I am writing this post not because there is any breakthough innovation here, but because it needs to be said. The world needs more hackathons.
I recently participated in my first hackathon at Hackday.tv which was an amazing experience and then more recently attended the demos for the HackNY Fall Hackathon. Two very awesome experiences that helped me realize why this post needs to be written.
Hackathons embody everything that is fantastic about the tech startup world. A bunch of people coming together, taking time out of their day, and building something awesome just for the sake of building something awesome. But there are some amazing side effects and benefits of hackathons that justify the time and energy spent organizing and participating in these events.
Hackathons provide the forum for individuals and teams to come together to make innovation happen. Creatively building new ideas out of nothing and tackling problems that just need fixing to create fun and revolutionary things is what this is all about.
One thing that is very clear is that innovation is the only way we are going to pull ourselves out of this economic debacle we are currently facing. Instead of protesting to Occupy Wallstreet, support a hackathon. Action. Boom.
Most hackathons take place over a short period of time — 24 hours or a weekend typically. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for messing around with stuff that isn’t critically important. There’s no time to create a major market analysis to determine if the product is viable. There’s no need to bring in highly paid consultants to do a study of the opportunity. You build a product. You present it to the audience and judges.
This is the minimum viable product theory at its finest. No messing around with nice-to-have features and fancy powerpoint presentations. It is just core product and instant feedback. Results. Boom.
This doesn’t apply to all hacks because some people choose to work alone and still build some incredible things, but for the most part, hackathons thrive because of teamwork. Working under tight timeframes requires everyone to do their part and be able to assemble the pieces in an orderly fashion.
But the teamwork doesn’t just come from the team working on the hack. It comes from everywhere — the event sponsors, the companies promoting their APIs at the event, even the other teams are willing to help. Coming from the cutthroat banking world, it is a welcomed change to see teams helping other teams even though they are direction competition. Collaboration. Boom.
As I said before and we all know, the world needs more hackathons.
If you are a team working on your first startup, participating in a hackathon should be a requirement. You get to see what your capable of, explore how well you really work together, find your strengths and weaknesses. It’s an invaluable experience for new teams.
But the greatness of hackathons should not just be limited to startups. Corporate America doesn’t realize how much they could benefit from having their own internal hackathons - straight up Google style. Giving some freedom to (new) employees to explore creative solutions to company-related problems is a great way to challenge and motivate employees, get a fresh set of eyes on old problems, and most importantly innovate.
Whether you are a bright-eyed entrepreneur eager to show the world what you are capable of or a senior executive in Corporate America, there are some incredibly positive lessons to be learned and benefits to be reaped from the importance of hackathons.