building a very crude web-based prototype of Vacation Tracker which more or less had all the basic features we needed but lacked any polish. But we completely forgot about it after the hackathon and didn’t end up using it internally. Then about 6 months later, when we decided it was time to finally start working on some real product ideas (see: introduction to Cloud Horizon and our journey in products), we decided to revive the idea of Vacation Tracker.

Two years of development

From August 2016 until about December 2017, we worked on Vacation Tracker in short bursts whenever we had time between projects. However, the company was so busy servicing our clients and building products for them, that Vacation Tracker was a bit of an afterthought during this period.

During the first year and a half, we developed some of the core functionality of the product. Initially, there was no bot, no website, very basic commands when you do /vacation and the business logic was not always working perfectly.

Then in January of 2018, we finally decided that we needed to start prioritizing Vacation Tracker. Not only was our internal vacation calendar still in Google, it was a mess. We had a hard time keeping track of who took how many days off out of their allowed leave time.

So we decided we would polish off the remaining functionalities and launch the closed beta in mid-February. Then, we would launch the public beta at the end of March. We have plenty of time to finish everything we said, this is an easy product!

All things are difficult before they become easy

Suffice it to say, you would not be reading this article at the end of June if everything had gone according to plan.

We did end up opening up Vacation Tracker to about 15 teams at the end of February. But we found out we were missing many functionalities required for us to have a polished enough product that we can call a “public beta”. Tons of small features and basic functionalities popped up, things like: multiple offices, time zones, unlimited vacations, notifications in Slack, holidays, subscription payments, invoicing, taxes, etc. So we spent the better part of the last 3 months getting the product ready for show time.

Launching Vacation Tracker

Launch

And this brings us to today. We are finally ready to unveil the public beta of Vacation Tracker. Almost 2 years after we initially started working on it. We made a lot of mistakes in how we approached this product. But we’re here and we learned a lot. At least we’re moving way faster on our second SaaS product!

But I digress. This post is about Vacation Tracker and the story of how it got to this point. We’re really excited to finally share it with the world and to start evolving it. We’ve tried to keep it really simple, maybe at times, too simple. So we would really like to hear from you about how you’re using Vacation Tracker and how we can make it a better and more useful employee attendance tracker for your team.

What’s next?

Now that the public beta has been launched, our goal is to finish a few things before we remove the word “beta” from Vacation Tracker. To see our roadmap, check out our public Trello board. We are optimistic we can get everything done by the end of the summer.

We would like to hear from you about the features you would like to see in Vacation Tracker in the next couple of months. One of the key areas we plan on focusing on is integrations. Please let us know which integrations would be most valuable to your team by emailing us at hello@vacationtracker.io.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading the whole article. Vacation Tracker is free for the first month so we encourage you to take it for a test drive with your team.

If you’d like to receive updates about our journey, sign up to the Vacation Tracker newsletter below.