Two weeks ago, the entire Buzzvil team went to Yeoju for our annual workshop and our first internal hackathon. But let me just say upfront, this is not a traditional hackathon story. Nor is this about a traditional company workshop. At Buzzvil, we like to break out of the box, so we came up with a fusion of the two: a 3-day hackathon + workshop that became a one-of-a-kind experience for all of us.
What Is a Hackathon? And What Is a Workshop?
By now, most of us are familiar with what hackathons are and how they can benefit companies and communities. Typically, hackathons involve engineers getting together to build and often demo a new product or feature in an intensive 24~48-hour time span. While many large-scale hackathons are open to the public, more and more companies are seeing the benefits of internal hackathons and are making them a regular part of their company culture, such as at Yelp, Indeed, and SumAll, to name a few. Then, you have your traditional Korean company “workshop.” Just as a bit of background, many Korean companies have workshops once or twice a year for their entire team. All the employees stay overnight at an out-of-town pension or resort where they have team building activities, employee awards, and games. They’re similar to the idea of company offsites or retreats, but much more casual. Last year, the Buzzvil team had our workshop in Busan to align with attending the G-Star Conference, but this year, we wanted to do something new. Our leadership team decided that an internal hackathon would be a great learning experience for all of us, so we threw a planning team together and set the wheels in motion.
Buzzvil’s First Internal Hackathon + Workshop
We originally had three different goals for our internal hackathon:
- Team building: Get our team to work with others that they may not regularly work with.
- Creative output: Give everyone the opportunity to get away from their desks and daily tasks to squeeze out their creative juices.
- Product development: Create working products or services that can be integrated into our existing Honeyscreen app.
While all three goals are important, we decided that for a team our size and for our first internal hackathon, the team building and creativity aspects are higher priorities than building a working product or feature. We designed our internal hackathon to be non-technical – more of an “ideathon” with a concept and business plan pitch.
As this was everyone’s first hackathon, we thought it’d be helpful to set guidelines for the topic, so we decided to have a theme, one that aligns perfectly with our company mission: “First Screen.” We intentionally chose “first screen” rather than “lock screen” to allow room for interpretation, as the “first screen” can include devices other than smartphones.
We figured that if we wanted everyone to get excited for the hackathon, we’d better make it worth their time and effort! So our planning team (with the support of our CEOs, John and Young) went all out for the grand prize: the first-place team wins a company-paid trip to a resort in Southeast Asia, plus additional vacation days for the trip. To further encourage team building, we also announced the MVP awards. Each team would be nominating one person from their team that demonstrated the greatest leadership, passion, and teamwork during the hackathon, and all six MVPs would receive a pair of movie tickets each.
With such an appealing grand prize on the line, we wanted to make sure that the judging criteria was as transparent and fair as possible. Given the time constraints and available resources, teams were not required to have a working demo for their product. Instead, everyone was given the breakdown of exactly what the scoring sheet would look like, so that they could plan their presentations accordingly:
60% of the score is calculated from peer scores:
25% - Real World Application
- Does this product identify a real need, demand, or problem?
- Does this product solve the identified need, demand, or problem?
25% - Concreteness
- Does the team identify clear customer segment(s)?
- Does the team present the Unique Value Proposition(s) clearly and effectively?
- Does the team effectively use channels to acquire new users and customers?
- Does the team present a strategy for customer relationships and retention?
- Overall, does the team thoroughly and persuasively present the product/service?
10% - Uniqueness
- Is this idea a creative or new solution to a need or problem?
- Does the product innovate on AT LEAST ONE of the following? (a) features (b) design (c) user interactions (d) technical solutions
40% of the score is calculated from our two CEOs' scores:
20% - Possibility and Feasibility
- Is it possible to create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) within 3 months?
- Is it a stand alone product that can be built with our own resources? Or does it require other contributing partners to complete the product?
20% - Teamwork
- Did each team member participate?
- Does the team clearly demonstrate each member’s roles and responsibilities (R&R)?
Idea Pitching and Team Selection
We wanted to make sure that everyone on our team could participate in our first internal hackathon, so all 24 of us (not including our two CEOs) were asked to submit a short, written description of their hackathon idea in advance. Then, each Buzzvillian had to pitch his or her idea within one minute to the rest of the group on the first day of the hackathon. Presenting in front of a group can be intimidating, even if it’s your teammates that you work with on a daily basis, but this was just another opportunity for us to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones, and everyone stepped up to the challenge spectacularly. After all the pitches, everyone then voted for their top two ideas (excluding their own). To submit and tally up everyone’s votes, we used Google Forms, which was a great tool to track and streamline the voting process. The top six ideas then moved forward, with the original presenter as the team leader and three others who voted for the idea as teammates. It took a little bit of juggling to finalize the teams, but we eventually worked out the team arrangements. Then, everyone was let loose to start hacking!
Some of our team members were flying back in from out of the country, so we had to be flexible with our schedule for those that were arriving late. In the end, the hackathon portion lasted just under 24 hours. Not a lot of time, admittedly, but having a tighter deadline forced us to be that much more productive!
- 1:00 - 3:00 PM: Travel to workshop location
- 3:00 - 6:00 PM: Workshop games and activities
- 6:00 - 7:30 PM: Dinner
- 7:30 - 8:00 PM: Hackathon Kick-off
- 8:00 - 8:30 PM: Idea Pitches
- 8:30 - 9:00 PM: Team selection and announcements
- 9:00 - 11:00 PM: Start hacking!
- 11:00 PM: Quiet Time - teams can continue working, but keep the volume down
- 9:00 - 10:00 AM: Breakfast
- 9:00 AM: Teams continue hacking
- 12:30 - 1:30 PM: Lunch
- 1:30 - 4:30 PM: Teams continue hacking
- 4:30 PM: Hand in final presentations
- 4:30 - 6:30 PM: Team presentations
- 6:30 - 7:00 PM: Scoring period
- 7:00 - 9:00 PM: Dinner
- 8:00 PM: Announce winning team and MVPs
- 9:00 - 11:00 PM: Team bonding and games
- 10:00 - 11:00 AM: Pack up and check out
- 11:00 AM: Team photo
- 11:30 AM: Lunch
- 1:00 PM: Travel back to Seoul
All the final presentations were handed in by 4:30 p.m. and teams were chosen to present in random order. Each team had 10 minutes to thoroughly present their final product concept and cover all the aspects of the judging criteria to receive the highest score. Then, a 2-minute Q&A session followed for each team, giving our CEOs and all the other teams a chance to ask for clarification and grill the presenters.
After all the peer scores were submitted with Google Forms and added up with the CEO scores, we had a clear winner. All six teams did very well and the scores of the first and last teams only differed by about 13 points, but the grand prize went to Team 1, who came up with a lock screen product that regulates smartphone usage in school classrooms. Congrats to Ohsu, Jinwoo, Kyunghwa, and Sungmi! Team 6, the runner-up team, presented a product that enables users to have an interactive “pet” on the first screen of your device, and they received honorable mention as well as a complimentary team dinner. Other team ideas included an emergency call app, a location-based social dating app, a short-form messaging app, and a weather + photo app, all with the element of bringing useful functions right to the first screen of the smartphone. All of our teams did an amazing job at bringing Buzzvil’s mission to life!
Rest & Relaxation
After all the hard work and effort that everyone put in to the hackathon, the rest of our workshop was dedicated to food, fun and games!
After everyone had their fill of BBQ for dinner, we were split into three teams and had a little friendly competition in games like charades, thigh wrestling (it’s a real game in Korea!), and word guessing games. The eight people on the winning team each received a half-day off as a prize. Many thanks to Gibeom for organizing the games!
Learnings and Feedback
We were all incredibly impressed by how hard everyone worked and the quality of the ideas the teams were able to produce in such a short period of time. There were a few logistic hiccups here and there, and we learned the hard way that a solid wifi connection is a must-have, but even though not everything went perfectly, our first internal hackathon + workshop was a tremendous success with far greater results than we expected. Our hackathon added a truly interactive team component to our workshop weekend, and this unique combination naturally brought everyone together and helped us to get better connected with each other.
As always, getting feedback is critical at Buzzvil, and we made sure to give everyone a chance to respond with their thoughts and suggestions. Based on our feedback survey, over 90% of our team were satisfied with the hackathon + workshop overall, and more than 80% said they’d like another Buzzvil hackathon. Sounds like we need to get ready for round 2! And yes, those are our team t-shirts.