We said we were aiming to mix things up here at HHH with some new events and activities for our members to enjoy; hopefully we did just that last week at the Comcast NBCUniveral Hackathon. And this being HHH, was it any wonder that the winning team contained one of our home-grown heroes; the redoubtable, indefatigable, speed pitching, GaP->GaS-ing, founder, skater and structural engineer, the one and only Glen Cooper! Want to know how he did it? So do we! Read on:
First of all, the background: how did HHH get involved with the Comcast NBCUniversal Hackathon? Thanks to you guys of course! The organisers, BeMyApp, were looking to showcase some of the best hacking and entrepreneurial talent in London, so we asked our members if they’d like to join us at The Impact Hub in Westminster for 2 days of intense competition. The theme was “The Future of Content Creation, Distribution and Monetisation in a Connected World”. We’ll let Glen take it from here, as interviewed by our blogger-in-residence Edmund Ingham of the Haggerston Times.
Glen says: “this was my first ever Hackathon. I’ve been a structural engineer for 15 years, helping home-owners build extensions to their flats and houses, so I guess I’ve always had that entrepreneurial instinct. I wanted to own a “start-up” since way before I heard anyone coin the phrase! So a few years back I decided I’d get creative with my thoughts and I started to blog about anything and everything entrepreneur related. Soon I had also developed my own app, called HappiJar, a moment storing platform that helps people remind themselves of all the good times they’ve had in their lives.
The hardest part of building a start-up is finding team members; the kind of people you feel like you can spend 5 years of your working life with building your dream company. It turns out that entering a Hackathon is as good a way as any I’ve come across to assess the credentials of potential fellow team members, but I’ll come back to that.
I’d actually entered an online “internet Hackathon” when I was first developing HappiJar called the “Happiness App Challenge” sponsored by the Art of Living foundation. I came 2nd out of 200 entrants, which I couldn’t believe at the time, but I’d always wanted to take part in a real life Hackathon so when I saw Rob and HHH’s email I was there straight away!
I turned up early Saturday morning, one of 120 entrepreneurs which soon became 25 teams. It was a crazy experience, and I loved every minute of it but our team had one pretty serious disadvantage; we only had 1 full-time developer! What we did have, on the other hand was a team of bright and enterprising marketeers, UX Ninjas and founders who knew how to turn a weakness into a strength.
Actually to say we only had 1 full-time developer isn’t quite true, we had 2, the trouble was, they had to disappear part-way through the weekend! So the remaining core 4 of us made a plan: by thinking creatively, and being laser-focused on what the judges were asking of us, we felt we could get around the problem of not being able to code our solution by making it so effective that the judges could overlook the lack of a finished, signed sealed and delivered platform.
Being unburdened by the need to spend all day and night coding was actually a major advantage. And the other thing we had going for us was that from the first moment, the personalities in the team gelled together perfectly. It was a bromance! The judges, like us, we’re businessmen first and techies second, but we noticed a lot of the teams were being led by specialist coders who just wanted to get their heads down and start programming. We kept our heads up and just went for it, using all of our sales and marketing skills. It definitely swung the judges in our favour; we were constantly interacting with them!
So the challenge was to reinvigorate the process of gifting digital content online; by injecting some much needed emotion into the purchase and unwrapping of the present. Our project was called the “Golden Ticket”; you buy a gift voucher for your friend, but additionally you get to help design the digital packaging the gift is delivered with. So the recipient clicks on the link and gets to watch an animated sequence, with avatars “unwrapping” the gift on your PC or Mac screen right in front of your eyes! If the recipient shares the experience on Facebook then he is automatically given special access to extras; the directors cut, deleted scenes, interviews with the actors etc. etc.
Like I said, it was a proper team bromance! The more we worked, the better it got. The team and I now have our own Whatsapp group, and shortly after it was announced we’d won the digital gift challenge AND the main prize (I was told we had almost gotten a clean sweep of all the hackathon challenges which we chose to enter ), we were approached by one judge, a Strategy/Innovation Team Leader from Unilever, who invited us to participate in another Hackathon in 3 week’s time. We’re excited, and definitely up for that!
It really helped that our team contained some strong personalities with commercial heads on their shoulders. It gave us the inside track on the pain points that a lot of the other teams were struggling with. We all knew what we had to do, and eventually our coders reappeared, which was a bonus! We worked through the night on Saturday, spurred on by the excellent food and drink that the sponsors (Oculus Rift, Leap Motion, IBM Bluemix, SDK, they also supplied free hardware too!) provided; pizza, roast chicken, hummus, we were properly well fed!
So Dean, Marcel, Piotr, Peter and I started to, for want of a better expression, “hack the crap” out of our idea, working on it until 2.30am on Sunday, before getting some sleep and getting ready for the presentations, which started at 1pm on Sunday. Like I say we were not the most technical team, but on the Sunday we started to feel like one of the teams from “The Apprentice”, using all of our combined business skills to play to our strengths and get the best possible result. And you know what; it worked, and we won!
We split the winnings (£8,500); I’m thinking about spending mine on a Macbook. I’ve always been a PC guy but this is my chance to try a new way of working. And we’ve got another Hackathon coming up in a couple of weeks; win that, and the prize is funding for our company. I can’t believe how fast things can move when everybody is focused on a similar goal.
As a “solopreneur” who has struggled in the past to find the perfect partner to move my business forward, I am really, really glad I decided to enter this Hackathon. I got to work intensively with a switched-on, intelligent group, who brought the best out of each other; I built my network of good business contacts exponentially, and enhanced my career prospects no end too (although that wasn’t why I had decided to go). It was an awesome experience, and my advice to anybody would be just to give a Hackathon a go.
Don’t be put off if you lack the technical skills; we saw plenty of teams being sunk by their CTO’s insistence that everybody sat around watching them code! The most important quality is to be the kind of person who can get sh*t done! There’s no hiding place on a Hackathon, you have to stand up and be counted, and since the room is full of potential recruiters, it’s a great opportunity to show them what you can really do outside of the one dimensional interview process. One of my team was an entrepreneur with 6 exits behind him in the marketing space, how often do you get the chance to live, work and eat with somebody like that for 48 hours.
It was a top quality event, so thank you to Rob, thanks to the Hipsters, Hackers & Hustlers, and I’ll see you at the next one, be warned tho, I won’t be taking any prisoners!
So there you have it folks, if you want to work with talent like Glen, his serial entrepreneur friends and some top recruiters, software providers and many of the most innovative companies in London, just keep ‘em peeled, visit our website, and keep coming to our events. You won’t regret it, and we feed off of your inspiration!