What I Learned from the Reinventing Local Hackathon


This weekend, I participated in the Reinventing Local Hackathon sponsored by American Express Open Forum and General Assembly. The theme for the hacks was all around celebrating local communities and small businesses by creating location-based and offline-centric apps.

It was a very nicely done event, so hats of to the sponsors and organizers. The participation of the hackers was incredible with 27 demos showing off their handy work, and General Assembly was crowded beyond standing room only for the demo presentations. All around great event.

If you know me or read any of my posts, you know that I’m all about learning and improving. And this weekend was full of both. I wrote a guest post a while back on “The Importance of Hackathons" which is how I justify spending an entire weekend indoors on 3 hours of sleep.

I had the chance to work with an awesome team to build something really cool — Event Locally. While we didn’t win, we had a great time and built what I think could be the grounds for a very cool startup.

But beyond that, I had a breakthrough moment at about 1:30 AM Sunday morning (really Saturday night in my mind) that more than makes up for the lack of sleep. We were talking about our pitch for the demo and an entrepreneur who works at General Assembly was awesome enough to talk us through some ideas.

He showed us what he was working on as well, and I had to use every ounce of my remaining willpower to restrain myself from yelling at him. Many hours of hacking tends to lower inhibitions, but I was able to hold back.

He had been working on his project full time for over a year now and was “hoping” to launch by the end of the year. His site looked flawless and had a million cool features. He was clearly “one more featuring” the hell out of it. There are some great chapters in “Do More Faster" about this, and this page sums it up great.

I wanted to tell him to launch the site immediately and have some users start playing around to see how they use it, but at that point of the night I wasn’t mentally prepared for the debate that would ensue. When he launches the site, there is no question it is going to be full of cool stuff. I just hope that people find this cool stuff useful and engaging.

He really tipped his hand though when he said, “What you guys are working on is really cool. You could have this thing ready to go in 3 months or so.” I stopped and laughed a little on the inside because I was thinking like 2 weeks max to have people playing with it. He had already “one more featured” our fun little hack to death.

But as I was thinking about his situation and how easy it was for me to spot something that was holding this newly met stranger back, I became aware that there are things that I am doing that are holding me back. Sometimes, I am completely aware of these things and choose to ignore them. Bad John. It’s very arrogant and idiotic of me, but it’s the truth.

So, I’m going to spend some time this week coming up with a list of all the things that are holding me back (including the things I’m in denial about). Maybe this list will allow me to stop fighting myself. Thanks to everyone who was part of the hackathon for a great event and an excellent learning opportunity.