King for a Day vs Internal Hackathons

You should see all the “How to start a startup”-videos from the Startup Class by Sam Altman. Great talks by great people.

I was watching the one with Kevin Hale, Founder of Wufoo, when he started to talk about company hackathons. He doesn’t like them. Why? Because it lets people work hard on a problem their passionate about, but then only a fraction of the solutions end up in the final product.

I agree with this observation. Running a hackathon means you run the risk of giving people hope (about their favorite feature) and then taking it away when you can’t add the feature to the product.

So, what did Kevin do differently?

They introduced the “King for a Day”-variant of a hackathon, described here:

They pick a person at random from the employees and make her or him “King/Queen for a Day”. That person then get to decide what features to work on during the King for a Day-hackathon. The entire company gets behind the feature, from marketing to sales and R&D.

At Wufoo, this lead to a boost in company morale. Everyone felt they worked on something meaningful to the product. Definitely worth trying for the next hackathon in your company.

(This was originally posted in February 2015.)