OfferZen Updates: How Make Events Help Us Have Meaningful Community Interactions Remotely

How Make Events Help Us Have Meaningful Community Interactions Remotely

By Ben Blaine

Over the past months, we’ve taken the Programmable Banking Community on an adventure to build self-watering plant setups. At a time where it’s difficult to get together, we wanted to create a space to virtually work on a project and interact more meaningfully. Here’s how we’ve done that, and what we’ve learned so far.

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At the end of 2019, we launched the Programmable Banking beta in collaboration with Investec. For the project to take off, we needed a community of developers to work with us to test the product and give us feedback. Luckily, people were excited, and we soon had a group connected to the API and building cool projects to manage their money.

We wanted everyone to share these learnings with each other, so we set up a weekly meetup where individuals could demo what they’d built and others asked questions. Here are some examples:

While these meetups were really inspiring, we soon realised that in order to create a true sense of community for our developers, we’d need fewer presentations and more interaction.

We wanted people to not only hear from each other, but actively engage, feel supported, and have fun.

Around the same time, our team in the Netherlands decided to host Make Events to start meeting more developers in Amsterdam. To mix in a bit of South African flavour, they learned how to build a WiFi-connected biltong maker. This proved to be a great way to bring people together in a low-pressure environment where they could connect with each other while doing something fun. This was exactly what we wanted for the Programmable Banking Community, so we decided to invite them to our own Make Event: Building self-watering basil plants!

We explicitly removed the focus on programmable banking – and thus on outcomes – to put the focus more on connecting with other developers and having fun with tech. It’s counter-intuitive but so far it’s been a huge hit! At the end of it, attendees walk away with new friends and an awesome side project to keep tinkering on.

Make Event 2.0: Build your own self-watering plant

We wanted to make sure that these events were as accessible as possible, especially while we were still testing whether developers in the Programmable Banking Community would find them useful.

That’s why:

  • The event was completely free: There was no ‘registration fee’, and all of the parts needed for the build would be sourced, packed and delivered by us.
  • It took place online: While this was necessary given the pandemic, it also meant that more developers from different parts of the country could attend.
  • It happened after-hours: We made sure to run the event in the evening so that everyone could wrap up their work days and spend some time with their families before jumping onto another Zoom call.

Next, we needed to figure out many details within the sessions to lower the barrier to building awesome things for the attendees. To get this right we did the following:

Worked out the right number of people and the right amount of time

We wanted the events to feel personal where everyone felt comfortable to interact and share their ideas freely. Too many people in one session would have made this hard. We were also aware of people feeling rushed if the event was too short, or bored if it went on for too long.

Got an expert onboard to guide the session

While the evening was about encouraging developers to learn together, we needed to have someone who knows a lot about microcontrollers at the helm to provide general guidance and keep everyone on track. When no one knows what they’re doing, the challenge becomes less fun.

Provided all the necessary parts

We wanted to make sure that everyone had exactly what they needed to take part in the event. This meant thorough research into all the parts needed to effectively build a self-watering system for the plant, as well as careful sourcing to make sure that everything we provided our attendees with actually worked. Because we opted to deliver the parcels ourselves, we also had to make sure that they were packed carefully so that nothing broke, and shipped to the right address. Packing the boxes ourselves also gave us the opportunity to have some fun with it, so we included some snacks and OfferZen swag to make our guests feel special. :-)

With everything set up and ready to go, we jumped into hosting our first Make Events with the Programmable Banking Community!

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Our key takeaway so far

Since our first Make Event in November 2020, we’ve started running them weekly.

This process has shown us that the key to growing a sense of belonging in a community is giving people access to each other in a non-transactional environment.

By coming together to work on a no-pressure project, developers who attend our Make Events said that they were able to meet people with similar interests to them and connect over what they find fun. They were also able to observe how others approach solving a problem and collaborate on finding the best solution together.

Having this sort of foundation is valuable for forming stronger relationships, and it’s these relationships that help spark innovation in initiatives like programmable banking.

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Next steps

Because the events have made a lot of people excited, we’re now running them every week. If you’re part of the Programmable Banking Community, it would be awesome for you to join us soon!


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