Behind Third Wave Wichteln

This year we started the second round of Third Wave Wichteln. André, Tho and me have been in constant exchange over the whole year to prepare this year’s coffee exchange. The first round was impressive and made us really happy. Although it has been quite rudimentary, it was a huge success and many people were really happy about it. Many but not all – I’ll explain this point later.

Several times we thought about repeating it earlier than Christmas. But finally we decided to only do it once a year. It should be something special and actually it is a hell of a lot of work. And this post is exactly about it. It’s not about receiving any pity. But about explaining some things and sharing my experiences.

Basically, I will tell you exactly how we realized the Wichteln. You might think we are crazy and any person can copy it but the person should better think twice before copying the idea, you still have a lot work to do.

Changes to 2013

At first I want to give you an overview about what we changed compared to last year. At first we set up a new website. Last year we “just” had the blog, a tumblr. It fulfilled its purpose but the limits for “designing” and “customizing” were to big, so we started the website.
The other thing is that we learned a lot from last year. Last time, we spent an entire weekend to mix the participants by hand and sending 360 emails with the addresses BY HAND. Honestly, I also think that we mixed up a lot and we made some mistakes. So, this year we wanted to automate the raffle as well as sending the e-mails. But this was not as easy as we thought.


The Website

So, what is the setup? As mentioned above we have the main information source – the website. Its purpose is to explain what Third Wave Wichteln is about and how it works. And it should look a little more serious or even “professional”. We handle personal data, so it should not look too fishy. I guess we achieved that. We bought the URLs and I still had some web space – so it was easy to set up the site. WordPress is still one of the best CMS and we all knew how to handle it, so we installed it. I had a rough idea how I wanted the website to look like. Mostly a single page with all information, just some separate pages for special issues.

I sat down and scribbled some ideas. Then I bought a theme, which would make it possible to realize my ideas without actually coding and customizing too much. Newave by clapat was a perfect choice. And the support by envato was excellent. I tried as much as I can to do by myself. I know basics in HTML and CSS but I reached my limits pretty soon. So, I asked the brilliant Martin for help and once again he did an amazing job. Most ideas were thrown over and we made the best of the situation we ran into. I guess professionals call it “agile development”. I am really happy with the result.

As I mentioned in the beginning, many people were happy with the Wichteln experience last year, but not all. That was because many people never received their coffee. We found out that some post and parcel services made problems as well as some customs. So this year we pointed out to use a customs sticker, to show that the content of the package is not too expensive and nothing illegal.

Google Apps

Last year we used the Google Apps (Google Docs) and Google Drive for the form and saving the contributions. Already last year I wasn’t too sure about using Google. As mentioned above, we handle personal data (names, addresses, email-addresses, etc.) and I really tried to find alternatives. But there weren’t. There aren’t any. Nothing that is as stable and easy as Google. And I must say Google is doing some pretty amazing work. You will see later why.

So, the form where people enrolled was a Google form, and the data that is collected automatically runs into a Google Spreadsheet. Then we split up the Spreadsheet into different smaller Spreadsheets: one international and several national ones.


Google Spreadsheets are amazing but they are not as advanced as Excel. We wanted to do the raffle automatically but it was tricky. We wanted:
a) that international people don’t send to or receive coffee from the same country like their residence.
b) that international people should not receive coffee from the same country where they are shipping to. (that was not always possible because way more US americans and Germans participated)
c) that national participants should not send to or receive coffee from the same city where they are from.
d) that national participants should not receive coffee from the cities where they are shipping to.

Tricky, but my good friend Alex did some crazy algorithms like  =WENN($A$1=”wahr”;ZUFALLSZAHL();ZUFALLSZAHL()+0,2or  =WENN(National!$A2=””;””;_xlfn.R($C2;$C$2:$C$500)) – So, after a few trials and errors Alex somehow managed it that a) b) c) and d) was fulfilled. So we exported all Google Spreadsheets to Excel, used the algorithms and imported the results back to Google.

Google Scripts

Sending the emails. A few weeks ago, I googled “Sending personalized emails with Google Docs and Google Mail.” I’ve found some results, so I thought it would work right away. I should have looked more closely because there are some major restrictions. Finally, I bought a script from a developer and professional blogger in India, Amit Argawal. This script, Merge Mail, connects your Google Docs (or Google Drive) with your Google Mail and lets you send form letters with personalized input. Because every single email of the 1580 needed to have a personalized address within. 

Google Mail only allows to send 100 e-mails per day, at least automated e-mails via scripts. So, 1580 participants divided by 100 would make 16 days. In order to speed up the thing, I purchased a second script for a second Google account. Now everyone should get his/her e-mail until the end of the week (but to make sure we say: December 15th)

I screwed up Merge Mail two times. One time I somehow messed up the script itself, so the first 100 participants in the list received their e-mails three times. And the second time I misspelled the personalized fields, so the content couldn’t get drawn from the Google Spreadsheet.

Keep People Updated

So far it has been a good amount of work, time and money we spent into the project. But here comes the fun part. It’s actually a part that many community managers will agree on. And I don’t envy community managers for their work. You actually deal with people. And people are sometimes irrational. At first they are not attentional or at least sometimes not attentional enough. You could write 1500 times how things work and describe it as detailed as possible, but there are still many people which will ask you how things work. And one main reason is because they are lazy.

At first we made one mistake and promised that we would send all emails until December 8th. But the amount of people and the limitations of Google Mail made us expand the e-mail sending until December 15th. We tried to communicate it as much as possible. We put it into the header of the website, we wrote some more information on to the “shipping information” page. And most importantly, we wrote it into the Facebook group. But there the real magic happens. One example: One person gets anxious alarming that he/she did not receive his/her e-mail yet. At first, before waiting for an answer, three other people get anxious and comment “me neither”. You calm down, take your time and comment that there were some problems and delays, so the e-mails will arrive until December 15th. 1 minute later another person comments on the same post that he/she also has not received an e-mail yet. That really is exhausting. But that is not enough. After 5 mins another person writes a post into the group and asks why he/she didn’t receive an e-mail yet. Like I said “too lazy”, people don’t invest 20 seconds to read either one comment or another post to get their questions answered.

Don’t get me wrong, I am really not complaining here. I am just overwhelmed and surprised how people behave. And sometimes I am afraid that people participated because they just read somewhere that this is a cool idea but have no idea what this project is about or how it works. It scares me that packages won’t arrive and people won’t receive their coffee because others are just too inattentive or too lazy. (And I didn’t even mention those people who can’t even fill out a form with 6 different input fields. They forget street names, just write in their first names, and put in their country twice without mentioning their city…)
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Here is the big “but” (not big butt). But all this is really worth it. Spending hours and days on setting up the whole thing. Spending money on servers, URLs, themes, scripts, pro accounts, etc. Spending even more time on answering requests, solving problems, answering unnecessary questions, etc. THAT IS ALL WORTH IT, when you read the Facebook posts, tweets, see the Instagram photos that are tagged with #thirdwavewichteln. People all over the world are curious, excited, happy about something you created. That’s actually really nice.
And of course it takes some effort making it possible for 1580 (!!!) people from 52 countries (!!!) to exchange coffee with each other. And at the same time I learn about CSS, HTML, Google Apps, Scripts, Excel, etc. Totally worth it.

And it would not be possible without people like Martin, Alex and Amit. The whole project would not even exist and would not be that successfull without Andre and Tho. Thank you all!

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Behind Third Wave Wichteln