Mentoring the BOQ Hackathon 2017

Building the Future of Financial Technology in 54 hours sounds like an ambitious goal – but ambition is what startups are all about.

About a week ago (Friday 3rd – Sunday 5th March) what felt like about 250 people descended upon the Bank of Queensland’s Gasworks adjacent headquarters prepared to take on the ambitious task of building the Future of FinTech. 

As a technology consultant and sponsor representative, I was invited along to offer specialist technical mentoring for the participants. I came prepared to be bombarded with questions about target tech stacks, mobile device deployment, elastic infrastructure, availability guarantees, compliance data capture, audit logging, cyber security and all other manner of curly, left field technical question. As it turned out, this was not the most valuable service I could offer.

The weekend was branded as a Hackathon but was very much pitched as a startup weekend. The participants were treated to a series of exceptional education sessions across the course of the weekend on Lean start up, business models, validation, and pitching. The goal was to arm the attendees with the skills they would need to successfully pitch their startup idea and by Sunday night, attract the attention of potential investors.

Friday night was all about the ideas. Around fifty people stepped up to the microphone to share their initial pitch with the audience. With all the startup proposals on the table, the non-pitching participants were spoiled for choice in selecting an idea to get on board with for the remainder of the weekend. And this is where the hard work began, with the most eager teams getting a head start late on Friday night.

The initial focus was research. Market scans, competitor analysis, demographic data. Is there an unfulfilled need in the market place, what is the size of the market and who might you be competing against for a slice of the pie.

Next up was validation. Was the idea actually good. More more than that, was it something people were actually willing to pay for. There are plenty of good ideas that nobody is willing to commit their hard earned cash to. So the teams took to the streets, interviewing potential customers to see if their idea had legs.

For some, the feedback allowed the ideas to be refined slightly, honed more clearly to their target markets. Others had to pivot their ideas, changing large parts of their initial offering to meet an alternative definition of the initially anticipated customer demand. Others still had to jump on entirely different horses, abandoning their original idea completely.

From here onto the planning. How exactly would be business operate? What kind of up front or ongoing operational costs might be incurred? How would the market potential be realised?

Lastly the teams need to prepare their final pitch. The teams needed to craft a coherent story about their idea, the market potential of the idea and their plan to execute. The final pitch was each teams opportunity to convince the judging panel not only that their idea had proven potential but also that the team drive and desire to execute.

None of this sounds particularly technical, so if not technical assistance, what was my most useful contribution?

Encouragement.

The intensity of fifty-four caffeine fuel hours with little sleep and a lot of hard work should not be underestimated. When the teams hit road blocks or obstacles it is easy to throw your hands in the air and declare the task impossible, Sometimes, a set of (relatively) fresh eyes and a few judicious questions can offer the alternative perspective needed to navigate otherwise insurmountable issues.

The BOQ blog has the full wrap of the weekend here

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