A Story of Spontaneity

In my previously blog post, I mention the importance of investing in technology and increasing your digital literacy as medium. However, I should have begun that discussion with more rudimentary concepts like the act of spontaneity, essentially taking big risks and pushing out from your comfort zone.

A quality that I may have taken for granted over the years, looking back now I’ve always used spontaneity to progress from when I dropped out of law school to learn programming. I want to discuss a recent experience of spontaneity and how it paid off big and how I was part the wining team for TechCrunch Disrupt Radix Hackathon Challenge 2016. This story began in my twitter feed when TechCrunch just announced annual Hackathon in London and I was drawn by the prospects developing and pitching products at such an established event. So as an act of impulse I instantly sign up and booked my train ticket and accommodation.

I reached London on the Friday to spend an extra day with relatives and explored the city of London. I woke up early on Saturday and reached the Copper Box Arena approximately 12:30 on cold, breezy Saturday afternoon queued up with my fellow hackers from across Europe. As we entered the hall and teams began to set up, I remember sensation regret as I feared that I may not find a group and the embarrassment of being disfranchised. I drop my bags on a table near the center of the floor where two guys speaking on the other side caught my attention, they would become two key teammates throughout my experience Peter Amsterdam-based designer and Vojta academic from Manchester. After a period of gazing across the hall, I reached over and asked the two if they had formed a group and weather needed a designer or web developer. Peter said ‘sure’ he mentioned they were actually looking for mixture disciplines and right then unknowingly the three of us became the foundation of this new team.

As the team was recruiting I went around the hackathon floor grabbing as many freebies as possible. Later Peter mentions to me that he had invited a python wiz Chelo from Bolivia who would help us with our backend technology and worked with API stacks like Twilio and Pubnub before. In addition, we had Tarek, young Londoner that was both technical and had experience working in established consultancy in the city.

Once the team got to know one another I put on my project management hat on and proposed a brainstorming and ideation session for an hour. I explained that we must research, develop and build a prototype in than less than 20 hours. I then suggested that we should all think of ideas or problems in our own lives but Peter intervened and told us that it would be wise to solve an issue in the developing world and attempt to work on Techfugees challenge one of the sponsor. So then we spent the best part of 3 hours debating and discussing a variety of app, websites and we ended up agreeing to a SOS health response chatbot for underdeveloped nations, enabling patients to send SMS health alters to local clinicians. We understood that internet access was limited and we could leverage the more mature cellular network through Twilio SMS api’s, develop a smart AI engine and interact through common feature phone.

As we had just progressed one of members Chelo who firmly believed in the different vision of doing PubNub ‘Marauders Challenge’ and he explained that he wasn’t fully behind the idea and therefore wanted to work on that challenge elsewhere. As Chelo left our group I could see our group become disheartened as our most technical member had just left and the question loomed of who would build the bot. I looked across the table and remember saying ‘we will build this prototype by tomorrow’ and urged the team to split the workload where Vojta continue his research, I worked with Peter running through Twilio tutorials and Tarek looked his repo in previous chatbots he built. I felt that was may of turned it around and found our momentum we could almost visualize an end product.

After a number of hours and our product offering became more fixed and the prototype was underway, I needed to clear my head before i could design so I went with Tarek to take a breather and grab a lunch from a nearby shopping center. As we returned Chelo was back! he felt bad leaving and was willing to help the group, however Peter and Vojta explained our product was compromised. This was because a similar concept was pitched in the previous year so we have to change our route. This was a huge blow, it was 7:30pm, we had no idea and no prototype so decided to keep the core elements of our idea of the chatbot, use our research and focus on a different sector. So we looked through a myriad of sectors from education, mobility, agriculture and we landed on employability.

We brainstormed the jobs market in a number of the African nations and realised that there was a demand and employability was crucial point of economic prosperity and progressing humanity. So after some research we develop a product, begin prototyping and I coined the name Jobble it was formed by slogans “Jobs in a Text Bubble” and the team approved it. We spent next 7–8 hours developing the product around 3:30 am I went to get some rest for few hours as Peter, Vojta, and Chelo hacked through the night to prepare the pitch and demo.

Pitch day was surprisingly much more relaxed, lots of laughter, pictures and we end up enjoying the pitch process. During pitches I realised how far our group had come and this was achievements in its own right, even though we had numerous ups and downs we managed to get working prototype up on stage.

The common themes throughout my experience was the appetite for collaboration, enjoyment, and competence. With all our challenges we remained collaborative from coming up with ideas to preparing our pitch, even getting over the hurdle of introductions and constraints of working with new people. Lastly, I believe we hit the jackpot as we had right mix professional designer or developers and academic researcher to ensure we pitched a viable product.

I would just like to say a huge thanks to Radix Registry for making this experience truly memorable on behalf of the entire Jobble team. Also Techfugees Team for work they do, Twilio’s Phil Nash for all the support, PubNub and the entire TechCrunch team for hosting a great Weekend.