[I]f a good idea were obviously good, someone else would already have done it. So the most successful founders tend to work on ideas that few beside them realize are good. Which is not that far from a description of insanity, till you reach the point where you see results.
-Paul Graham, Black Swan Farming
The first time Peter Thiel spoke at YCombinator he drew a Venn diagram that illustrates the situation Graham describes in the above quote perfectly. Inside one circle he wrote, “seems like a bad idea” and inside the other, “is a good idea.” The intersection, he said, is the sweet spot for startups. Turns out it’s the sweet spot for hackathons as well.
We held our first week-long hackathon this past spring. It was a week where anybody at Optimizely could work on anything they wanted. The results were outstanding with 20 hacks presented to the entire organization. Some of these hacks were launched and productized like “Calculatornado.” Other hacks kick started projects we’re currently working on like “The Droids are Coming.”
This week was so good, our ambitions were so high, the only thing we needed at the end of that week was another one.
Two Weeks to Hack
For our second hackathon this fall, we decided a week was not enough for all the ideas and ambition to take root. Since our teams run on two-week sprints, we decided to make our second hackathon a sprint dedicated to hacking. And thus was born Hack Sprint.
This Hack Sprint we had 61 participants who presented 25 different hacks. Some of these hacks will be launched soon, others will be coming together for Opticon 2015. One of these hacks launched internally this week—”Optiface.” What is “Optiface” and how did the team build it? Read about it here on our blog.
Why are hack sprints awesome?
Hack Days, Hack Weeks, Hack Sprint, whatever your timeframe, hackathons are an incredible time to do justice to the ideas you think fall somewhere in the intersection of crazy, brilliant, prone to fail, and fearless. They work particularly well when you allow people from all different teams to collaborate on projects they’re passionate about.
We want to build a culture that enables us to build revolutionary new things and not just evolutionary improvements. Our goal for Hack Sprints is simple: be able to build products and features that might initially seem like bad ideas but are actually good ideas. What a better way to do this than over two weeks where people are free to inhabit the intersection of good and bad and explore?