HACKAGONG: The Beginnings

HACKAGONG began very much like a lean startup, with very humble beginnings.

Myself and business partner, Tristan Grace, had just come back from the Sensis API Hackathon (SAPIhack) held in March 2012 at Pollenizer in Surry Hills, Sydney. It was the first hackathon we’d ever attended, and was an incredibly awesome experience. We met some very talented people, including some big names in the Sydney startup scene. Our creation, called “Yellow Fridge”, was an attempt to make a more social Yellow Pages ranked by social data and what your friends liked. After being exposed for the first time (of many) to Pollenizer co-founder, Mick Liubinskas’ famous talk on “Focus“, we decided to focus on restaurant searches only. So if you searched for “italian” in “Surry Hills” it would search the Yellow Pages results, and also search and combine Facebook pages and checkins, ordering the results by most popular.

Anyway, we didn’t take home the overall winner, but we won a cash prize and Pollenizer took such a liking to our solution and the audacity of our 42startups initiative (building a new startup per week), that they offered us desk space and mentoring at Pollenizer for 4 months!

At this stage we were in StartPad, an incubator in Wollongong that is run by the university. And as soon as we got back, we mentioned to the StartPad management that Wollongong definitely needed its own hackathon. I felt that in just one weekend, we’d learned quite a lot about how to launch a startup and what to be focusing on (customers!), and this was something the fledgling Wollongong startup scene really needed.

Fast forward a few months to October 2012, and nothing had happened. I’d just finished building a website that used the AngelList API to showcase Wollongong startups, and so the local spirit was flowing.

We’d been in StartPad since the beginning of the year and I was clashing with their motivations and management style at the time, so we knew we probably wouldn’t get back in the next year.

So I thought, “screw it, I’ll try this myself”  and just see if anyone wanted a Wollongong hackathon. I put up a simple Facebook event asking “Any interest in a Wollongong hackathon?” and within two weeks, about 80 people had RSVP’d with either a yes or maybe.

I then pitched the idea at the next eClub where I found a bunch of very cool people who were willing to help organise.

And as they say, the rest is history.

Though even with a posse of talented volunteer organisers, actually organising the first event was very difficult, often consisting of 12-15 hour days, 7 days per week. There were issues with venues, issues with people wanting to stop it from happening altogether, issues with bureaucracies, issues with time, and of course the stress of the unknown: would we find enough sponsorship to cover costs and prizes?, would enough people turn up? etc.

Amazingly, all of it came together in less than 8 weeks from when I first put up the Facebook event asking for interest. I’ve never organised an event this large before, and never had to raise sponsorship before. For the inaugural event we had 90 competitors across 27 teams and raised a total of $20,000. There were hiccups, but the feedback from everyone was overwhelmingly positive, and now we have a brand and a cool event that we can grow together as a community to help rapidly bring about a vibrant startup and hacker culture in Wollongong.

So I would say to anyone out there, if you want to do something, just fucking do it and don’t let anything get in the way.

Cheers, Nathan Waters

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