Learnings from our founder and CTO experience on the #EUvsVirus hackathon
Based on your professional experience this word will denote to various meanings, more precisely to how it is understood and perceived within different contexts. Sales managers most probably have a different understanding – e.g. referring to potential clients – than for example software engineers.
Based on your personal experience, this word will also leave you with various emotions associated. Exploration. Excitement. Reverence. Fear? Our past influences how we perceive new opportunities. It may be a new job or a new personal relationship. How does each individual react to a new situation? Emotions are as diverse as experiences.
All opportunities have one thing in common: They bring something new. And exploring them may result in great personal and professional benefits. In any means for any stakeholder involved.
What I learned within the past months on my entrepreneurial path are three things:
Learning #1. Taking opportunities involves planning. Plans are not accurate or may even be wrong in a lot of cases.
Learning #2. Risks can be high – but benefits even higher.
Learning #3. Get the most out of your benefits by learning from your experiences.
Let me give you an example.
Earlier this year, we (my team of three amazing co-founders and myself) founded our company. Something I have been working on for quite some time now. The company is operating within the field of online performance marketing and is creating software for businesses. Of course, we met a lot of amazing people on the way. Chances were, we got the opportunity by a great fellow founder to work on an amazing European hackathon – the #EUvsVirus.
The question was real: Should we take the opportunity and work on a hackathon that had a planning phase of only one month but that had great ambitions? Should we dedicate that much time in a pro-bono project, (and phew!, we were so wrong with our estimate of how much time we actually had to dedicate – learning #1) where iteratively releasing products and selling should be priority number one of any startup? In a time where first potential leads (or: opportunities) indicated interest in our services?
Objectively it was a pain to decide – but we went for the opportunity. Elaborating an international project with the European Commission as the main stakeholder was just too tempting.
We ended up creating the event website and having the leading role in marketing, thus being listed as an initiator. By that, our reward was three-fold: First, we helped in creating an event where 23,000 people came together remotely to work for the same cause – fighting worldwide pandemics. Among the 2,000 submitted solutions, I found really amazing ideas – I was able to get a deeper look into a few of them. If you are interested in the winners, check this press release. Second, we met a lot of amazing people on our way from any organization role you can imagine exists in such a huge digital event. Third, we benefitted by getting amazing traction to our company’s website (which was not even in a very optimized state, but I guess that is part of the whole start-up journey where you have so many things you have to work on). It resulted in +531% unique users. The unique count of countries from which the users accessed the website was nearly nine times as high as before (learning #2).
On the first day of the actual hackathon weekend, we came up with a great idea – why not enabling participants to take something home from the hackathon. Something they can be proud of. Something they can show to friends, peers, and family. Something, they can retain as a keepsake. We are talking about a personalized virtual badge that contains each participant's name, a personal picture, and the logo of the European Commission. It sounded great. The only thing to consider: This product had to be released as soon as possible, as it was planned to be a post-event badge that participants could receive a few days after the hackathon weekend.
Now it was not only a question of how to dedicate our time but also if we would manage to pick up the additional skills needed in such a short amount of time. The requirements were set: We would need web development competencies, including deployment knowledge for an application that should scale (who knew how many people would actually download a badge?), some image processing to create the badge, and a connector to the LinkedIn API for getting the personal details. Further, the landing page and badge design of course had to pass certain quality standards as we were acting in the name of a governmental institution. And of course, the release of this service should be communicated already, so the deadline was set. Quite a bit for three days. In other words: It felt absolutely insane.
We decided to take the opportunity. Let’s just say those were some intense and long days and nights. And: The first version was finished after three days. It looked great – a huge shoutout to our incredibly talented designers Xin and Claire at this point. We decided on sending one email per minute to all participants for load distribution. This email contained a unique token for authentication purposes. The reactions were overwhelming – soon after launch, we had to scale up the server capacities. A few hours later, my personal LinkedIn was flooded (in a positive sense!) with badges that participants shared with their community. Two days in and over 20% of all participants downloaded their badge. The feedback was throughout positive (learning #2).
We would have never created the badge service if it wasn’t for the first opportunity. The technology we used may have not been the best option. But if we hadn’t started, we would have not known what to optimize. Using these learnings, we are now taking the virtual badge service to the next level and are creating a SaaS that offers badges to various online or offline events (learning #3). Use cases are extensive. Probably even more extensive than we can imagine at the moment. Let’s just wait for the next opportunity.
What I want to point out, is that taking an opportunity and taking a risk (getting out of a comfort zone) opens up new chances. Then you can choose your path. But you have to start somewhere.
To everybody that is struggling to find a way to a start: Just start creating. Whatever you like to create, create it. It really does not matter. Your creativity is a valuable good. Make use of it. The path you end up going is not set. It is shaped by opportunities and decisions. I believe everyone is a creator. And everyone has a voice to be heard.
I am very happy to hear your thoughts on this humble piece of content.
If you would like to connect, feel free to shoot me a message.
Thank you for reading.
Founder and CIO
Jun 2, 2020
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