We Saw, We Hacked, We Almost Conquered

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending first ever eCommerce Hack Day. I posted recently about my prior hackathon experience, and this time I decided to heed my own advice and do things right. Spoiler alert: I still walked away without any prizes, but it was altogether a more positive and rewarding experience.

Oh, and if you just want to see what was built, go ahead and check out CraftEconomy.

Preliminaries

I was vacationing in Moscow when the news of eCommerce Hack Day being put on by Dwolla and Esty hit the Twitter-sphere. Lo and behold, the organizers did something unusual. You actually had to solve a puzzle to get it. Granted, it wasn’t a very difficult puzzle, but it was one that certainly could keep poseurs and wannabes out.

Everyone I talked to about this innovation actually liked it. Perhaps it was because I only talked to the people who actually solved it, but I think this is a great way to maintain the high quality of participants.

Still, I am curious to know how many “developers” were turned away by this filter. I am also curious to know how many of them morphed into designers, who were given an opportunity to bypass the puzzle.

Teaming up

As soon as I learned that I was in, I got to work at assembling a team. My goal was not necessarily to build a new team but to come into the hackathon as part of a team. As I noted before, trying to team up at the hackathon is a nerve-wracking process for anyone but the extremely extroverted.

I tweeted that I was looking for a team, and I got a few responses almost immediately. Couple of things seemed to have helped people respond. One was that @eCommerceHackDay retweeted my plea. The other was that people could easily check my blog (namely, the write up on Angelhack NYC) to see that I took the whole affair very seriously.

Afterwards, it was a matter of putting up a Google doc and meeting a few times with the team to discuss what it was that we were going to do. In the end we met a total of three times prior to the event, and the team CraftEconomy was born — yours truly, Gareth, and Abe.

By the time of the event, we had:

  • a pretty solid idea,
  • a plan for executing it in the 24 hours allotted,
  • an agreement for who was going to do what,
  • and a bit of market research, page wireframes and design ideas.

The Event

As teaming up went off without a hitch, it was now time to move forward with the event. Unfortunately, the organizers have provided no way to contact the designers who have signed up for the event (they signed up separately), so it was up to us to hunt for designers on the spot.

Where the organizers didn’t fail was in getting everyone to put little color stickies on their name tags. These stood for the various skill sets and helped us spot Marie-Helene, who became our UX savior and did all the graphics for our little project.

The rest as they say was history. The next 24 hours were all business and about 3 hours of sleep.

Ultimately, we managed to build out CraftEconomy to an alarming degree of fidelity to what could have been a real product prototype. The backend was up and running, and I was astonished to learn that we integrated with no less than 7 APIs (there were separate bounties and prizes for using sponsors’ APIs). Gareth and Abe did an incredible job on that.

The Judging and the Pitching

Our site was up (and is still up), and it was finally time for the pitches to take place. We had two minutes for the pitch and one minute for questions. I was the designated pitcher, and the guys helped to walk the audience through our demo. As is often the case with these things we were a little over, but the judges still managed to ask us a single question, which was good.

Although I did the pitching, dare I say I thought that we did really well. I’ve seen all other pitches, and some of them were much better than ours and some of them were downright dreadful, so we probably fell somewhere in the middle of the pack.

We didn’t win anything, and I suppose what did us in was a very overly ambitious, serious idea with a social responsibility angle. It wasn’t anything social, it wasn’t very local, and it didn’t appeal to the middle class American male, who was the darling audience of most other contenders.

I don’t regret picking this idea, but I wish we had the foresight to see that it was perhaps too much for this format. We didn’t think of it as a hack, it wasn’t frivolous or light-hearted, it wasn’t funny, and that might have ruined our chances.

But we’ll all be smarter tomorrow.

In conclusion

I want to give major props to my new friends – Gareth, Abe and Marie-Helene, and congratulate them on this incredible accomplishment. Once thing that amazed me was how well we worked together as a team, and how quickly we gelled.

I’ve seen my share of engineering teams, and I must say this one ranks up there with the best of them. We were a perfectly functioning, well-oiled machine that managed to create something very real, not to mention good looking and functional.

Hooray to us and to CraftEconomy!

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2 responses to “We Saw, We Hacked, We Almost Conquered

  1. Great post man. Thanks for all the feedback!

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