Earlier in the week Farrah Bostic told us about what it takes to plan a hackathon for good in just a few weeks. In this follow up post, she looks at how the hack weekend went and the awesome fundraising projects for famine relief which came out of it.
By the week of the event, we had about 70 people registered: developers, designers, copywriters, strategists, entrepreneurs. Now I realized I could not possibly run the event on my own and that we needed people to keep the ideas flowing and spark new ones.
I reached out to the female entrepreneurs and asked them to be mentors. Cortney Harding, Rachel, and Yao Huang of The Hatcheryall said yes. Kelley Boyd and Ryan MacCarrigan agreed to present a crash course in Lean Startup thinking. Stuart Eccles of Made by Many booked his flight to come demo the 50/50 API and help out on projects. And the amazing Justin Kerr Scheckler of Etsy, Akshay Patil of Foursquare, Frank Denbow on behalf of Twilio, and Pamela Rousso of AppFirst, demo'd their services and APIs.
Friday, September 23, it rained most of the day. Torrential downpour raining. We didn't know if anyone would show. I was hopeful that with about 75 registered, 50 would show up that evening. We opened doors at 6pm, and people started entering in ones and twos, as befits a deluge. By 7, we had 40-45 people in attendance and were ready to start the hackathon. By 8:30, people were drinking beer and pitching ideas. By 9:30, we had 20+ ideas on the board. At 10, people headed off home to mull over their options and get some rest.
Saturday morning, everyone collected their bagels and coffee, and then Lean Startup Machine led a quick workshop. We reconvened to select projects to work on, and about six teams were formed. 25-30 people would work through the day. Some would have to abandon their ideas, others would have to radically shift from one idea to another, others would get straight to work, hacking away at Twitter and Facebook apps, and building sites using the 50/50 payment system and the UNICEF gateway. Some of the teams even conducted some quick customer development work - a few man-on-the-streets, and a couple of surveys gave them useful information for revising and refining their ideas.
We regrouped that afternoon to talk through what customer development really means - validation is a tough word to hear when you're a creative person and believe in your idea. It sounds like inviting people to kill your darlings. We needed to get people back on track, lift the mood and boost morale. Lunch was brought in and I did a quick presentation on quick & dirty customer development and what it's really for - not "is this good, do you like it?" but "is this useful, would you do this?" We talked about building and maintaining empathy for the user of any of the ideas developed, but also about having a vision and pursuing it based on evidence. I learned that this would have been helpful to do first thing Saturday or even on Friday night.
It was also important to realize that a lot of the people in the room weren't familiar with Lean thinking or hackathons or even start-ups. Building something was daunting, collaborating with strangers outside your industry and in a way, outside your language, was a challenge. This was another important lesson - we needed a glossary of terms, and we needed to use plain language. If the jargon doesn't help, it's probably hurting, and therefore it's probably wasteful.
But by Saturday night, one idea was already a working prototype, one was almost done, one was sidelined due to some practical considerations, one was in development, and one was nowhere. Sunday morning we reassigned some people to think about longer-term communication strategy for the 50/50 project. One developer peeled off to create a simple auto-tweet that counts down to World Food Day. One of our participants sketched out an idea using her start-up that will launch soon. And another participant started early customer development for an Etsy-based idea.
Sunday at 4, the final demos of the ideas began. Jalak Jobanputra, Yao Huang, Rachel Sklar, Ryan MacCarrigan, Stuart Eccles, and myself, gave feedback on the presentations.
Karma Equalizer, a Facebook app, was working and live. The app asks you to tick off your sins for the day and automatically suggests a minimum donation to UNICEF to offset your karma. You click to donate, and it updates your Facebook status with the list of sins and that you donated to wash them away. "Be as bad as you want and do good anyway" was the mantra.
OneEverySix, a simple web app, was also working though not yet deployed. The app is based on the fact that one child dies every six minutes in the famine; a child's silhouette fades away as a timer counts down from six minutes. You can stop the silhouette from disappearing by donating to UNICEF, and it shares your good deed in your status update.
A Mile in Their Shoes is the first project launched by a nascent pro-social startup, In Their Life. A husband-and-wife team, Greg Bergida and Michelle Wu came up with the idea of a pledge campaign to launch on World Food Day in which donors give up mass transit, or carry a gallon of water, or live off aid rations, for one day - and donate to UNICEF. This project lives on Facebook as well.
PimpMyTweet is a twitter-based app that allows someone to make their tweetstream available for a day to people who donate to UNICEF. I paid $4 to send a tweet as Conrad Lisco, asking people to donate to UNICEF via 50/50. The app allows people to be both playful and serious, and for the person making their twitter handle available to protect their privacy and their reputation.
These two outstanding ideas are also about to launch: Feast for Famine is a platform for organizing house parties to be held on World Food Day where those attending donate to UNICEF and in addition to getting together for a meal, are also served a plate of aid rations - bringing into stark relief the real food conditions those surviving the famine (and the Fat Planner!) have been living with daily.
Etsy for Good is a program still to be developed in which Etsy sellers can designate one product as their 50/50 product - the proceeds of which go directly to UNICEF. We hope to integrate the UNICEF donate button directly into the Etsy API for these sellers to use on their existing sites, and to build a syndicated site or blog page that will allow people to search for products by "50/50" or "UNICEF".
Grind has written about the event on their blog, Charlie O'Donnell mentioned us in his "This Week in the NYC Innovation Community" e-newsletter, PopMatters will profile the event in an upcoming post. We're going to continue to pursue coverage of the Hackathon and the projects built by it, and continue to support them as they launch and grow.
Perhaps the most important outcome of this event is that there will be more of them. People are already asking when the next NYC Hackathon will be; and there are people in San Francisco and Tokyo (Dong Yol Lee, the head of Startup Weekend Tokyo, helped to build OneEverySix) who want to host their own.
But in the end, I did what I promised - 25 people did, in fact, build 5 ideas. Ad people and developers and designers and entrepreneurs (and lawyers!) did collaborate over a weekend to develop and launch projects. The creative community did support our efforts; women entrepreneurs were integral to the cause; the Lean Startup movement did provide invaluable support; and the start-up community were generous with their ideas and their APIs in jumpstarting the weekend. Even restaurants and breweries helped out, adding to the proof of just how generous New Yorkers can be.
All photo credits to Molly Aaker.