A Great Weekend
The weekend started on Thursday (13th March 2014) by a series of talks by some young entrepreneurs at the Linus Torvalds auditorium (Exactum building, Kumpula campus of University of Helsinki). We learnt some key facts and points about lean startups and also characteristics and goals of prototypes.
The Joy Began
Next day (Friday), SomeJam hackathon officially began at the Happi Youth Center, with some initial speeches about the fundamentals and practicalities. Then we teamed up, and the organizers started to ignite the creativity rocket of participants by showing some objects and asking us to guess what it is, and how it can be used. Then we started to think about and come up with some ideas to solve the loneliness problem of youth. After some minutes of brainstorming in groups, all groups presented their ideas.
Finally, we had a freestyle opportunity to come up with some novel ideas and present them. First, I came up with a great novel idea (related to youth) and presented it, but since we only had 48 hours to build the prototype, I thought more time is needed to build a working prototype of my idea. Then I noticed another great idea proposed by Maninder Singh, and I joined the team. Then Lei Wang and another anonymous teammate joined our team.
The idea was to provide a service to lonely people and those who are new in a city, especially youth, to find and join events based on their interests, make new friends, and have fun. After joining the team, we started to discuss about the details, and we came to an agreement for the programming language and technologies we wanted to use. We chose the Grail framework because we all knew Java, and Grails was a great framework for Java programmers, because it is relatively easy to learn, developers can develop their solution quickly using scaffolding facilities, and it’s almost hassle-free. I already knew Spring framework and Maven, and it helped me to learn the new framework rapidly.
Welcome to The Dragon Team!
Friday night, we started to brainstorm more and then collaborate to draw our initial model on a big piece of paper. We managed to come up with a model that satisfied our initial requirements. It’s worth to mention that this model might not be complete in the first iteration and can be improved over iteration (like in lean and agile processes), but we tried to consider and model the fundamental building blocks accurately.
We created a paper prototype demonstrating the features and functionality of our intended service. We also created a central repository on Github to facilitate our teamwork for implementing the service initially as a web-based service. Since the IntellijIDEA IDE offers out of the box support (code completion, server management, etc.) for Grails, we used that IDE for our project. After working till 4 AM on the backend and a part of frondend, we left Happi to have some rest at home.
On Saturday, we get together again at midday because we had to pitch and defend our idea and project in a tough jury meeting.
Fortunately, we managed to defend our idea, and of course we got some precious suggestion and advises that we considered for improving our service. After the meeting, we continued to work till late night.
Time to Wrap Up
On Sunday, we got prepared to present our software product (working prototype), and I believe we did it pretty good. You can watch the footage on YouTube.
Eventually, the amazing weekend came to an end, but the inspiration did not. I learnt a lot in the first SomeJam.
I believe the following advices may come in handy:
1. Don’t miss this kind of events! When I got the email regarding this course, I thought I’m not going to participate because I was busy, but it turned out to be one of the best courses I have ever had.
2. It’s great to have some novel ideas to solve our problems, but since these kind of hackathons are quite short, bear this in mind that you must be able to implement a prototype in a short time. So don’t consider ideas that need a week or two to build even a prototype.
3. Although prototypes are there to quickly show the concept, but they should impress/persuade the investors/partners/business angles for investing in your idea. So take this into account before going to the pitching meeting.
4. If you didn’t face a good reaction/feedback from the potential investors, don’t be frustrated, the objective of a prototype is to assess if the idea is worth to put more effort in order to implement it. Instead, think about other novel ideas.
5. You can predict the reaction/feedback of your potential investor to some extent. Try to ask yourself:
– How are we going to have our first user/customer?
– How can we extend our user base, and how are we going to keep them motivated such that they continue to use our service?
– What value(s) does our service offer to users?
-Can we imagine of a Persona for our users?
– Is there any similar service out there? If yes, how does our service differ from those similar ones?
– Does the project need significant investment to set up? What about the maintenance costs?
– Can we generate a revenue stream?
I learnt all of these in this intensive event. Thus, in the end, I would like to express my gratitude to dear Hanna Mäenpää, dear Emilia Hjelm, dear Marcus Lundqvist, other organizers, and my teammates for creating this great experience.