Last Friday, we kicked off our first ever Whitepages Hackathon. It was a fantastic event with huge participation, great ideas and lots of fun. The idea behind it was a long time in the making. Every day at work I hear questions or suggestions on how to best leverage our data. Whether it’s an engineer, member of the marketing team, or one of the folks from HR—Whitepagers are constantly dreaming up new ideas to enhance our business. I finally decided it was time to round up all the Whitepagers to spend an afternoon brainstorming ideas and focusing on the ones that would best serve our customers. We kicked off the Hackathon at noon on September 12, 2014. Here was the format for the day
- Pitch your idea in 1 minute
- Form teams around the best 6 ideas
- Spend 6 hours on execution
- Present your idea in 5 minutes
- Crown the winner
The level of participation blew my mind. Nearly a third of the company pitched a total of 28 ideas. Participants included members from Whitepages PRO, marketing, HR, engineering, ad sales and the interns. Pitches were one minute long and had to focus on a business problem with a way to solve it. The ideas pitched represented different business units and customer personas. We had something for Whitepages PRO developers to help them play around with our APIs, some great features for Whitepages, and we had ideas on how to leverage our Identity Graph data to solve the business community’s pain points.
Voting for the best ideas. More chaos = more fun
Next, each participant voted to select the six best ideas. Over 60 people voted—that’s more than half of the office. That’s a great testament to the culture here at Whitepages, where everyone is working hard to make the customer’s experience the best it can be. Once the voting was complete, the teams formed around their six chosen ideas. They were instructed to fine-tune their idea, think about user experience, and then create mockups, prototypes, or something more fleshed out so that the judges could better understand the problem, solution and user experience. The next six hours were spent on execution. It was intense. There were heated debates, challenging questions and last minute coding to come up with something cool. Then came the time to present. The judges were asked to focus on:
- Relevance of the solution for Whitepages
- The customer’s experience
- Quality of the presentation
The interns presenting their mockups followed by a real demo
The teams ensured that the judges had their work cut out for them. If the top six ideas were all good, then the execution went above and beyond. For example, one team created two mobile apps (Android and iOS) from scratch complete with design and coding. Another did an entire demo all from the command line. And the next team created cool visualizations that would enhance our data’s value in the realm of business. All of this was done in just six hours! In the end, it was a single point that separated the winner from the runner-up.
For the grand prize, each of the winning team members received: (1) bragging rights as the winner of the first ever Whitepages Hackathon; (2) the potential opportunity for their idea to be productized; (3) dinner at the Space Needle. For me, the best part of the Hackathon is what comes next. I am already in conversations with one of the teams to open source their project. The idea would improve the developer’s onboarding experience for our Graph APIs. Additionally, one of the product teams is keen to see if they can prioritize another idea for early 2015. We are also trying to figure out if we can create a sample app from one of the pitches. In short, the Hackathon was a real win, and of course, lots of fun. It made all the planning and effort behind organizing this experience totally worth it. What do you think? Let me know (kshah [at] whitepages [dot] com) if you have interesting ideas for our data. And if you now find yourself wishing to take part in some competition, then enter Whitepages PRO API Mashup Challenge. We’re taking submissions until October 31st.
In meantime, I’ll be planning the next Whitepages Hackathon.