Monday, January 27, 2014

Notes on a Hackathon

Hackathons are about integrating Entrepreneurialism, design, and development in one highly condensed period of time. This last Startup Weekend was  a "themed" one, so that it attempted to focus all of that into "education" projects.

Startup Weekend has gotten pretty big over the years. The statistics they cited last weekend were:

  • 1250+ events
  • 556+ cities
  • 113,000+ attendees
  • 115+ countries
I already blogged about my "pitchfire" (60 seconds) pivot to education, and getting enough votes to get into the running. What happened next was the formation of teams. And here was a tremendous problem. Although I got votes, they were apparently sympathy votes, as I couldn't get people to join my team! I managed to get commitments from some members to spend part time on helping me out, while they worked primarily on other projects.

What made this all the more astonishing to me, was that I turned out to be virtually a lone developer! I only saw one other team actually working to develop a product.

So, I worked alone -- well, not really alone. I helped out the teams I liked the best (as an unofficial coach), and sat with one of them, while I worked on my own project. Unsurprisingly, I didn't get enough completed to demo it.

I actually surprised myself at how far I got. I think there were 7 hurdles to getting my project implemented, and I broke through 5 or 6 of them. If I hadn't already been tired going into the weekend, I could probably have pulled an all-nighter, and delivered. And I'm happy with that. It's information to put into my arsenal for next time.

I liked how the Startup Weekend organizers would periodically interrupt the Hackathon and require group leaders to give their pitch again. The practice and repetition led to better honing of the ideas.

So, I had mixed emotions about the final presentations.  To begin with, they had 4 minutes to present, and 4 minutes for questions. That's huge! And, not surprisingly, the presentations were very interesting and relatively good -- almost all of them. But when it came to the "demo", or the portion on which they actually executed, there was nothing but vaporware. I could have presented, if there was no requirement for an actual achievement. At the other Hackathons I've been to, everyone would have been disqualified.

I suspect that this is just characteristic of Startup Weekends. They are more concerned with Customer Validation, and putting together a good pitch-deck, than with actual development of a prototypical product. And all of that is good, but it needs to be married together with actual development. A real product needs to result from the work.

I Remain,


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