Perttu Lähteenlahti

    Hackathon Diaries: Talking Plants with Fiskars

    Circular economy and the future of gardening

    Premise

    “Has anyone ever done any gardening?”

    The question echoed in our office for a short time, but was soon met by a snarky counter question wondering whether signing up for a university’s campus farming would suffice as gardening. Our office, a tiny 30 sqm room with a turquoise floor mat, located in a buzzing co-working space, was packed with eight people. The clock was already half past eight in the evening, and we were no closer to coming up with ideas that would make gardening more interesting and get us into this hackathon.

    Room full of people and no one had ever even tried gardening. How were we ever going to get through the selection process of this hackathon, that had everything to do with gardening? What kind of a record breaking concept could a bunch of never-even-held-a-trowel-people create that would both bring gardening to the 21st century and guarantee a pilot project to develop further? You could say that the odds were not in our favor.

    Did I mention that this Fiskars hackathon was organized by Industryhack, one of the best hackathon organizers, which also has the toughest application process? But why is it so tough? First of all this is the big league and there’s no hand holding. Most of the teams come from existing companies, some even from quite big companies such as Tieto and Kone. You cannot apply as an individual but instead you form a team of 2–3 people. Such a small team leaves no room for freeloaders or newbies.

    Second of all, the submission, in which you first introduce yourself, your team members, your motivation and your idea is the only thing that affects whether you’re selected or not. We often spend more time polishing our submission to perfection than coming up with the idea. After all only 6–8 teams are selected to the hackathon from possibly dozens of teams. Getting selected into the hackathon is a already prize by itself — your idea and team sounded more promising than so many others.

    We had to get into this hackathon. It had everything a young company needs, a potential for a pilot project and a big client. So we decided to submit two hackathon project proposals. Double the changes right? Quantity over over quality? Or perhaps a sure way to double the depression that you get from not getting selected at all.

    The problem

    ”What makes gardening cool?!”

    So was any of our proposals selected for the hackathon? Drumroll please…. and the selected projects are…. project 1,project 2….project 7 and Shed (that’s us)! So one, out of the two ideas. Now let me describe both of the ideas and you try to guess which one got selected:

    Red circle is us!

    “ Idea 1. We want to help gardeners to use the correct tools and get the correct information needed in order to succeed based on their gardening goal. With our mobile app you are taken from novice gardener to a pro”

    “Idea 2. Our idea is a completely new business model for Fiskars where a combination of physical tool shed and mobile companion app allows people to rent Fiskars tools. With our service people can always find the correct tools from a place closest to them.“

    Now, which one would likely be the one to get selected? If you think that number two sounds lot more interesting, I don’t blame you. Why number one sounds quite dull, is partly because although it solves some real problems, there is not really an original thought behind it and no original problem.

    What is “an original problem”? Isn’t the main thing in hackathons to provide solutions? It is true that quite often hackathons exist in vacuum where problems are made to fit the solutions the teams have already come up with before the hackathon. There is a word for this, as defined by Cooper: solutionizing. The only way to steer away from solutionizing is to solve original problems, which are problems that you did not invent. Our first idea is classical case of an invented problem — knowing what tools to use is not that severe case. Number two is quite vague, but goes in the right direction. Getting the right tools when needed is problem you might face several times a day in many different domains. How do you find these original problems? You do your research on the subject of course!

    The team

    “Who the hell do these guys think they are?”

    The baddest mofos in the whole hackerverse (That ain’t me on left, it’s Jonne. I’m way less handsome.)

    Sugar. Spice. And everything nice. Accidentally add some Chemical X and you have the Powerpuff girls. But what do you have to mix to get the perfect hackathon team — I kept wondering while sitting in an airplane somewhere over the English channel. I was making my way back to Helsinki from UX Scotland conference where I had had a chance to witness Jared Spool talk about about integration of UX design into the whole organization. Many of the things mentioned there resonated with my thoughts on the perfect hackathon team. What does our Fiskars hack team have in common with Spool ideas?

    So our Shed-team, consisted of three experts. Me a UX designer, Jyri a full-stack developer with expertise in developing 3D stuff, and Tuomas our very own business analyst (We also had Jonne, a designer/developer as my substitute on the first day). This is quite a typical hackathon team composition based on our experience. It also seems to work pretty well, both in our case and in cases where we have witnessed other teams winning.

    We see that what matters the most is the overall experience of the whole team. Besides this it is also about how your team can work together despite lacking expertise and resources in some of the areas that are central for your hackathon concept. Designing for experiences is founded on unified expertise, both on hackathon level as well as on organisational level.

    Are these guys sitting in a classroom?

    How do you achieve this? First no silos of experience and no pecking order. Jyri’s opinion about bad use flow, isn’t in anyway less worthy than mine and our team doesn’t cease working if I’m unable to participate on the first day of the hackathon (which actually happened, because of me being in Scotland). Hackathon team has no leaders. It is single organism that lives only to solve problems.

    Solution

    “That ain’t gonna win”, said one coder to another

    Our concept might have looked something like this, or might have not. I’m not really allowed to go into details.

    On Friday, around two o’clock Tuomas was getting ready to pitch the idea to Fiskars representatives. This pitch, however was a little different from what we’ve done before. It was done in a small room instead of a large stage. Instead of having three minutes to the sell the idea, we had 10. This gave us all the changes to sell an idea that would often be considered too large for hackathon concept.

    Ideas ain’t worth a dime however. So instead of simply selling big ideas you also have to sell your expertise and the factors that make you better than all the other teams. We ended doing pretty well in this, as we were one of the three teams Fiskars decided continue the discussion with.

    I can’t really tell you about the solution itself, as the discussion concerning it still ongoing. I can tell you that we did a mobile prototype and that there was a circular economy aspect to it. Our concept was very well received by Fiskars, but did not do so well when other teams we asked to vote for their favorite concepts. Mostly this was because our concept wasn’t so technically inspiring. Oh well, you cant’ have everything.

    Conclusion

    So did we get the pilot project? That is yet to be decided. In the last meeting we had with Fiskars things were looking quite good. Hopefully in the future you will see our service in use, as we think it is pretty frickin cool’. However, once the discussion concludes we will tell you more about the service itself.


    Perttu Lähteenlahti

    Personal blog of Perttu Lähteenlahti. For more developer oriented posts checkout perttu.dev