Hackin’ it up in the Chinese Capital

The team from 北星, at the Lenovo Future Life Innovation Hackathon 2017.

Participating in hackathons has been known to be an “NOC thing” and we at NOC Beijing, are no different to this hackathon-dabbling business. Over the weekend of 22–24 September, some of us participated in the Lenovo Future Life Innovation Hackathon. Here’s what the team from 北行 consisting of Aaron, Geng Hao, Yuechen, Analise and Jia En have got to say about their experience.

“One of the coolest weekends we have had so far in our 3 months in Beijing.

We approached this hackathon very differently from previous hackathons we have participated in. For starters, we initially didn’t have the tech resources for the product building aspect so we knew we had to do something about it.

Before the weekend, we ideated on a smartwatch workplace efficiency product that would simplify the recording of meeting minutes by transcribing, translating and organizing what was recorded in real-time via natural language processing. It was a very ‘rough idea’ kind of effort though — we briefly thought about how to justify our idea for the pitch, the market we had intended to target but there wasn’t a fully formed product strategy. At that point in time, we were just concerned if we would even be able to get the tech resources needed for our product to be realised. Hence we went into the hackathon without much expectations, just hoping to wing it.

On pitching our idea to the floor, we managed to recruit three other locals to join our team, one of whom was a Lenovo programmer himself! That was when we started getting really excited because who doesn’t want to see their idea being turned into reality?

There are always problems that can be expected in a hackathon but we were definitely in for a surprise for what this hackathon exposed us to, compared to our previous hackathon participation experiences. Being in a Chinese-based hackathon in itself was a challenge — think everything you would typically expect to do in a hackathon, except in the Chinese medium!

We struggled to communicate the direction of our idea and how we had intended to realise it. The smartwatch idea pivoted into a typical mobile app due to tech constrains. The teammates we recruited, with their extensive knowledge of the Chinese consumer market, felt that smartwatches weren’t prevalent yet amongst the locals despite the huge potential of the wearables market in the future. On the design side of things, we had some friction with regards to where we should focus on priorities on — developing our product well or demonstrating thoroughly the user flows of our app. Even on the business side of things, we had disagreements about how we wanted to structure our final presentation — what were the information and research figures we wanted to showcase and how we wanted them to be showcased. There were so much ongoing negotiation and banter amongst the 8 of us, it was definitely an eye-opening experience.

I think one thing we didn’t realized that was so critical was the importance of being able to communicate effectively, clearly and strategically across cultural differences. Aside from the personable aspects, there were many business lessons learnt throughout our weekend as well. They didn’t just teach us market validation for nothing in school. Having a great idea was one thing, but to be able to have a good business model and market to extend this concept is equally important as well. And of course, it’s always thrilling to witness how the intricacies of business planning, user experience, interface design and tech development fit together when coming up with a new product.

Eventually, we managed to produce a minimum viable product to display to the entire crowd and it was nice that they were impressed by it. Though we didn’t place, it was refreshing to once again be able to build something for the spirit of it!”