How Westhill rebuilt operations to shift 60% of engineering time towards their roadmap
Table of ContentsAboutThe technical costs of a three-sided marketplaceSearching for an integrated solutionExpanding scope to include external interfacesImplementing an external facing UI for policyholdersBuilding an operationally capable internal admin UINavigating authentication for internal and external usersResults
In early 2022, Westhill was spending 60% of engineering capacity on internal tooling for its three-sided marketplace. Operations were critical to how a marketplace runs–but costly. This technical cost hampered the company’s time to market in an increasingly competitive environment.
Westhill turned to Retool to dramatically accelerate internal tool development and transition away from building tools from scratch. With Retool’s component library and granular permissions, Westhill found themselves adopting Retool not only internally–but also externally for its customer-facing apps.
Engineering increased roadmap velocity as it shifted 30 full-time engineers away from internal tooling projects–over 60,000 engineering hours–to focus on other parts of the business. Technical operations spent less time on escalations. And product development rapidly prototyped and brought new products to market.
Westhill provides an end-to-end home repair experience, from insurance claim to repair completion. Instead of just receiving a check for a claim–like a flooded basement–policyholders can utilize Westhill’s platform to find a contractor and complete the repair.
It’s a fully digital experience run by interfaces for internal and external stakeholders, including: internal operations, insurance carriers, policyholders, and contractors. To get here was no easy feat for engineering. It took two iterations over the first few years of the company’s life to build out the array of experiences.
After the last round of enhancements were pushed in 2021, it became clear to engineering that the homegrown solution carried significant technical cost. Mike Madison, VP of Product and Principal Engineer, found that 60% of engineering capacity was spent building and maintaining this operational toolset.
This included cycles spent iterating on interfaces, and dealing with technical issues in the backend that degraded performance. In an increasingly competitive environment, the company knew it had to increase its roadmap velocity and deliver much faster.
Mike and his team landed on Retool because it struck the right balance between speed and flexibility. "Retool enabled us to get to market faster with the best build speed out of the box, while still providing enough flexibility to get down to the code when we wanted to." Engineering could stay high level or dig deep to create custom components, custom user experiences, and custom logic.
The ability to customize made the switch less daunting, especially coming from a solution that was entirely custom-built. And with a looming migration from AWS to Google Cloud, the fact that Retool integrated with Google Cloud on the backend made it possible to undertake both efforts simultaneously.
The initial plan was to implement an on-premise instance of Retool internally for operations teams to manage support inquiries related to repair projects. External interfaces for contractors and policyholders would continue to utilize traditional development teams.
But about a month into the project, the engineering team found themselves involved in a separate proof-of-concept product for another vertical within the business. Retool immediately came to mind for its speed. “We realized we could save significant time and effort on the user management experience—from user registration, to user authentication, and forgotten password flows—versus building that toolset ourselves with traditional code.”
With engineering time so precious, and the competitive landscape evolving, it became difficult to rationalize building any interface from scratch. So Mike and his team modified the initial scope of the Retool project to include porting over external interfaces.
The core stack wouldn’t change with the expanded scope. All interfaces would be built on top of Retool and communicate to Google Cloud through a combination of GraphQL, Rest APIs, and also directly to a Postgres database via Retool.
And—most importantly for customer-facing implementations—this would be done while maintaining the look and feel of legacy custom builds: “We’d be able to use Retool's CSS branding, theming, custom components, and HTML controls to customize the look almost exactly like we had it when we were building in React and Angular”.
The true test for implementing Retool externally was the policyholder experience. “Other interfaces like the contractor interface were more straightforward. But the policyholder experience is a B2C type interface, so this was the one that we really wanted to make sure that we could get right, make it look good, and carry over the formatting and design that we had previously over into Retool.”
This consumer-facing interface is the primary touchpoint for policyholders to manage the insurance repair process. Here they can choose a verified contractor, and understand exactly which stage the repair is in. The page displaying the repair stages is smart enough to update depending on where in the workflow the project is in.
Custom modules and logic give Mike and his team control on the content that’s displayed–from visual elements like the checkmarks, to full text description details: “We're basically able to create one custom module inside of Retool and re-use it over and over again with different logic built into each one depending on the specifics of that workflow step, and when that step should be displayed.”
A fully featured internal admin UI was built on top of Retool for internal operations at Westhill. This internal interface includes a running list of insurance repair projects, their status in the project workflow, and operational capabilities—like assigning contractors.
The last piece—assigning contractors—was one of the most common operational challenges. “Assigning contractors required constant attention from our level two engineering support team. Now our level one frontline operations team can go in directly and make these changes. This has given us the opportunity to take a lot of the very expensive operational troubleshooting and data change/data correction scenarios that would pop up, and enable the operations team to do it themselves inside the UI.”
Mike and his team were also able to customize the projects table with their own HTML, and optimize load times when filtering for particularly large datasets. For example, a dataset of metro service area listings contains 40K rows. So Mike incorporated lazy loading to only load the data as the user requests it. This approach was carried through to drop-downs across various deployed pages.
With Retool creating a dramatically faster development cycle, Westhill could redirect its engineering efforts to other parts of its roadmap: "Using Retool has helped us refocus 30 full-time engineers away from internal tooling projects to other parts of the business—that’s over 60,000 engineering hours and well over $5 million dollars in headcount that we’ve unlocked for the business.”
This had downstream effects on product development–from product discovery to user stories: “We had a few cases where we worked with an insurance carrier partner who needed an additional feature. We prototyped it, they gave the thumbs up, and engineering made the backend change.”
Retool enabled Westhill to be more efficient and increase its roadmap velocity—ultimately giving Westhill an edge in a market that’s constantly evolving.