Engineering Blog

What to Hack: Have you Asked your Customer Facing Teams?

tl;dr

Asking your CS and Sales teams to pitch hack ideas capitalises on everyone’s creativity and awareness of the business needs. Video pitches worked well for us.


During first hackathon we ran, which Dan Hough has written about, we simply asked everyone in the company to submit their ideas on post-it notes on a whiteboard and then elevator pitch to the dev team. This low-fi approach, though popular and fit for our first stab at a hackathon, had its shortcomings:

Our solution: record a video pitch of your idea under 2mins and upload it to Huddle so that everyone can see it and give feedback.

Creating a video required planning and thought over exactly what people wanted to pitch. It also had the side effect of getting people together to create it, and tease people to be creative and have fun while doing it.

As you’d expect there was a bit of initial friction. You need a certain number of videos up before the buzz starts spreading. So my advice if to decide to go with this approach is that you upload your own pitch as early as possible so people understand the concept and get excited. Also make sure you sell your hackathon vision to at least one person in each office, and then get them to be hackathon organizers with you. They will be able to highlight the potential culture differences, the challenges the local team has (maybe a particular time of the month is busier in that part of the world) and generally be the local drivers for involvement and excitement. Priceless when you’re trying to convince a 200+ people spread across 4 offices to record their face.

The videos turned out to be incredible, from simple selfie style talk to the camera pitches to elaborate props, stop motion animation, physical prototypes… Huddlers across the world went wild. People kept uploading new videos and sharing them with the whole company. Hilarious comments kept pouring in, including this one from our co-founder Andy McLoughling:

“HOLY CRAP!!!111!!!! Love it.”

The buzz reached its peak just before the deadline. We even ended up having people submitting 10 sec videos 1 minute just before the “watch the pitches event”: Nothing too fancy, just the dev team, and anyone in the London wanting to join in, watching the videos on a big screen over Friday beers. We then gathered around a white board and teams started forming around people’s favourite pitches.

We feel this approach worked reasonably well. The videos were engaging and fun, and video watching as you can tell from the pics was actually pretty entertaining (I was so scared it would be boring and anti-climactic!). Be wary of the “x number of ideas in 2 mins” type videos. They lead to exactly the same brainfart and too much choice problems the post-it notes on the whiteboard did.

Did you plan a hackathon recently? How did you decide what to hack?

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