EDUARDO: What’s goin’ on?

MARK: They have 10 minutes to get root access to a Python webserver, expose its SSL encryption and then intercept all traffic over its secure port.

EDUARDO: They’re hacking.

For those who have seen the Social Network, a Hackathon resembles a frat party with a lot of cheering, and tequila shots every other minute. Unsurprisingly (reassuringly?) the Hackathon we’re concerned with is quite different to that of Jesse Eisenberg (Mark Zuckerberg) and his crew. nevertheless it does share similar origins.

From computer clubs to Fortune 500

A Hackathon, /hakəθɒn/, is a portmanteau term for ‘hack marathon’. Its roots are in computer clubs and computer programming, in the early 2000s it evolved to be adopted more widely by tech companies where it was often associated with coding competitions. But at the heart of the Hackathon is the idea that if you put a handful of bright people in one room and wait long enough, they will come up with brilliant solutions to existing problems. Companies have more recently adopted the format and turned it into an innovation event, typically over 1 or 2 days, in which cross functional teams collaborate to creatively solve business issues or create prototypes of new products, services and apps.

Hackathons are not just for start-ups. In fact, Hackathons were run by large corporations before the start up movement really became a thing - and the interest does not stop at the tech world either. Companies such as Unilever, P&G, Honda or Virgin use Internal Hackathons as a way to drive employee engagement, motivate teams and create a sense of community. But Hackathons can also vastly speed up the innovation process.

Cheaper, faster, better – pick three

Imagine you are a coffee chain and one of your key target audiences are young mothers. After an initial phase of research into customer needs, you have decided to make breastfeeding mums feel more comfortable in your stores. Eventually you will find that a sticker on the door is the best way to deliver the message…

Realistically, how long did it take between the initial business strategy meeting and the stickers being sent out to store managers? 2, 4 months? More? A year?

I see you’ve been there - it was probably a suggestion buried in this 40-page research report commissioned in March. It may even have been mentioned in that meeting in May. Customer interviews in June highlighted this could really be a winner. Now if management would sign it off, you can probably get the marketing team on board after the holidays…

Or you can run a Hackathon: garner focused insights on customers, ideate with all relevant teams over a day or so, and get management sign off in the form of a jury vote by the end of day 5.

Now this is a familiar story and a very similar one to what we have seen happen to our clients. Simple solutions that meet customer needs shouldn’t take long to put in place. Rather than hindering your progress market research should be an enabler of good decision making at pace.

With the help of customers, employees get the job done better…

By definition, a Hackathon isolates participants from the rest of the world. Consider it an “away day” of sorts, though you may not have made it past Old Street. This is a good thing. However, if innovating in a vacuum may sound enticing to participants, it can be highly inefficient. Turning customers into Hackathon partners cannot only help create solutions that will actually meet their needs and expectations, bring fresh ideas or challenge internal thinking, but it also provides undeniable proof points demonstrating the value of the proposition to senior leadership.

A Hackathon is a unique opportunity to launch new products and services with greater confidence as well as build internal innovation capabilities through immersion and co-creation.

Deep down we all want to beat the system

Hackathons are intense and exciting, but this does not mean you have to block 5 full days in the calendar to reap the benefits of a weeklong Hackathon sprint. With the exception of the hack days themselves, activities can be conducted alongside other work commitments. A typical sprint week is then divided up into two, with the first part of the week dedicated to collecting insights and familiarising the teams with their customers, and the back end of the week dedicated to the hack workshop itself, with most of the time spent on idea and concept development, with internal feasibility checks along the way. Customer feedback is an integral part of the exercise with customer voice plugged-in at strategic points during the workshop. This often includes overnight customer feedback, “live feedback” for added fun and efficiency.

The event culminates with each team pitching their best idea to a jury of senior stakeholders or experts at the end of day 2. This means Hackathons not only promote employee buy-in, but they also come with senior stakeholder endorsement.

Beyond the hack

Overall, Hackathons uniquely combine your employees and your customers in the innovation process and are terribly efficient at kick starting your innovation programmes. This accelerated path to innovation means that concepts and propositions can be implemented right away. If further development or research is needed, it can be delivered as a quick follow up as objectives and areas of uncertainty have already been defined. With quick wins made easy, employees can see the impact of their work right away. This is a benefit for the business, the customer and generally employee morale.

MARYLIN: The site got twenty-two hundred hits within two hours?

MARK: Thousand.

MARYLIN: I'm sorry?

MARK: Twenty-two *thousand*.


To learn more about Verve Hack, contact: Paul Lawson, Executive Director:

Verve Hack is a fully immersive, customer centric programme taking your team on a journey from ideation to implementation in just 5 days. It is designed with employee engagement and commercial results in mind.

Validated with customers: launch with greater confidence

  • Understand proposition gaps and risks
  • Challenge internal assumptions and myths
  • Fast-track ideas with potential; kill (or re-think) customer non-starters
  • Identify benefits to support positioning and communication

Cross-team collaboration: build internal innovation capabilities

  • Involve and engage employees in new product / proposition development
  • Learn from fresh-thinking and new perspectives
  • Build in tangible realities and feasibility checks from those in-the-know
  • Save time through more agile decision-making


Ana Garcia, Marketing Director

T: +44 (0)207 928 4314