Musings on books, technology, entrepreneurship, nonprofits and umm.. everything else …

On Hackathons


One of the key ideas from Schumpeter that the capitalist framework of economics co-opted is that of creative destruction through the process of innovation. And nowhere is this better exemplified than in startups and small companies in Silicon Valley. The Schumpeterian rent that startups and entrepreneurs earn is predominantly driven by these discontinuous developments within each industry, which has been the bedrock on which  the Valley and the bank accounts of several startup millionaires were  built.

Last Friday, we had our first ever Blue Jeans Hackathon. A significant fraction of employees participated – teams were encouraged to have members from non-engineering departments as well and pitch their ideas to the company. Given how selectively we hire talent, this was bound to be competitive .. and boy, was it so! To begin with, we have a product that is cutting-edge and ahead of competition any way you look at it. We also have a short-term roadmap that should keep us in a leading position. In 24 hours, these teams showed several proof of concept functionalities in the product that were incredible and mind-blowing. Not only were these on my wish list for months, these would change the way users interact with the product at so many levels. I cannot wait to see when we can make it available to our users.

Within the software world Hackathons have evolved into a mechanism for quick and dirty concept testing of features. As products mature, processes to keep them stable also start affecting the rate at which innovation can happen in these products. As startups grow, not all employees get time to get to know each other and work with each other. As release timelines are laid out and product roadmaps get harder to break, innovation gets slowed down in the sense that disruptive ideas that engineers or other employees might have, are postponed to a later date. Hackathons solve all of these problems well. They give engineers the time to concept test an idea that they might have had for some time. They keep heavy “product management” out of the feature set while it is in the concept testing stage. And, in well-engineered scenarios in small companies, they provide a great way for the different business functions to get to know each other and work with each other on a fun project.

Of course, there can only be one winner – or in our case two, the Popular Choice and Founders Choice Awards. But the wellspring of ideas this exercise taps into does precisely what it aims to do – unlock the creative potential within the company and keep product releases and company roadmaps honest, in terms of delivering the best value to the consumer at the earliest date.

So rock on, hackers! Its not just Facebook that owns rights to that term 😉

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