CreatorCon and the rise of DevOps

App contest entrants think big and code fast

CreatorCon Servicenow 2018
  • CreatorCon Challenge highlights the rise of machine learning, natural language processing and the Internet of Things
  • DevOps support in the Now Platform makes it possible to build apps in hours
  • Competition draws 250 entrants; finalists compete for $1 million in prizes

Software developers used to hack away into the small hours of the morning, fueled by endless supplies of soda and cold pizza. When their code builds were ready to test and deploy, they’d throw them over the wall to operations.

But life over the wall—where responsibilities include stress testing, integration, and debugging—required many of the same developer skills. That’s led many companies to adopt DevOps, an operational methodology where software is continuously updated and deployed.

This more collaborative approach to software development was on display at the CreatorCon Challenge, a developer competition for startups to build apps on the ServiceNow Platform. The latest release of the Now Platform supports DevOps, making it possible in a matter of hours to create apps that can have a real impact on sales automation, job satisfaction, safety, and other critical aspects of the work experience.

This year, 250 teams from 43 countries accepted the CreatorCon Challenge to build a commercially viable app within four months. The judges included ServiceNow founder and chairman Fred Luddy, GigaOm founder and True Ventures partner Om Malik, and Lighter Capital CEO BJ Lackland.

“These companies didn’t exist last year,” Karel van der Poel, vice president of next generation products at ServiceNow, said during his CreatorCon keynote. ServiceNow’s embrace of DevOps “is about building entire companies fast on the platform,” he added.

Three finalists advanced to the finale at Knowledge18 in Las Vegas. Each team had five minutes to give an overview of its business, followed by five minutes of questions from the judges. The winner was selected by the judges combined with the results of an audience vote. At stake: $1 million in cash investment and sales and launch support.

The competition

The first team up was Enable Labs, an Australian company that built an app to help improve construction‑site safety. The app, called Toolbox, makes sure workers have necessary certifications and keeps track of equipment maintenance, among other features.

One out of every 10 construction workers in the U.S. is injured each year, said Bruce Hara, the company’s managing director, which ends up costing companies billions of dollars. With Toolbox, he said, many of the accidents that cause injuries could be avoided. For instance, if workers scan a crane and the generator it’s about to move, Toolbox could alert them if the load exceeds the crane’s weight capacity. Eventually, the company plans to use machine learning to predict when accidents might happen, Hara said.

The judges questioned how realistic it was to think that Toolbox could predict accidents. Hara said that was the goal, but acknowledged that the system would need a lot of data from construction sites in order to train its algorithm.

The second team, Recruitlive, also from Australia, created a talent management system called EmployeeX. The system includes training, payroll, and performance management, which owner Sukender Jain estimates is a $14 billion market.

EmployeeX’s key feature is a chatbot named Rex, who remembers past interactions and knows individual preferences, like the time of day someone likes to travel. Rex makes it easy to find information and saves people time, Jain said.

The judges mostly questioned the company’s business model. One judge asked whether EmployeeX sat on top of existing HR systems or replaced them. The goal is to replace them, Jain said. He expects to grow by first targeting existing ServiceNow customers.

The last team up was SalesWon, a Virginia based ServiceNow partner that recently developed CRM and CPQ software for ServiceNow’s platform. The company is targeting existing ServiceNow customers that don’t currently have a CRM system.

Many of these companies use spreadsheets to track sales, said SalesWon CEO Jared Crowder. They generally don’t have a sophisticated tool to generate customer quotes. At the other end of the market, full‑featured CRM systems cost a lot and are too complicated for many businesses to integrate. That’s where SalesWon has a large opportunity, Crowder said.

The judges largely agreed. And after some deliberation and the audience vote, they awarded SalesWon first prize: a $250,000 cash investment from ServiceNow Ventures. Toolbox finished second, winning $150,000; third‑place finisher Recruitlive took home $100,000. The companies split $500,000 in sales and marketing support. Each of the apps will be published in the ServiceNow Store or distributed via ServiceNow’s OEM channel, giving these startups direct access to ServiceNow’s customer base.

SalesWon takes first place at the CreatorCon Challenge

Big breakthroughs

In his keynote, van der Poel pointed out that many of the CreatorCon Challenge entries took advantage of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language understanding, virtual agents and the Internet of Things.

These technologies, along with a host of others, are all maturing at the same time, and could lead to a new wave of innovations. “I actually believe we’re on the verge of a big breakthrough,” van der Poel said. “All our apps that we build in the enterprise were designed and built before these technologies existed. We have the opportunity to rethink every app ever built in the enterprise.”