Not just for developers: Why 4 NYC tech companies decided to host team-wide hackathons

June 22, 2017

While developers are familiar with the term “hackathon,” it’s often a foreign concept to the rest of the team — and that’s exactly why so many companies are starting to invite the whole team when they host their own. Hackathons allow employees to step outside of their familiar day-to-day responsibilities and come up with innovative ideas for the company.

These NYC tech companies recently hosted a hackathon and found that innovation is just one of the their many great rewards.

 

CatchPoint is a digital experience intelligence company that provides insight into customer-critical services. Scot Edwards, CatchPoint’s Global Talent Acquisition Lead, believes it’s important for the success of the company and the individual to shake things up every now and then.

Why did you decide to host your own hackathon?

It’s nice to give teams a break from their day-to-day so they can explore the unknown. We decided to host our own internal hackathons so people could work on projects they wouldn’t normally work on and prove that R&D isn’t limited to a certain group of people.

What makes your hackathon special?

Unlike other hackathons, ours is a full week, which gives teams plenty of time to work on their ideas. We also have advisors on technical, UX and business side actively collaborating and advising the teams.

What are some tips you’d give to hackathon newbies?

It’s important for newcomers to challenge notions of what’s “impossible” or “too hard.” Often, it’s the perception, not the work itself, that stops people from building an idea. Know that it’s OK to fail!

What are the coolest things that have come from these events?

Our hackathons have changed our perspective on how we look at ideas, teams and processes. We have had several features added to our product, along with a cross-company business process, that were all born out of our hackathons.

 

 

 

ClassPass, the monthly membership service that connects users to their favorite fitness classes, has had a major growth spurt since it first started in 2013. Paul Twohey, VP of Engineering, feels fortunate that he can call on employees to think of innovative ideas that both help people live healthier lives and drive revenue to the company.

Why did you decide to host your own hackathon?

At ClassPass, we have more good ideas than time to do them all, so we wanted to provide a way to let everyone in the company show us what they thought we could do. We decided to host our own hackathons so we could put our unique spin on them and ensure a welcoming environment for the whole company.

What makes your hackathon special?

For one, we require cross-departmental collaboration in our hackathons. We also have unique awards that reflect our values and our fun-loving people. People can win "That's a Stretch" for a far-out idea or "Max Nerd Factor" for some technical wizardry.

What are some tips you’d give to hackathon newbies?

For organizers, I would focus first on what you want to encourage, and then I'd make that explicit to all the participants. You should also be clear about how things will be judged and what the prizes will be. For participants, I would focus first on what you want to do and then find a fun group of people to jam with creatively. I would focus first on doing something you're passionate about as opposed to trying to "win.”

What are the coolest things that have come from these events?

We've gotten a number of product ideas and internal process improvements. One of the teams created a real-time map of searches on the ClassPass platform that shows where in the country people are searching. It was beautifully designed, and now it greets guests in our lobby!

 

 

 

CB Insights is a tech market intelligence platform whose motto is “without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” But when it comes to the company-wide hackathon, all ideas are welcome. Alexandre Testu, Product Manager, sees these events as prime opportunities to get employees to collaborate on the next great idea.

Why did you decide to host your own hackathon?

We want to let people experiment freely with our data and products and for that, we needed to create our own event. It’s not only a good way to get to know the company better, it’s also a great team-building exercise. People get really into it.

What makes your hackathon special? 

We try to organize one 24-hour hackathon every quarter, and people can work by themselves or with a team. They have five minutes to demo and wow their coworkers, who then vote for the best project in three categories: most creative, most impressive and most useful. Winners get a cool trophy, a gift card and the adoration of their peers, of course. 

What are some tips you’d give to hackathon newbies?

Make it as easy as possible to participate! We used to call our hackathons “Pitch & Demo” and it had pretty strict rules: you had to pitch an idea and get enough support to get to work on it. It turns out that it was turning a lot of people off. Once we removed that barrier and just let people have fun, we ended up with a lot more projects that were much more interesting.

What are the coolest things that have come from these events?

There have been a ton so it's hard to pick favorites! Members of our research team created a way to build industry market maps in an automated fashion. Also, some of our engineers created a customer success dashboard which is still used to this day by our CS team to understand how our users are interacting with our product. I have the most fun, creative, and hardworking coworkers out there.

 

 

 

Likeable Local is a service that manages and enhances your social media presence. Dave Kerpen, Likeable Local’s CEO and Founder, thinks the best way to make people feel valuable and creative is to bring them together in a setting like a hackathon.

Why did you decide to host your own hackathon?

Hackathons are an excellent way to encourage creative collaboration and inspire team members. We wanted to harness that creative energy to come up with new ideas and processes for Likeable Local. To come up with a cool idea, have it take shape and develop, is very satisfying.

What makes your hackathon special?

To us, fun is fuel. We believe in bringing an element of play to our projects. We host a series of morning hackathons, each one with a theme. People can work individually or in small groups, and everyone shares their "hack" results via a tweet at the end. The tweets with the most favorites were declared winners.

What are some tips you’d give to hackathon newbies?

For the hosts, set guidelines. Creativity requires constraints, to an extent. For participants, immerse yourself in the process wholeheartedly. If you have any self-doubts, embrace them and know they’re part of the challenge. To get in the right mindset, enjoy your favorite hobby or activity beforehand. Being in your element can put you in the right state of mind.

What are the coolest things that have come from these events?

We’ve had some awesome ideas come from our hackathons. Our CTO created the ability for a social media user to click on an article and view the post on the webpage itself. One participant created a website wireframe, and another created a quiz that engages customers. There were so many more! It’s refreshing to head in a different direction and return to work feeling inspired.

 

 

Images via featured companies.

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