March Hackathon - Fun, Food, and Rail Strikes!
Read time: 6 mins
In March, we held a 3-day hackathon for our Product teams. They’re always good fun, and everyone had been eagerly awaiting this one since it was announced.
Like any hackathon, it needs…
The first thing to plan is the food — everything else is a lower priority! At least, that’s what my mind seemed to focus on.
But there were other details we needed to iron out as the countdown to the hack kicked off. One important thing was the theme…
We decided on the theme of ‘self-serve’. This set the focus on reducing the time-to-value for our clients. That included anything around helping our clients to set up, manage, and optimise their referral programmes.
Now we have a theme, we need ideas for teams to take on. Any excuse for another Miro board!
A few team members started brainstorming ideas on a Miro, then opened it up to everyone else to add their own ideas or comment on existing ones.
We ended up with a wide range of amazing ideas! Then, we wanted to gauge interest from the team. So, we asked everyone to tag the cards in Miro they were interested in. There was no commitment at this stage and they could tag as many as they wanted.
This lets us narrow down the list to only the ideas people were interested in. We still had 24 ideas after this, which we took into the hack.
Awards are important for giving the teams something to aim for, so we decided to put two up for grabs. The first was for the team with the best solution for the self-serve theme, while the second was for the best storytelling in the demo.
The award for the best solution goes without saying. But we also love stories — we wanted the teams to focus on why the problem they’re solving matters (maybe there should be a bonus award if we see any tears during the demo 🤔).
Telling a powerful story is critical for our business, so we wanted teams to think about this in their demos. It was also a good way for Product and Product Marketing to be more involved with the teams.
So, what would they win? The biggest reward was obviously the applause and adulation from everyone, along with an abundance of emoji reactions filled with joy and happiness. What more could you ask for? Well… money, I hear you say? Ok, so we threw in £250 Amazon vouchers for each winning team too.
Like any good hackathon, we needed people to decide who the winning teams would be. We needed judges.
Step aside Dragons. We have our own Mention Me Den!
We enlisted three formidable, intimidating, terrifying judges who would strike fear into any team. No detail will be left unturned as they grill each group into submission.
…Actually, they’re three nice people from across the business who jumped at the opportunity to be part of the hackathon. This is going to be fun!
Now we are just about ready for kick-off!
We started the hackathon by getting everyone together for a kick-off (as we munched on the delicious breakfast in front of us). More than 15 people gathered in the office, with a similar number joining virtually.
The scene was set, expectations were clear, and now it was time to deal with the small matter of the 24 ideas on the Miro board!
We went through each idea quickly, as team members briefly described the context and explained the reasoning behind the idea. Anyone passionate about a certain idea gave a rousing speech to try and entice others onto their team (notice the emojis on the Miro board!).
Once we’d done that, it was decision time — this gave me a chance to have more breakfast!
We wanted everyone to self-organise themselves into teams. The hackathon is about working on something different with people you wouldn’t usually work with and having fun. Putting people into teams didn’t fit in with this criteria. Each team that formed shared their details on Slack, so others could look in their channel and see if they’d be keen to join. We were also on hand to help people too.
It wasn’t long before everyone was in a team and beginning to plan their next three days.
Let the hack commence!
We ended up with six teams working on different ideas, ranging from a new notifications system all the way through to trying something with ChatGPT.
It was tiring work, so…time for lunch?
To keep the momentum going within the team, we ordered lunch from a local burrito takeaway. Apparently, ordering 17 burritos caused havoc in the restaurant. At least, that’s what the restaurant manager told me when he phoned to say our order would be on its way soon. Then he could start working through the queue that had built up outside! It was a good burrito, though 🌯
The afternoon continued with more hustle and bustle as the teams collaborated and worked on their solutions.
The train strikes were upon us! Even though we couldn’t mingle face to face, the hacking continued. Huddles here, huddles there — there were huddles everywhere!
There were many weird and wonderful ideas being tried out, and it was clear that teams were enjoying working outside of their typical day-to-day routines.
We were also breaking things! One team was exploring a new tool for notifications, and at one point they crashed the tool and had their CEO reach out to them 😂 We found the limits of that tool quite quickly!
A new nickname was also coined. Matt, one of our Tech Leads, was leading an idea using ChatGPT, and his passion for Open API was so strong that he’s now known as MattGPT.
Demo preparation became a top secret. No one wanted to give away any possible advantage to another team. Rumour has it, a few videos are being made… 📹📱
It was Friday! It was demo day! The countdown was on!
With the 3pm demo time looming, the teams rushed to make final changes. Each team had 10 minutes to demo their solution and tell their story.
In the meantime, the judges were preparing by watching the latest episode of Dragons’ Den.
The time had arrived, and as people were joining the ‘Judgeathon’ meeting the excitement on people’s faces was unmistakable. Having our CEO and COO join in with proceedings also added to the anticipation.
And just like that, we were underway!
There was lots of fun and laughter as each team took their turn. The standard of the demos was very high. The teams achieved so much during the three days, with many solutions showing real potential to make it into production.
It was going to be a tough decision for the judges…
As the judges deliberated over who they’d crown the winner, the rest of the team reflected on the demos they’d just watched.
10 minutes later, the judges were ready to announce the winners! The suspense had reached boiling point.
The team working on the notifications system got a worthy mention for their exciting work.
Then, the judges announced the first winner. The ChatGPT segmentation team won the best solution for self-serve. This was an exciting demo showing some of the possibilities of using the OpenAI API. We won’t share too much detail as you may see this in the product soon!
The second (and final) award for the best storytelling in the demo had some tough competition. But in the end, this award was given to the team who looked at customising email templates. They produced a hilarious video to tell their story, which started with the classic Star Wars intro…
We had the Product Manager…
…on a call with a top client (or someone pretending to be a client).
From other feedback, it seems this client is not alone in the problems they are having.
The story continued with the team discussing what can be done.
But, not everything went to plan! The team had to pivot during the hack as their first solution wasn’t meeting their needs…
It was a great demo that told the story of the problem they were solving with plenty of humour.
And that's a wrap!
The teams put in a lot of effort over the three days. The event was incredibly fun, with lots of great memories being made and exciting possibilities for the product discovered. We look forward to more of the same at the next hackathon — only (hopefully) without the rail strikes!
Does this sound like a place where you would like to work? Have a look at our careers page to see our open roles.