Dr. Strangefeature or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Hack by Craig Follett (Uniiverse)

As we build out our blog we wanted to share valuable pieces written by founders in our portfolio – here’s a piece Craig Follett from Uniiverse wrote on the merits of hacking. Stay tuned for more. Click here for the full article on medium.

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Dr. Strangefeature or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Hack

What if I told you you could ship a feature that would normally take two weeks in a single day? Our hackathon recipe at Uniiverse might be of interest to you.

The inspiration to do hackathons is credited to the awesome software developers on my team. The reason we felt the need to introduce hackathons can be summarized by the equation:

Innovation = Creativity × Execution

At the juncture that we began discussing whether to introduce hackathons, we’d been building Uniiverse for a couple years and were heavily focused on execution. Now that the platform was starting to mature, and that sales were giving us some breathing room, an injection of creativity felt necessary to accelerate product development, and to re-energize the team.

When I first tabled the concept of hackathons to some friends, they played devil’s advocate. Concerns raised included things like: “How do we know what’s going to be built?” “We have so much on the roadmap — how can we fit this in?” and, “Hmm, Google killed its 20% time.”

These concerns and feedback (an uncertainty over what would be built, and how quickly) weren’t unfounded. We addressed these concerns by introducing a bit of structure to shape how the hackathons would play out, and guide/shape the outcomes.

“This will be pretty cool — we have super brilliant minds on our team, so who knows what we’ll create when we put those minds together for a day … it’s how you cultivate revolutionary ideas.”
Here’s our hackathon recipe:

Schedule a hackathon for the last Friday of each month.
The Thursday before each hackathon, any team member can pitch an idea. A pitch consists of simply a single headline for the idea, the number of resources (people) needed, and a 60 second passionate delivery (see template below).
Team members vote on ideas. Each team member gets n votes, where n = number of ideas pitched.
Ideas are ranked based on number of votes, and allocated resources starting with the most popular idea. Multiple ideas are chosen to be built until there are no more resources that can be allocated.
On Friday: caffeine is consumed, ideas are hacked on, and at the end of the day, shared via 10 minute demos.
Here’s our hackathon pitch template

Immediate and long term benefits

We’ve done two hackathons so far, and seen some common benefits each time:

Ship real features — for example, we built + shipped the ability to log in fellow event team members to our Ticket Manager iOS app via bluetooth. This normally would’ve taken at least two weeks to design, build and test, but it was shipped that Friday.
Focus on what’s important to people on the team (e.g. quality) — remember that flickering landing page bug that affects only 0.1% of users, that didn’t block the release but that bugs you? If it’s important to you, you can pitch that.
Empower all team members — anyone can pitch an idea, and this makes people (devs and non-devs alike) feel empowered that they are able to create things, and influence the product.
Foster ideation — hackathon days seem to rev-up minds to new, creative ideas, and open-up discussion. I think it’s because people are forced to take a step back from the day-to-day, and vote on and pitch ideas. We’ve added to our non-hackathon roadmap as a result.
Drive inspiration — each Monday, the team goes back to executing on the roadmap with renewed inspiration and energy.
To our surprise, the benefits of hackathons helped not only with Creativity in the Innovation = Creativity × Execution equation, but also Execution.
“YEEEEEE HAHHHHHHH!!!” → Ship it!
If you’re interested in joining a product team like ours at Uniiverse, feel free to get in touch with me directly.

How does your team approach hackathons, and the balance of creativity and execution? I’d love to hear — give me a shout, I’m @craigfollett on Twitter.

– Craig Follett, Uniiverse