Miso (and I) had our first Hackathon last week, and both of us survived! Our goal: conceive of an idea and build it within 3 days. We built Listify – an iPhone app that let’s you create, browse, and upvote lists of TV show and movies. Also with accompanying web landing pages.
A Little Bit of Context
At Miso, we’ve been working on making fun things for people watching TV, starting with check-ins, but experimenting with synchronized trivia, exclusive content, live Q & A. However, over the last three months, we’ve been focusing on ideas that connect friends around what they watch.
Why a Hackathon?
Entrepreneurs seem to be drinking heavily from the “Lean Startup” and “customer development” kool-aid. One basic tenet is that product ideas/assumptions can be proven in days, not weeks or months. Common tactics include applying MacGyver-like strategies to challenge product assumptions. For example, create a splash page (this was our first attempt – http://playredzone.herokuapp.com) for a product before writing any code.
Generally speaking, it can be challenging to apply their methodologies consistently, but Hackathons certainly seem to intrinsically embody the spirit of Lean Startup. Also, as most engineers will understand, creating something new from end to end is a very rewarding experience.
On to the Main Event
As we were deciding what to build for the Hackathon, we set the following constraints:
- Should be consistent with the “connect friends around what they watch” theme.
- Should be built on the Miso API (i.e., not as a feature in our main product).
- We have to want to use it.
- Must be finished in 3 days.
After some happy hour brainstorming, we came up with the basic motivation and mechanics behind Listify.
The need: People need help discovering what movies and TV shows to watch.
The underlying psychologies:
- People want to express themselves. Lists are a structured and easy way to do that.
- People take pride in their sense of taste. The band they “discovered”, the new (or old) indie film, are all worthy Facebook posts.
- People enjoy communities of like-minded people. They’re hard to create, but when it works, it’s unbeatable.
Over the course of a few hours, we defined a minimum (and a reach) feature set, then designed and sketched an iPhone application, with accompanying web landing pages for the lists. We also spec’d the RESTful API that would support the iPhone app.
Over the next two (long) days, Josh and I built the iPhone app, while Nathan and Nico implemented the API (which utilized the Miso API, RABL, and Padrino) and the web splash pages. Nico served double duty as our art director. Aside from some idle discussion that a little thought and investment in library development could make building iPhone apps that are fairly straightforward views of a RESTful API much faster, the implementation went without much incident.
While we’ve been happily using the app in beta for a week or so, we hope to release the app to the iPhone App Store after about a day of cleanup work, as soon as we find the time.
Overall, putting aside all the business rationalizations for doing a company hackathon, building something that we were only imagining a few days before was a ton of fun and a testament to why we’re engineers in the first place. I’ll be sure to update this blog post when we actually submit to the App Store.