Saturday, January 25, 2014

Release the Kraken ... I Mean, The Hackathon

TheHackerCIO always wanted to say that, "Release the Kraken." So, now he got the chance. Actually, I say it each time I release the newly washed Chihuahua into the house, but that's a separate story.

What actually got "released", or kicked-off was a Hackathon. I must be the luckiest technologist in the world, because my company board actually backed my participation. It's a kind of sabbatical! But I'm not sure that it's at all a restful one. Of course, I have a lot of influence with the board!

The Hackathon this weekend is a Startup Weekend, and this one is centered around the theme of education.

I went, uncertain whether I would pitch or join a team. And, while I've done Hackathons, I've never done a one of the Startup Weekend variety. There were a few interesting twists and turns along the way, and I want to point them out, especially focusing on my reactions and impressions.

After pizza and coke, we filled into the room for the "Pitchfire" presentations. 60 seconds only is permitted to specify the idea. They suggested that the pitch cover these 4 things:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What problem are you solving?
  3. How will you solve it?
  4. Who do you need?
I'm not so sure that I agree with that list approach, but then the presenter/organizer went on to say that most people fumble #1, and waste too much time on it. And, as I've blogged before, I couldn't agree more. In general, I'd try to avoid #1 entirely, if possible, unless it somehow organically fits in with the rest as somehow relevant. But we can deal with that later. 

After this presentation they played a game of rock-paper-scissors, where the winners kept competing against other winners, and the losers followed along until there was a final winner. I hate crap like this, all psychobabble bullshit, trying to get people to "loosen up." 

So, I was less than favorably disposed when they began yet another game. This time it was called Halfbaked. But, although I went into it with a bad attitude, it turned out to be a good game. The purpose was to get teams used to thinking about how they were going to pitch things. Groups were formed, and two words at random were distributed to each team. Everyone got 5 minutes to come up with a product offering, using the two words. Ours were "Cocaine," and "justified." 

So, our group spent 5 minutes discussing this and we came up with the idea of "Ethical cocaine; perfectly natural; cocaine in the raw -- i.e., just the coca leaves, like the natives used in the Andes, as a stimulant, superior to coffee."

So, we thought we were set. But then, they made us exchange one word with another team. So, now, we ended up with "Baby" and "Cocaine." This was to emulate the "pivot," which is so central to the Startup world.  5 more minutes of discussion. For some reason, the team chose me to present. I honestly don't know how they could figure that out so quickly, but anyway, I did my best. 

Our presentation centered around "Cocaine, ... Baby!!!" A product for fathers with young newborns, who need to go a level beyond coffee." I'll try to post the footage later here. 

After these play pitches, I decided to go ahead and try to pivot my idea into the educational realm. The idea I had come with was a pure technology play. You read about it here, this week. I called it "DataStory." And, if I hadn't pivoted,  I would never have made it past the judging anyway, since "educational impact" was 25%. Remember, that the decision and ability to do this Hackathon was a last minute one. I barely had time to skim all the posted materials prior to arriving. And if I hadn't come up with an interesting idea on Tuesday, at the Geeky Book Club, I wouldn't have had anything to pitch at all! But that's quite in the spirit of Hackathons. 

I'll try to post the footage of my pitch later, and I'll analyze it for what was good and bad. Since I pivoted, I think I didn't do as well as I could have, but ..

Then we went into the foyer, and attempted to solicit votes for our teams. Only the top teams were allowed to compete. I managed to get 13 votes, indicated with post-its:

And that was enough to get into the running! So, I'll have to blog about my idea later, because for now I'm too tired. But tomorrow I'll continue this saga, probably many times during the day, so check back early, check back often, as I attempt to develop an MVP and code DataStory.

I Remain, Exhaustedly,


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