“Hey Mish, you aren’t doing anything this weekend, so come for another hackathon”…

“Yeah sure!” and that was that… I was doing my third hackathon weekend in a row, so much for a weekend in.

As I strolled into the York Butter Factory at 5pm on Friday afternoon, I was hurriedly thrust a hoodie and a mentor badge. “You can mentor for the weekend”. Whilst I’m not a dev (I know a bit of code from my days doing Python, CSS and HTML) I do know my way around a good pitch and a great story. I eagerly accepted, hoping I could inject some energy and passion into the weekend.

#BankHackDay as it was known on Twitter was the corporate attempt to digitise ANZ’s operations by drawing on the creative power of RMIT’s IT students. Held at York Butter Factory, in partnership with IBM Bluemix, students came together to solve real world problems faced by ANZ’s employees and customers. I was amazed by the technical talent shown by these bright individuals and the unique ideas they developed over the course of a weekend. Many students used Bluemix’s API to create mobile and web apps to increase efficiency and productivity of employees. Other solutions included training new employees in key responsibilities, using realtime data for collaboration, monitoring, feedback and reporting and creating a platform for ANZ consumers.

I was equally awed by the mentors who gathered for this hackathon. Contrary to UNIHACK where all the mentors (bar me) were coding devs, BankHack bought on board strategists, FinTech specialists, business developers, pitch presenters and directors. The likes of Bernard Schockman (UX), Jason Ota and Jason Wynn (FinTech), Nick Teulon (90seconds), Marc Harrison (Listium), Marty Kemka (WeTeach), Felix Fong, Leon Gouletsas and David Mast (Bluemix) inspired hackers to the point were almost every participant felt comfortable speaking in front of an audience. I felt shadowed by their greatness, nonetheless I learnt something too.

Like all good hackathons, there were some fantastic talks to break hackers out of their idea bubbles and get them thinking outside the square.

Bernard’s FishBowl on the Saturday afternoon really got everyone thinking… “is it plagiarism or is it collaboration?” Whilst this debate had its banter on Twitter it really makes one wonder. Coming from a university background and having students from university present instantly makes them think of losing marks when they hear the word “plagiarism”. Bernard however encouraged everyone to think instead about collaboration. “If you have an idea, don’t hold it close to you… share it with others, invite them in, and you will being to see awesome designs being made”.

FishBowl at York Butter (image courtesy of David Mast)
FishBowl at York Butter (image courtesy of David Mast)

I’ve noticed how most startups these days don’t simply have founders, they have co-founders. This is a testament to the collaborative nature of the startup culture. Understanding you can’t do everything yourself is key to a great business. As Bernard points out, “you need to be part of a team”. You don’t have to know everything. Instead, surround yourself with like-minded individuals with different skill sets and draw on each other’s strengths to create the ultimate idea, business or startup. University group projects often fail because these things aren’t taken into consideration. Group work can be the best thing in the world, or the worst. It depends on how you look at your team and whether you can collaborate effectively.

Anyway, back to bank hack… our second fishbowl talk came at just the right moment, Sunday morning whilst everyone was fretting over their pitches. Nick, Marc and Marty took the stage and attempted to calm participants by saying “if you are not panicking already… you should be!” so much for helping our hackers remain collected. They had a point though. If you weren’t already working on your pitch presentation by Sunday morning – you should be!!! They did have a couple of good pointers before running around and helping teams; tell a good story, and enthusiasm and passion go a long way.

They hit the money maker when they talk about telling a good story. As humans, we are all about stories. Even as kids we listened to our parents read us bed time stories. When we are out on the town, the person who everyone is listening to is telling an awesome story. The most popular person at a party has all the guests in stitches laughing at their story. Narratives are powerful. They hit the emotional response of individuals and create a scenario which everyone can relate to. If you are trying to sell something, ditch the boring stats and replace it with a narrative. Paint a picture which your buyer can related to. Tell them how their story will be more awesome by having your product in it.

If this doesn’t make sense to you, or you can’t see the value, look at the winners of BankHackDay. Team Hacking Bad created an online app call PUNDIT, a platform to train new employees in key tasks and responsibilities. Whilst their idea was brilliant, original and had huge potential within ANZ, what really impressed the judges was Hacking Bad’s use of narrative. Their pitch leader described a scenario where Joe (a fictional character) had been offered a job at ANZ, went out on the town to party it up, got to the office the next day and had no idea where to start. Instantly everyone in the room could relate as many had been in Joe’s position. But Hacking Bad didn’t leave it there, they talked about how PUNDIT came to the rescue and helped Joe through his employee induction using a live demo of the product they developed over the weekend. Their constant use of describing a problem and how it was addressed by PUNDIT is what gave them the advantage over other pitches.

Speaking of pitches, they were all amazing. The judges (Patrick Maes – ANZ, Nigel Adams – ANZ, Stuart Richardson – Adventure Capital, Scott Barlow – IBM, Andy Song – RMIT) commented on the quality of ideas presented and how every idea could be implemented at ANZ. “There were no bad ideas” said one of the judges. Even Andy expressed his amazement at his students being able to formulate solutions so rapidly, saying “I’ve now seen what you can all do in such a short time, so if you ever ask for an extension… I won’t give it to you!” Patrick and Nigel were almost overwhelmed by the number of implementable ideas and encouraged teams to get in touch if they wanted to further develop their solutions.

All in all, it was another fantastic hackathon weekend. I love hanging out with the Bluemix guys and York Butter Factory is an amazing co-working space where you can just feel the energy busting out of the building. We topped off a great weekend of food, robots, games, talks and hacking with a night on the river.

BankHack Participants!!!
BankHack Participants!!!

I think I’m definitely going to need at least a weekend off now. Thanks for reading and stay posted for more events this week.

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