[repost] How To Hold A Hackathon
[Note: This is a re-post of my July 3 blog entry which was lost in a server migration. Apologies!]
There’s nothing like a well-organized hackathon to bring together a group of talented individuals together to do new things, give them a daunting challenge, throw a few “hero’s journey” obstacles in their way, and wait for the magic to happen.
In the world of corporate innovation, hackathons have moved well beyond the technology-only focus that the word “hack” often conjures up. They’ve become a valid method of bringing a diverse and passionate group of people together over a short time to solve real world problems and/or produce a basket of strong ideas.
Today’s hackathon is no longer reserved for techies, programmers and coders. Rather, it draws designers, storytellers, marketers and entrepreneurs. The underlying premise is that creativity is a contact sport, and having dozens of talented individuals rub shoulders and put their heads together is bound to produce something profound. The only real requirement to participate is a passion for creating meaningful change. As URBANTIMES points out, “A hacker is someone with an all-consuming desire to deconstruct and recreate…to see new potential within something already established, often within the rigid confines of dominant culture.”
One of the best-run hackathons I’ve ever been involved in is Hackomotive, hosted and sponsored by Edmunds.com, the leader in the online automotive shopping space. For two years running, I’ve been fortunate to emcee the event.
Last year’s Hackomotive was held over two days, and followed a wide open format: participants first huddled around predetermined problem spaces, detailing as many issues and pain points. Individuals signed up for problems they wanted to tackle, and self-organized into hack teams. Teams presented their solutions late the second day. A panel of judges evaluated each idea against a set of well-defined criteria, and winners were declared.
While high energy, high enthusiasm, and high engagement characterized Hackomotive 2013, the Edmunds team decided to take this year’s event to new level. The event took on a distinctly more purposeful feel: far more purposeful, far more competitive, and far more productive, owing to several new twists.
First, it was extended to three days, and by application only. Second, it encouraged teams with ideas already under development to enter, and some form of prototype concept had to accompany a team’s application. Third, a series of “gates”–structured surprise challenges combined with a series of pitches designed to guide prototype development, replaced the single final team presentation format of the previous year. Finally, Hackomotive 2014 narrowed the focus from 2013’s entire automotive experience to just the car shopping experience, in keeping with the Edmunds.com corporate purpose.
Here’s a quick recap.
Not knowing exactly what to expect, a fair dose of shock and awe landed on the teams when they were presented with the first two surprise challenges: a 60-second, standup, no-prop pitch to the judges, followed by a one-minute video pitch later in the afternoon. Both challenges were intended to help teams clarify their message, leveraging a time constraint. The pitches ran the gamut, from rusty and raw to funny and fun.
Take a look!
The surprise challenge of Day 2 was a live-event version of Kickstarter: a consumer tradeshow allowing each team to showcase their idea before twenty consumers specially recruited and armed with $15,000 each in fictional dollars to spend as they wished on their favorite ideas.
Take a look!
During the evening between Day 2 and Day 3, several teams went back to the drawing board, with some completely pivoting to take a new direction based on consumer reaction, and others tweaking and enhancing their offering. Those pivots resulted in a surprise “dark horse” winner, taking home $20,000 and the chance to accelerate their concept by partnering with Edmunds.com.
Take a look!