An Opportunity to Fail


David Oates, Ze’ev Klapow and I spent the majority of 24 hours this weekend participating in NU ACM’s Beanpot Hackathon, organized by Wylie Conlon. There were roughly 90 young people at the event, all tasked with rapidly prototyping new software in just 1 day. As I watched demo after demo of incredibly usable products being showcased, I was reminded of the importance of having an opportunity to fail.

I’ve been to start-up weekend style events before, many of which focus on coming up with ideas and plans, usually emerging with a polished slide deck to share with the judging panel. While this is certainly a fun exercise, there is something to be said about taking those ideas and quickly turning them into something real. By having something real and tangible, even if it is crappy, you can gather genuine feedback, and most importantly, you get the opportunity to fail. Ideas on a slide deck are not real enough to fail – they are safe and secure. A prototype on the other hand is real and genuine – it hurts when it is shot down. You are more motivated to fix it and make it better.

So with that said, here is what I learned at the Beanpot Hackathon:

1. You need an opportunity to fail

Make something, don’t just talk about it. Talk is cheap and doesn’t give you a real opportunity to fail. A minimum viable product does.

2. You can create software incredibly quickly

I was amazed by the quality and depth of many of the projects demoed. A huge amount of progress was made in a very short period of time.

3. You can have fantastic results if you’re having fun

The students at the Beanpot Hackathon were coding for hours because it was genuine fun. It was the same stuff that companies pay $100,000 salaries for, and we were all doing it just for fun on a Friday night.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience. Well done to the organizers and thank you to the sponsors. I can’t wait for the next one!

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