Unearthed 2016 Hackathon Recap
How I went from nothing but caffeine fueled motivation to (2x) crowd favourite pitch(es) with a (brand new) highly charged startup team, in less than 54 hours.
Just wanted to get that out of the way first up.
We all feel like we did, so let me tell you why.
What is a Hackathon?
A quick background first to keep everyone in the loop, a hackathon or startup-weekend attempts to piece together smart people, smart technology, and a rapid-traction format with ideas, business problems, or themes to quickly prototype and pitch a solution to a panel of judges.
The judges range from Internal Leadership within the Sponsor, to local Venture Capitalists all with varying backgrounds and angles.
Think of it like a local, b-grade Shark Tank. But don’t dismiss it’s “shabby local” exterior, some very big deals have been closed from these events before (with usually way more favourable terms than those Sharks give!!).
With the mining boom in Western Australia on (a cyclical) decline, coupled with a heavy focus on startup culture and technology in the minds of both Local Government and the Local Community here in Perth, it’s primed for Organisations to join forces with this talent and innovation to help improve their efficiency and reduce their costs.
This year’s event was sponsored by Woodside Energy who proposed 4 problems and provided over 5gb of raw company data to support their issues and inform the potential solutions.
Teams were given up to 5 days advanced notice of the Problems, but the data wasn’t handed out until about 7pm on the first night.
Background on Me
I’ve broken down the rest of the article as a bit of a diary of events to help you understand how intense this was. Enjoy.
Day (night) #1 – Friday 5pm-midnight
Super pumped I rock up to the venue bang on time to about 15 people (mostly organisers).
We get to talking and he is amused I have no team and no proposed solution or even an inkling of which problem I am going to attack.
What can I say? I work well under pressure!
He goes off to chat to someone else he thinks is also at the wrong night and I run into my friend Michael Weaver.
He is a coding ninja and can wrap his head around new concepts, so it’s a natural fit we will team up. Truth is, we kinda talked before the event, so I did have a tentative “first team member”, we just hadn’t had the conversation yet 😉
Right Place – Right Time. Part 1: The Data Guy
Austin Shen. Studying Astrophysics at UWA.
My colleague from Dept. of Health returns to the conversation with a young lad in tail who he introduces to us like this:
“Hey, I found your data guy”
Non-committal, Austin hangs out for a few minutes (I’m guessing to check out whether we’re axe-wielding maniacs or not) but it’s not long before we find ourselves chatting about the solutions and have the awkward “so, uh, I’m happy to be in your team if umm, you know..” conversation.
The room is now full (approx 120 people) and the formal presentations are kicking off.
As the presentations finish, there is a mass exodus of people and the groups start to move from conversation to desk-organising.
As the merry-band-of-three, we quickly scout a spot to call our own within the co-working space that already has monitors and keyboards. Sweet.
Just as we get settled, an organiser walks by and points us out of the area saying we have picked the only spot we’re not allowed to use. Awesome, now all the other spots are gone! That didn’t work out well.
As we’re on the move, I’m feeling altruistic (or maybe it’s nervous energy from being-in-trouble-with-the-principal) and mention to the organiser that if there are any stragglers that don’t have a team member, we will accommodate them happily.
This doesn’t exactly go how we expected.
3 9’s A Crowd
All of a sudden we have landed in a completely unorganised (not helped by the fact the organiser did the bolt as it happened – they were busy in their defense!) mess of clueless individuals.
In total, there were 9 of us now standing around looking puzzled.
Some sheep. Some opportunistic.
This won’t do.
I grabbed Michael and Austin and point them to a new area the organisers have just put together (“quick, let’s just forget this and go get started”) and just as we’re walking off a desperate glare catches my eye and a guy introduces himself as Ronan – “here, let’s get out of here quick” – Perfect.
Right Place – Right Time. Part 2: The Solution Engineer
Ronan Collins. Engineer currently working with Komatsu.
Having lived in a share-house for 4 years with a Dub’, we hit it off and are straight into the banter; each other in stitches within minutes.
He introduces himself and his skillset as something like I’m an Engineer and Process guy, I can do anything, but when you start talking computer stuff – I’m a dear in headlights.
With a team cobbled together and an instant bond, the presentations finished, we found ourselves (a second) spot to live, right in the middle of the action and quickly got to work making the space ours; shoes off, stuff plugged in, and coffee.
The Full Team
This is the moniker I will give each of the guys throughout the run down along with the explanation they gave of themselves in the final pitch:
Ronan: Irish – “wannabe engineer and professional athlete…no wait, I f’ed that up…”
Michael: Mikey – “The coder of this stuff and I’m a master of all things NLP and social interaction”
Austin: The Apprentice – “I’m an Astrophysicist and I love helping people”
Nathan(me): Energizer Bunny – “I’m another Nerd in the group, the web guy, and a Biohacker – If you don’t know what that is, see me afterwards…”
I created a shared FOLDER on Google Drive along with a template for our Submission Deck so it was top of mind for everyone
Best bit of using Google Docs is you can add /export/pdf to the end of a Slide Deck and it’s a dynamically updating online file that anyone can access, even together. Perfect for this type of work.
I also created a TRELLO board to help collect and allocate tasks and research for everyone.
We ended up not fully utilising Trello due to time constraints, but wouldn’t have been able to do this without either of these 2 tools, they saved us Sooooo much time.
A Process and a Decision
It’s about 9pm and the Forming stage of our team is well under way. Storming is also well under way, but we are still seeing the merits of each of the problems and our individual skillsets.
So, we are struggling with Norming.
Only 1 way to solve this – A Weighted Average Decision Matrix
Sounds way too corporate for a hackathon, but it was fast, fun, and left no doubt in our mind that … 2 of these were doable.
Naturally, we went with – our heart
We ended up choosing Fitness For Work as we all had a personal connection to it and thought it was the sexiest idea.
Now, we just needed to get on and DO.
But, it’s 11:55pm, so actually we need to leave before they lock the doors for the night…we’ll get stuck in first thing tomorrow!
Day #2 – Saturday 10am-midnight
After taking my son to Karate (priorities) first thing in the morning, I rock up a little later than the 8am start time and I’m the last team member in.
Everyone is busy “doing” but as I walk into our makeshift office Irish claps his hands authoritively and announces “Right, let’s work out now who’s doing what”.
This is a lot easier than I expect as everyone is super keen (and in hindsight probably panicking from the fact that we were 1/3 of the way through and had only just decided on our direction!). Soon we’re head-down and into it.
12pm rolls by and after some food and a check in with the wider group, we get to work.
- At about 3pm we are “commercialised” (ie: We have a website up) thanks to your’s truly. You can check it out here: http://epic.rapidstartup.io
- The Apprentice has smashed out some Python “munging” of our initial data into something we could interpret as “Good Measures” and “Bad Measures”. Which is all we need to prove our concept!
- Mikey has put together a mockup of our dashboard and the team starts to go to town on minor details. Mikey loves it (not).
- Irish has been on the phone with the Device company in the states and is expecting some internal research papers and real sample data sets we can use in our presentation. Wow.
Spirit Of Competition
There are a few random conversations about the place and within the team about “the other teams” and “who else is doing fitness for work” etc.
Irish disappears upstairs and comes back with some intel about a team upstairs pulling out.
Mikey and The Apprentice think this is an opportunity to put their own competition anxieties to rest and go on a full-on covert mission to extract the who’s who, and trade secrets from the other teams. It does no good obviously and surely just takes up headspace. Yeah, I was guilt of this one too – human behaviour?
The Apprentice heads off early for a social dinner leaving Mikey with a complete data set to put into his User Interface (UI).
Mikey gets us a fully functional data UI within our dashboard and with much high-5’s, hugs, and backslaps we have our MVP. Mikey crawls off to bed about 10pm.
Idle Hands Are The BusDev’s Playground
With the elation of Done still there and both of us only having a sleeping house to go home to, we decide to kill the time with – another solution.
Irish can’t shake the simplicity of solving this by utilising a similar solution from another industry.
I’m always up for a challenge (get’s me into trouble – but you only live once right!?), so it’s a big-fat-yes and we get to work on another slide deck.
I help put the context with technology together and how we could wrap this around some existing software and offer it as a service and it was game-set-match.
We get kicked out again at midnight and I offer Irish a lift home so we can continue discussing the solution in more detail.
Day #3 – Sunday 9am-5pm
A little more coordinated with transport this morning, I rock into the event after picking up Irish.
Instead of talking shop on the way in, we talk our life’s purpose and go deep on stuff like it’s a 4am nightclub “conversation”.
Arriving to Mikey deep-in-code we quickly get out of philosophy mode and back into lets-get-this-finished mode.
Mikey needs more data and The Apprentice is later than he said he would be.
Mikey is panicking.
Irish and I start talking about our “other presentation” and Mikey is understandably a little perturbed.
We make the decision to do 100% on our Fitness For Work solution and only after we’ve hit SUBMIT, if we have any time left, we’ll do what we can for the Shipping solution.
Nothing Like A Deadline
With the first submission complete and the finishing touches imminent, Irish and I began listing out the final todo’s for our second submission.
We do our pitch-practice with the main organiser and, expecting a lot less, were surprised when he said we should go for it.
Actually it was more like “you guys need to @#$% off out of here now and get this done!”
3:29pm and our second submission is getting it’s last spell check from pedantic me and I click SUBMIT – preemptive fist-in-the-air…
Error Message: “Do You Want To Overwrite Your Previous Submission? Yes/No”
Lot’s of panic and running ensues.
3:45pm 2 things happen:
- The Submission Works (phew!)
- The Presentation Draw is released – Our 2nd submission is up for presenting – in 20 minutes…
Practice Makes Perfect
We realise we have no time to practice our real pitch for Fitness for Work until we finish the first pitch for our Shipping solution.
The next 20 minutes are a blur of “what’s on those new slides you are adding Irish?!” and “I’m going to throw in a joke in the middle that I need you to take over from Energizer Bunny” to us standing in front of the crowd and the clicker not working…
Then lots of claps.
Smiles (and thankfully) lots of questions from the judges.
They like it.
More importantly, they get it!
Massive sigh of relief is short-lived as we now have hard data (and baked in emotions) of what works and doesn’t which we need to feed back into our next presentation – in an hour and a half.
The Big Test
The bill has us presenting Last for the evening.
Luckily we are approaching our presentation with humour and impact as we’re going to have a tough (and very tired) crowd.
We were ready.
10 minutes before our time. (That last hour twenty or so is now lost in my mind…it was intense!)
The presentation kicks off without a hitch.
Everyone is on point.
We get “clapped” one slide from the end.
Not so bad, but we did leave an important piece of the solutions impact on the last slide. Shouldn’t be an issue.
Our first question comes from Miranda Taylor – Chief Executive Officer National Energy Resources Australia (NERA) and it’s a killer:
The objection that would have been covered by that last slide!!
Anyway, we get a few other great questions from the judges and the whole team are now lined up at the judges desk bouncing off each other like a well-oiled machine.
It’s a pretty EPIC moment.
The judges go off to, well, judge and the teams head out the front for some well-earned fresh air and some photos.
We do lots more high-fiving, man-hugging, and back-slapping.
Irish and I were mucking around backstage of the pitching floor.
Feedback from Organiser – Our Solutions were solid (I’ll share more details in a future post).
Feedback from Team EPIC – We had a GREAT TIME!
Let me know if you want to see either of the Slide Decks.
Don’t tell my wife, but I could do that every weekend 🙂