May 4th 2019 What I Learned From A Hack-A-Thon

Joshes and Joshettes, a week ago I spent the night at the NYC Microsoft headquarters. Why was I there? At first, I was there to kill time but then I decided to break night and join in on the fun. So sit back and enjoy a lesson from Hackfest NYC 2019.

After watching Avengers Endgame, my friend invited me last minute to a coding challenge called Hackfest NYC 2019. Since my friend had an extra ticket, it was under his name and it was a hassle for me to get in. After about ten minutes of haggling, I was let in just for the first day of this three-day event. I then went on to spend all of Friday night inside workshops and did no coding. I honestly didn’t want to come back the next day but my team’s idea made me come in the next day. So now it’s Saturday and the whole team is finally together at two pm. For some reason our team was disjointed, instead of working together in a room, we worked in three different rooms. Some team members disappeared for hours while others just talked to other teams. It wasn’t until the business workshop that everyone’s attitude changed. We found out that the coding wasn’t the real focus, we actually had to a full business presentation. The presentation had to include a slideshow, a business canvas, an actual business plan detailing how to make the business profitable and a working demo. All this was required by 7:45 am if not we were disqualified. With only twelve hours to get everything done, most of us decided to spend the night.

Since I haven’t coded in over ten years, I decided to handle everything that didn’t require coding. This meant I had to study the competition and come up with a viable business strategy. Our idea was a way to shop at local small businesses and pick up according to your schedule. In order to make a good business plan and canvas, I studied GrubHub, Uber Eats and Postmates for about two hours in order to cover all of my bases. After coming up with a strategy I had to come up with something called a business canvas. Sounds like some elaborate thing but it’s similar to a bulletin board with nine categories depicting most of the aspects of the business. For this one, I studied Uber, Pokemon Go and a bunch of YouTube videos on how to make one. The next thing I had to tackle was the slides, one of my team members started them so it wasn’t too bad. After fixing them up I had to come up with and memorize a three-minute pitch. I was ready to go and do a practice pitch by seven am unfortunately my team wasn’t.

I tried my best to be a project manager but wasn’t able to keep everyone on task. I learned first hand overnight that not everyone has the same level of commitment. Even though we were breaking night, some of us were taking naps and others were watching videos. There’s a saying in small businesses that your employees will never work as hard as you. I figured since they were breaking night, they wanted to win the competition. So without a working product, I did the pitch and was able to buy us some more time to get the demo up. To make the story short, we didn’t have a demo ready at the cutoff. Instead of getting disqualified, I was able to talk one of the organizers into letting me present. I will be posting the pitches on the YouTube channel. But I know what everyone has been waiting for, did we win first place? Nope, we didn’t even place but I was happy about that. It was impossible for us to win but I was able to make a lasting impression on the crowd. After the event, I was approached by many different people. Some wanted to network while others were there to give advice. According to some of the executives, we could potentially make over 150k in sales by the end of the year. Sounds amazing, but I decided to walk away from the project.

Many people who I have told this story, have called me crazy. I sent them the slides and business plan and they think it’s an amazing idea (which it is). This idea can make a lot of money but it’s not always about the money. After spending the weekend with the team, I saw that I can not work with people who put less than a hundred percent of their effort in their work. I know working in a team allows you to leverage others but I like giving 300% while others give between 50-100%. No matter what this weekend was amazing because I learned a crap load. I learned how to do a sales pitch, a business plan and a business plan. I also increased my network and learned many other valuable lessons. My aim was to never win first place but to get the right people interested in our product. I accomplished that and the team was able to learn how to speak in front of a crowd. Two years ago I wrote about overcoming my fear of public speaking and I was able to prove it. Below is a snipet of the pitch I gave in front of a room of over two hundred people.

Remember to be successful it's your right, duty, and responsibility.