The life and death of a disruptive idea

A hackathon is an event where software programmers, developers and designers come together for days on end to brainstorm, create and collaborate. It's a place where ideas are born - and like all ideas some die quietly, some burn bright but quickly flare out and others take on a life of their own.

Daniel Norton is a professional code writer, not a professional copy writer. Despite this, he put together a diary for BlueNotes on a recent Fintech hackathon in Melbourne. What happened will surprise you.

" Our rationale was that if we can sell to our biggest detractor, then we would be on the right path."
Daniel Norton, Manager, pricing data and analytics at ANZ

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6:00pm – It begins

I arrived at York Butter Factory in Melbourne, weary from a week of work but excited/nervous about the next 60 hours. A colleague talked me into competing in a Fintech Hackathon, where essentially over the space of the weekend, we would brainstorm disruptive fintech ideas and put an immense amount of effort into getting a working prototype of some description.

I registered, along with my colleague, as a technician, which meant I ended up with the 'gilded' yellow lanyard. Over the next hour, a number of non-technicians came up and introduced themselves. They were both selling their 'disruption' idea whilst trying to gauge detail about my technical skills before moving on.

7:00pm – Pitch time

The organisers provided a microphone and two minutes of pitch-time to anyone in the room. A lot of ideas I'd heard about before but there were a couple of new ones.

Most ideas involved Bitcoin, Blockchain and Peer-2-Peer (P2P) themes. I teamed up with a group who was looking to develop a P2P gambling platform where you could bet between your mates on anything (literally anything) without involving a traditional bookmaker.

Admittedly I chose this team because it seemed more flavoursome than developing yet another Bitcoin-based technology.

8:00pm – The birth of an idea

By 8pm, our team of six had spec'd out our core business proposition, how our tech would be disruptive, and decided on what functionality we wanted to have built into the platform before the deadline of 5pm on Sunday.

We had come up with a name, Betmate, registered the website, and were delegating tasks/priorities.

We had to move fast, cover an impossible amount of ground and make it look like a polished brand before our deadline – the five minute pitch, due 5pm Sunday. 45 Hours!

9:00pm – 44 hours remaining

An hour after starting to code, we had a server up and running, two team members already fleshing out the platform API (how the website will interact with the server), and had started building the scaffolding for our website.

We used a number of existing frameworks to cut our development time, which freed up my time to work through what our core value proposition and product, was.

We called it a night shortly after midnight, realising this weekend would be a marathon effort, not a sprint.


9:00am – 32 hours remaining

Some members of our team had already put a few hours into the server side of the product before the official opening time of 9am.

Throughout the morning we were approached by mentors – experienced tech start up entrepreneurs. We promptly found the one who disliked our product the most, figuring he would give the most useful feedback given the time constraints we had to deal with.

Our rationale was that if we can sell to our biggest detractor, then we would be on the right path.

12:00pm – 29 hours remaining (and our first team member leaves)

By lunchtime we had a team member already pull the pin. They felt they were limited in what they could contribute and wanted to salvage their weekend.

I was too busy to spend too much time trying to talk them out of leaving. We all skipped lunch and powered on into the afternoon.

4:00pm – Problem to a solution or solution to a problem?

Our favourite mentor, who provided the best critical feedback, asked us if our gambling platform is a solution looking for a problem.

Asked if I would use it, I said I wouldn't, which prompted the follow up “why would anyone else then?"

I was a bad example because I don't gamble as it is so he suggested we actually ask our target demographic, face to face.

That would mean leaving the safety of being behind the computer and actually canvassing the street. I didn't like it but he was right.

The only way we would know if this idea has any traction is to go and ask people. Fortunately for us we knew our target demographic would be hitting the city for a Saturday night of festivities!

Before heading out, we created a landing page and used our collective social media platforms to try to direct traffic. This would help us with validating the viability of our product online.

7:00pm –What comfort zone?

Another team member and I headed into town to get real world feedback. Admittedly my intent was to score points with the judges more than testing our product out.

After a few hours, we got into the swing of it and started to get some invaluable feedback. In short – no-one would use a P2P service to gamble against their mates… a fair amount of people found the idea distasteful.

Our product was fundamentally flawed – we were trying to intermediate a relationship which didn't want us as a point of friction in the relationship.

This was a big setback. We had guys back at the Hackathon working on a half built platform that no one wants.

11:00pm – 18 hours left (with a product no one wants)

We made our way back to the Hackathon and had a crisis meeting with the team. With 18 hours left, we had no time to change the core functionality we had built.

We had already invested a lot of time into the platform, as well as branding. One piece of feedback we did get regularly though was that people would use our platform if it wasn't between mates but with someone else - another person watching the game at the MCG or someone else (a non-mate) at the pub.

At this point we decided to pivot our core product – a dangerous move with ~50 per cent of the Hackathon already over.

After fleshing out our new purpose, restructuring some of the code to adopt the new strategy, we headed home just after midnight.


9:00am – Eight hours left (do or die)

Earlier in the morning I was trying to decide if I was enjoying myself. My stress levels were extremely high and we had too much to do in not much time. But also I felt invigorated by the challenge and by the team.

2:00pm – three hours left

I had 10 minutes with a group of mentors to run through our practice five-minute pitch. I spent the first seven minutes on the first three slides before they stopped me and told me in no uncertain terms I had to clean it up, cut it down and work fast to get it in shape within three hours.

The backend of our platform was semi-working, an astounding effort on the part of our developers.

17:00pm – 0 hours left

17:10pm – negative 10 minutes left

The pitches of the teams before us took a little longer due to post-pitch questions. I used this time to make final adjustments to the slides, mentally rehearse the key messages and psyche myself up.


With the pitches complete, it was down to the judges. One of the judges runs Australia's largest Bitcoin exchange so we knew he would have a not-so-hidden bias to anything BTC.

In the end we came third out of 15 teams, behind a share-house budgeting platform and a Bitcoin transaction product.

After the proceedings we were repeatedly approached and asked the “what's next for BetMate?" question and a few of people even wanted to organise to meet up in the future to discuss opportunities.

Me? I just did this weekend for a challenge and to meet other inspired developers/entrepreneurs. We came third, and I think there are legs to the BetMate product but my team consisted largely of other technical professionals who on Monday had to go back to work.

None of us were really interested in creating a gambling service either – we wouldn't mind being involved in a disruptive product but disruptive in a way which promotes a social good was important.

We were more interested in the challenge. And with that general conclusion, BetMate, our idea, with all its code, servers, platform, branding and sales pitch, died.

Sunday, 11:00pm

The last team member has left my place where we had headed to celebrate. I asked myself again if I had enjoyed the weekend. I had, immensely.

The room was electric and the energy from other competitors palpable. Anyone who is prepared to spend their whole weekend on limited sleep, doing things outside of their comfort zone, is worth being around.

What's next for me? That would be work, tomorrow morning, at 8am sharp.

Daniel Norton is manager, pricing data and analytics at ANZ.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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