The Hackathon that Started It All

This post is about my software product Hyperion. You can read more about it here.

The Hackathon

Back in 2016 I was working an entry-level programming job at a software company called Accusoft. Some higher-ups told us about an upcoming hackathon, and that it would be a good idea to go. In a small company with maybe 70 developers, 3 of us attended (accompanied by a couple non-developers).

Once there, we saw several projects to pick from, each proposed by a local non-profit. We chose one of the less ambitious projects - something a few baby developers could build in a weekend - a digital version of a paper survey. The Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative (THHI) wanted to use it for their Point In Time (PIT) count.

The Aftermath

We built an MVP over the weekend and won second place (out of 6–8 teams), returning with a little swag and a few hundred in Amazon gift cards.

The hackathon organizers told us they were setting up regular meetings to encourage participants to keep working on the projects. Most didn’t go, but we did (two of the original five members of the team from Accusoft, both of us developers).

We added a few features, cleaned up the code, and improved the documentation. Then, we learned that the non-profit didn’t have anyone on staff with a software background, so there really wasn’t anyone to put the project into production. They offered to let us bid on the work to set up the servers and productionize the app, but we declined. We’d have to set up an LLC (to do things properly) and sign a contract. It seemed like a lot of work.

The Surprise

Months later, THHI reached out and asked us for more documentation. When we met in person, they asked again if we really, truly weren’t interested in taking the work?

In the intervening months we had grown more interested in side work. We estimated about 100 hours and quoted them $125/hour, deciding it was better to go too high than too low. They countered at $100/hour and we accepted.

The two of us formed an LLC for the contracting, got the work done, and had a pleasant day in early 2019 when THHI used the software we built for the 2019 PIT count.

I had ambitions to build a software product for a couple years but this didn’t seem like the right opportunity. It was a niche product and would only be used once a year, after all. The company we started never would have transitioned from a contracting company to a software company if it weren’t for one email.

Thoughts

I’ll echo what others have said: you need luck to succeed, but many people never give luck the opportunity to intercede on their behalf. You have to put yourself in situations where luck can find you. That’s what we did by going to the hackathon.

There are thousands of programmers in the Tampa Bay Area and less than 50 went to that hackathon (and maybe 10 kept working on projects afterward). Many of those programmers would love additional contracting work and dream of starting a software company. They missed their chance because they didn’t show up.

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