Suggestions from Last Year’s Hackathon Winner (part 7 of TechCrunch, Disrupted)

TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2011

J’aime Ohm won the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon as a solo hacker with a personal safety iPhone app.  WiseDame’s tag line is “making safe living easier, one application release at a time”. It takes basic safety practices – letting friends or family know what time you expect to be home,  leaving a note about your plans for the day – and makes them better, faster, and easier.  Brilliant.

And a great case study in agile software engineering, too. J’aime started with an idea for a product she wanted and a set of use cases based her own experience. Next she talked with a bunch of potential early adopters who were variants on a target persona (”women who go out”) and had enough information to build a prototype. Which she did, and iterated rapidly continuing to get feedback, all in less than 24 hours.

— me in Now *that’s* what I call disruptive, October 2010

What a difference a year makes!  Last year’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco took place in the aftermath of the the Arrington Kerfuffle and Angelgate, and wound up with AOL acquiring TechCrunch.  This year, it’s in the midst of an ugly breakup, involving “tense severance negotations” between AOL and former editor Michael Arrington.   Pass the popcorn!

Techcrunch Disrupt has gotten a lot of heat for its underrepresentation of women.  This year’s speaker list includes Hilary Mason of, Rebekah Cox of Quora, Gina Bianchini of Ning, Aileen Lee of Kleiner Perkins, and Marissa Meyer of Google … and over 50 guys, including the author of The Diversity Myth, a VC known for his quote about preferring to fund straight white guys, and an investor who thinks startups have a competitive advantage because they can discriminate.  And remember how rapper/CEO Chamillionaire was the only black speaker last time?  This time, there don’t seem to be any blacks at all on the list.  Nice.

Oh well, it is what it is.  And despite all its imperfections, Disrupt is a great opportunity for visibility for the companies participating in the Startup Battlefield — and for the people participating in the opening Hackathon.  There are some serious prizes this year.

So for those of you making a run at it, here’s some advice.

J’aime suggests …

Not from me, of course.  I’ve never been.  Instead, I asked J’aime for suggestions.  Here’s what she said:

  • What to bring: Snacks! Also, a list of ideas, a good night’s sleep, your tools of the trade and (if you have them) friends
  • How to arrive: Say hello to people. Learn something about them. You may want advice from each other later and you may make friends.
  • How to start: Wireframes (or a flow diagram) are your first prototype; spend 2-3 hours getting those on paper and getting feedback
  • How to behave: Wear your chill pants at all times — don’t let team dynamics or interruptions distract you after you’ve responded to them.
  • Whether to take a break: YES. I went to the Embarcadero with a couple friends around 10pm and walked along the bay for an hour.
  • Whether to sleep: Nah. Work through the night if you can. That’s the spirit of the event.
  • When demo time comes: Be ok with imperfection (looking at your peers’ equally-unfinished work helps) and present no matter what you have/haven’t finished.

Of course, everybody approaches an event like a Hackathon in their own way; what works for J’aime might not work for you. Still, these all seem really sensible.  Thanks, J’aime!   For more about the Hackathon experience, check out Evelyn Rusli’s excellent interview below.

Good luck to everybody participating … looking forward to seeing what you come up with!


Earlier posts in the TechCrunch, Disrupted series:

Fretting, asking, and begging isn’t a plan, Collusion is sooo hot right now,
The third wave meets the anatomy of awesome, Changing the ratio,
A public service announcement, A celebration of disruptive women,
Hold that thought
and a href=”″>Now *that’s* what I call disruptive