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Turning on the Creativity with our Snappathon

Snappy Gifts, Tech, Product Leadership, CPO, Chief Product Officer, Ry Sullivan, Hackathon, Hacking, Innovation
Ry Sullivan
|
July 27, 2023

Hackathons—or in our case “Snappathons”—are powerful reminders of the creative power and problem-solving abilities that reside inside each and every one of us. With the proper planning and organization, these events can be celebrations where we suspend the trappings of everyday meetings and replace them with dedicated time to innovation and “trying something new.” 

Snappy recently held its first all-company hackathon in over two years and it was one of the most successful and joy-filled weeks I’ve experienced since joining the company. I want to share our process, learnings, and takeaways so that others can experience the same excitement and harness their collective creativity. 

Goals

Before designing our Snappathon, we asked ourselves why we were doing it. Across our group of organizers and sponsors, we identified three goals for ourselves:

📅 Set aside dedicated time to build new things: It was important to cement the Snappathon on the calendar early so teams could design their roadmaps, sprints, meetings, etc. in anticipation of the event. We designed and shared a clear calendar while gathering project ideas to ensure everyone was a member of a team on the day the Snappathon started.

🧠 Celebrate Snappy’s culture of innovation and explore new technologies: We aimed to encourage people to try something new and potentially uncomfortable. This meant asking everyone to adopt the improved mentality of “Let’s try this!” and “Here’s how I might help.”

💪 Solve valuable problems that are faced by our customers and our business: Since we were asking people to dedicate two days to the Snappathon, we wanted to see their ideas turn into reality. We encouraged people to pursue ideas that could be released into our product or adopted into our way of working. 

Designing the Hackathon

We quickly learned that while colleagues were hungry to participate in the Snappathon, they also wanted clarity around what to expect. With this feedback, our organizing team created five main events, which we communicated broadly and frequently leading up to the Snappathon start. 

Each event included blocks on our company calendar so “dedicated time” became a reality rather than words on a slide:

  1. Kickoff and team meetings (Monday): To remove the cold start problem and enable people in different time zones to coordinate early (we span 10 time zones as a company!), we set up sessions for every team to get together to discuss their idea and how they might approach it. This session also allowed people to brush up on unfamiliar or new technology, like the plethora of AI tools that have recently been launched. For some Snappers, the kickoff meeting was the first time they had interacted with certain colleagues. 
  2. Snappathon Build Days (Tuesday and Wednesday): We dedicated two full days for every team to turn their idea into reality. Teams rapidly iterated designs, code, and new ways of doing things—it was impressive to witness. Additionally, we made sure to remove all company meetings during this time, with critical client calls being the only exception.
  3. Team Presentations | Voting Opens (Thursday): Perhaps the most fun and awe-inspiring part of the entire event. For 90 minutes, the entire company gathered on a single Zoom call to watch our 15 teams present their work in 3-minute blocks. This event was a true celebration filled with smiles, recognition, and a whole lotta “wow!” moments. Ninety minutes might sound like a long-time, but the energy level never waned—cameras stayed on and no one dropped off early. Our live chat was a cascade of positivity. At the end of the presentations, we opened voting for everyone at Snappy to select up to 3 favorite projects.
  4. Voting Closes (Following Monday): We kept our polls open through the weekend for teams to vote. Overall, we had ~75% of every person at the company submit their winning teams. The most common refrain we heard: “There are too many good projects to choose from! How will I only pick three?!”
  5. Winners Announced (Following Wednesday): The entire company regathered as we announced the winners and distributed prizes.

Post-Hackathon Plans

There were two questions that immediately surfaced the moment our hackathon ended: (1) “When is the next one!?!” and (2) “Will we release Snappathon products and projects?”

Based on the outpouring of innovation and creativity, I can guarantee we’ll be doing another Snappathon before long. We’ve already had people start submitting ideas for it! We’ve also surveyed the company on what we could do better next time—this is our chance as organizers to learn too.

For the second question, our plan is to release as many of these projects as possible. Some of them are further along and require some final polish, while others provided learnings and a blueprint for future and significant product changes. Our Product team is looking forward to including many of them in our roadmaps for Q3 and Q4 (so be on the lookout!). 

There are some projects which might never be released as well—and that’s OK. It wouldn’t be a Snappathon without a few teams pushing the creative frontier to some truly remarkable places.

What We Learned

The Snappathon achieved—and exceeded—our objectives of fostering creativity and building things that can make a positive impact on our user experiences. Teams made up of colleagues with different backgrounds and skills came together to solve new and difficult problems—many working together for the first time. All of the teams left us in awe of what they accomplished in only two days.

As our company’s CPO, it’s also important for me to note my belief that inside every person there is a product thinker. When people see a user struggling with something, the natural and empathetic human reaction is to consider how they might solve it. At Snappy, we encourage this type of creativity and innovation every day. Every week might not be a Snappathon, but there’s a lot we can learn from the power of getting people together and giving them the space to try new things.

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