After heaps of research and development, teamwork, and commitment to a shared goal, Ekos launched Ekos Order Hub, a digital portal that simplifies sales for alcohol producers, in early September.
Projects like this one don’t come to fruition overnight, however. Ekos’s product, engineering, and marketing teams worked together seamlessly to create a revolutionary product that helps to fulfill the company’s mission of helping craft makers do more of what they love.
We spoke with our product, engineering, and marketing teams to learn more about how the newest part of the Ekos ecosystem came to be — read on to learn more.
Why Ekos Order Hub? And Why Now?
According to Amanda Prokupek, product manager, Ekos Order Hub is part of the longtime vision of co-founders Josh McKinney and Greg Forehand.
“A big value of our company and our culture here is community and giving back, so there’s always been this future vision to have a way to connect different parts of the supply chain,” Amanda said.
Research into an ordering portal started long ago, Amanda said, with meetings at industry conferences over the last several years learning about distribution straight from the source: craft brewers of beer, wine, cider, seltzer, and kombucha. These makers also expressed a desire for a digital, customer-facing hub to sell their products.
“We started by talking to customers and learning what other tools they were using. We sent out surveys and we held one-on-one interviews with both U.S. and international customers to learn what their challenges were and where we could provide a service or a platform to help increase their sales and help them make more,” Amanda said.
Kassandra Costa, senior product marketing manager, partnered with the product team to research players in the market with similar portals. She looked into marketing activities, websites, news, and press releases for potential competitors to learn more about their pricing, how they promoted the product, its features, and what customers liked or didn’t like.
Then, Kassandra said, the product team identified the product’s mission and Kassandra worked with them to define its unique position in the market.
“We had quite a few interviews between the product team and the marketing team with customers to ask them what they value about an order hub, what features they would find important, what would really help them, and what they care about in the distribution process,” Kassandra said. “We wanted to talk to customers so they feel like they’re being heard in the process.”
It’s All in the Timing
The COVID-19 pandemic created a block for putting out something new when most makers just needed support.
“When COVID hit, there was a lot of pivoting in terms of what services and products to provide,” Amanda said. “It put a halt on that research project as we really listened to the market on how we could help them do more self-distribution or self-promotion.”
This summer, however, seemed to be the right time to begin looking forward, as alcohol producers began to do the same.
“We really started to look at how we can get our customers more involved with their distributors and go back into that distribution model of connecting them with wholesalers and the retailers in their region or even across states,” Amanda said.
With a decision in July to forge ahead and create Ekos Order Hub, the company had their work cut out for them. Not to mention the ambitious deadline to launch this hub by the 2021 Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) in early September — if you were counting, that’s three months.
“I think we were able to meet the aggressive timelines that we set out for ourselves based on the passion and the drive of the team,” said Greg Munson, senior director of software engineering.
Greg’s first week with Ekos was during the product’s first development sprint, and he wasn’t sure that a September deadline was achievable. But, he said, the company worked together with one end goal in mind, and that’s what got everyone to the finish line.
“We shared a lot of late nights and weekends and sacrifices,” Greg said. “But it was all on the team’s own volition. They really wanted to hit these dates, and we knew we’d have another year before we get another chance like this. The success of Ekos Order Hub from a development standpoint is a testament to the hard work and drive of the team — from product to engineering and quality assurance. All three really rallied together to get that done on time.”
What’s In a Name?
The devil is always in the details, and naming this product was no exception. This process, which Kassandra led, was meticulously crafted to stamp the right name on this idea.
First, she said, the team held a brainstorming session and came up with close to 70 names, after which she looked into trademarks, effective URLs, and competitors’ product names to shorten that list to five. Then, she conducted interviews with customers to understand whether particular names they had in mind aligned with customers’ visions for a product like Ekos Order Hub.
“What we heard from customers was that the name should explain what the product does,” Kassandra said. “It needed to have the word ‘order’ in it and they liked the word ‘hub’ because they felt like it kept them at the center of it all.”
So, Ekos Order Hub was born. Launch day commenced September 9, the day CBC started, meaning that much of the team who made this launch happen were heading out to Denver with a pocket full of optimism that all their hard work was worthwhile.
“My flight on the way to CBC was the day that we sent out the announcement to the industry about Ekos Order Hub,” Kassandra said. “I purchased the in-flight internet so I could watch because there was so much excitement happening. As soon as it went out, we started hearing from customers that they loved it, and that only continued at CBC.”
The Results Roll In
In Denver, customers flooded the Ekos booth all weekend. Brewers made appointments to come back and talk to Ekos’s sales team because there was no way to keep up with the number of customers approaching the booth and excitement was floating all weekend.
“It just made everybody so excited to know that what we built and what we worked so hard for was something that actually was speaking to our customers and that they actually were excited about,” Kassandra said. “We were able to put together something with all this research and with the whole team coming together that really did make the customers excited, and really did make a difference in the market immediately.”
Meanwhile, Greg and his team were back in Charlotte and dying to know whether their work was worth it. As it turns out, it was. The team watched Slack message after Slack message roll in sharing the excitement at CBC, and he says there were even a few deals done straight at the booth.
“Those were really awesome moments for us from the engineering and product teams because we were actually able to see all that hard work and sacrifice pay off,” Greg said. “Nothing is more rewarding than having a new product launch and actually seeing that you’re meeting a market need and a market demand.”
Amanda noted that the response to Ekos Order Hub was even more impressive after the team launched a new interface, Ekos Boost, earlier this year. Having two big launches in one year is a huge milestone for the product team.
Signing On With Success
Since CBC, Amanda’s team has launched five customers on Ekos Order Hub with three more coming next week, and she said the customers have been impressed with how well Ekos Order Hub integrates with the rest of Ekos’s software.
“When you update inventory or update a product to show on your Ekos Order Hub, it automatically comes up,” Amanda said. “A lot of the reactions from customers are ‘Oh, that was fast.’ It’s really awesome to see that we can build products that sit outside of Ekos, as well and really expand our product lines to support multiple functions of the supply chain.”
Plus, according to Pat Hammer, product owner, onboarding has been a breeze due to how well Ekos Order Hub was designed.
“Amanda onboarded one of our breweries in 17 minutes,” he said. “The customer was onboarded and good to go, all of her questions were answered, and she was very happy about everything.”
On to the Next One
Amanda’s team will now focus on supporting Ekos Order Hub, gathering additional feedback from customers, and prioritizing features on Ekos’s roadmap
Greg’s engineering team will be able to work new enhancements into Ekos Order Hub easily because of its continuous integration and continuous delivery architecture. This means that his team can update the product from their end without customers experiencing disruptions to service. This allows his team to be super responsive to customers and will provide an excellent framework for improving the core Ekos product as well.
This project was a testament to the determination and resiliency of the Ekos team according to Amanda, Greg, Kassandra, and Pat.
“This is one of the most talented groups of not only engineers, but product and cross-functional teams I’ve had the privilege of working with,” Greg said. “It was tough, but nobody complained, everybody knew there was a job to do and a timeline to hit. I’m so proud of the team’s hard work, dedication, and positivity throughout.”