Why your company should sponsor a hackathon


hackingThough name.com can be described as a constant hackathon, last week we participated in our first ever official hackathon sponsored by Demand Media.

It went down something like this: Anybody who wanted to participate was given the opportunity to pitch an idea to the team. Sky’s the limit, anything inside or outside of our current industry/business was fair game. Pitches began Wednesday morning and shortly there after teams formed. We had 9 pitches all & all.

Teams went off in different directions and began hacking. We worked for the remainder of Wednesday, all of Thursday, and presented our ideas at 1pm on Friday.

Not only did we get some super solid ideas (everything from customer facing products to tools for our customer support team) but what we learned through the process has proved invaluable.

The hackathon was the biggest disruption to my usual workflow todate, in one of the most positive and productive ways imaginable.

What was different?

  • No formal meetings
  • No time spent in inbox or chat
  • One single focus & goal for the day
  • ( + awesome f*cking attitude)

I feel like I should charge for that advice. Seriously, it’s a winning combination. You’ll be amazed what you can accomplish when you give yourself the mental bandwidth to focus on one clear objective, with no distractions pulling you off that topic/project for the entire day. Once you’ve cleared yourself of interruptions and disturbances you’ll find that you can dig a lot deeper into topics/projects since you’re not constantly trying to bring yourself back up to speed on where you last left off. The thoughts start to flow naturally.

“Attitude is everything” as they say … and 3 days working with a team to bring an idea (that started out as a joke) to life, has proven to me that attitude really can be everything. The energy is contagious and gives the project a type of momentum you can’t pay for or make up. We all went home at night and couldn’t turn our brains off in terms of how to monetize our idea, what it should look like, V2 and V3 features etc. Attitude has to be organic and genuine for it to truly work, but you can literally watch it snow ball and take on a life of its own.

The Team dynamic:
Go-to marketing peeps sprinkled with a UI developer, 3x programmers and a systems guy. In one condensed discussion we covered what we hoped to achieve, how it should look, and how that works programmatically.  It was so brilliantly simple. We (name.com) have talked a lot about pulling together collaborative teams (someone from each department) to push projects forward but this felt like one of the few times in recent history that we genuinely used that method, and it felt gooooood.

It was also interesting to see how different people work together, who jives really well, what talents and personalities compliment each other, what tools people use and what resources they pull from. Different perspectives all working through the same problem from many different angles is powerful to see in action. No formal barriers for approval existed; it was based on group consensus and gut. We were therefore able to move fast and iterate as necessary, the way it should be! No barriers and therefore no paralyzation. Social proof, a quote from our UI ninja on the last day, “I feel so humbled to be a part of this team that has pushed so much forward in just a few days. it’s remarkable to be on a team that put aside egos to get a stellar app idea developed. We are a well-oiled machine!”

not complete w/ out the Canadian ClubWe even got a late night email after a glass of vino from our lead software engineer,  “I’m glad we all are getting to experience what we are doing with Spoo.ch and I quite honestly cannot think of a better group of individuals to put together and get something like this knocked out and accomplished. It’s what happens when a perfect storm of egoless ambition, know how, and quite possibly most important of all, a mutually shared excitement come together in the right place at the right moment. I’ve been there before and nothing feels better in terms of personal fulfillment and genuine tangible accomplishment.”

Lessons learned:

  • Empowerment: We are a super talented team that can do just about anything we set our minds to.
  • Attitude: It matters. A lot.
  • Shake it up! A diversely skilled group of people working on new and different ideas outside of their normal work flow is a recipe for innovation and awesomeness.

Part II:
The ideas!