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Watch a hack day live: #Supercharged 3.0 – Day 1 of 2

Following the success of our last two prototype #Supercharged hack days we’ve decided to extend this incarnation over a couple of days.

The pressure of initially organising ‘hack days’ can be focused on “what do we get out of this?” – and if you’ve never run one within your organisation, it can be a hard question to answer. With this in mind, the first two hack days Selesti organised were focused on the teams designing fun products for internal use. This gave us the freedom to crash test the process, seeing what worked, what didn’t and what could be improved.

Now in our third iteration, I thought I’d try and share some of the process ‘live’ with you via this blog, our Facebook and Twitter.

9:05am: The Brief

Earlier in the week everybody in the office received an e-mail giving them the outline for what we are trying to achieve on the hack day. This early distribution allows everybody to have some backburner brain space to start coming up with ideas so we have a rolling start on the actual morning. With 12 people available for this #Supercharged day, we also distributed the details of the 3 teams of 4, which would give an even spread of developers, designers and marketers.

Coffees and teas in hand, we confirmed that each team is to select either an existing Selesti client or a someone we would like to work with to come up with ‘an idea’.

What’s ‘an idea?’ – It’s anything that can add value for the client:

  • Is there a plugin we can make to automate something they are doing manually?
  • Is there an app we could make to thrill and engage their customers?
  • Could be bring them a great idea for a marketing campaign?
  • What are their competitors doing they are missing out on?
  • Could they be using other media, podcasts or video?

For those that work or have worked on the agency side of things, you’ll be able to appreciate how rare having a truly blank slate is. You’re normally under pressure for deadlines, project scopes and razor-tight budgets – all these things can be counter-productive for creativity.

With this brief – and a nice breakfast spread provided by Pret, the teams have begun the process of choosing the idea they want to pursue.

10:20am: The ideas are in!

Just over an hour in, the teams have discussed and agreed on an idea to work on. I did a quick tour of the office and got the elevator pitches:

Team 1

Supercharged team 1

Clare, Jamie, Kate, Seb

Team 1 have elected to work for one of our existing clients, Nature’s Menu – with a really solid idea of how producing an app for their customers could increase order volume and customer satisfaction.

Team 2

Supercharged team 2

Katy, Tom, Shaun, Owen

Team 2 have gone out on a limb working on an idea for a business we would like to work with. They have come up with a unique idea for Naked Kitchens – how to gather customer interest data with a ‘Tinder for kitchens’ style app and feed this into their sales process.

Team 3

Supercharged Team 3

Chris, Victoria, Emily, Elliot

It’s obvious that the Selesti office is full of animal lovers with Team 3 also opting to come up with an idea for Natures Menu. This time, a project focusing on building customer loyalty with the gamification of repeat orders and uploading of pet photos into profiles.

10:26am: This mug

Royal wedding

Something feels wrong?


11:30am: Persuasive presentations for people

One of the great things we’ve found about our #Supercharged hack days is that it gets our team to view things from a different perspective. If you’re a developer, you get the parameters of your project based on the scope, the budget and you crack on. You rarely need to think about the business case for various initiatives.

This afternoon, all ideas will be judged and voted on by peers. This means you could have the best idea in the world but if you convey it badly, it won’t make it to day #2.

Each team has to present their idea to the rest of the office and handle a Dragon’s Den style Q&A about their pitch, which normally ends up exploring how solid the business case is.

This leads to some interesting decisions that must be reached. For example, there is normally a ‘best way’ to do things when it comes to development. It also happens to usually the most expensive (in the short term at least) route – how will the teams straddle the realities of chasing perfection vs. limited budgets?

Team 1’s Clare has already begun work on their presentation:




11:37am: Which apparently means lots of pugs

Team 1 is definitely going for the heartstrings with some Pugception in their presentation:


Pugs can actually barely breathe on their own, let alone use smartphones.

12:00pm: Ideas finalised

Once the initial ideas have been finalised we regularly see quick iterations as things get put on paper and presentations start. New ideas are born and even more commonly; new problems are seen. From the first two #Supercharged days, we had simple ideas snowballing into complex behemoths never to be realised.

A key part of the process is making your initial idea work without having to bolt, staple and glue ‘extra bits’ on. If you’re getting to that stage, it’s probably time to go back to the drawing board.

At 12:00 I went around and collected all of the final ‘elevator pitches’ – tell me about your idea in 30 seconds.

Team 1’s idea for Natures Menu
Seb: “PetPal is an app which makes it easy to ensure your pets are healthy, happy and well nourished. Benefits include a food calculator, in-app ordering and vet appointment reminders. It promotes Natures Menu products and builds up a database of customers’ needs through pet profiling.”

Team 2’s idea for Naked Kitchens:
Tom: “It’s a Tinder inspired app for Naked Kitchens’ customers. Swipe right and left to like or discard elements you might want in your new kitchen. You can browse through appliances, colour schemes and create favourites/moodboards. The consultant can then run through budgets and options to create your perfect kitchen.

We feel it’s a creative and interactive way of giving customers choice prior to having a salesman in their house. The idea utilises digital to connect the company to customers and encourages social sharing. It demonstrates Naked Kitchens are an innovative company that values their customers’ ideas and opinion.”

Team 3’s idea for Natures Menu:
Victoria: “As we all well aware, people LOVE pets. In fact, there are now more pet pictures on social media than selfies and one in ten pets have their own Facebook account! We wanted to take something that consumers do regularly and cash in on this to increase Nature’s Menu sales, brand awareness, customer loyalty and ROI.

With our concept, customers will be awarded badges for repeat purchases, allowing them to share their loyalty (and of course their trusty pet pic) via their social media channels, raising brand awareness and encouraging customer retention. Not only that, customers will receive a free treat with the rewarded order, allowing a great opportunity for cross sell within the Natures Menu range.”

12:20pm Skills crossover & understanding

Apart from the competitive element (there’s a prize for today’s winning team), one of the advantages of breaking the office up into small teams is that it forces people to take on roles they have never done before.

In our tenth year of operating, web builds, designs, marketing campaigns can move efficiently throughout the agency. With years’ of experience, information goes to who it needs to go to and a lot of interactions are formalised. While this is great for the client, it can mean that individuals never get a full understanding of what others in the agency do, their strengths, weaknesses, problems and daily woes.

Putting these people into a situation where they need to directly interact quite literally expands their ‘working vocabulary’/ information that normally goes through a process to distil it, to only provide what is needed for that person in the language they are accustomed to, is now provided raw. Suddenly, a client manager thinking a concept they thought would be ‘simple’ for a developer to execute is now aware of a myriad of potential hazards. This kind of experience helps us develop a healthy culture where our team have a great understanding of how other people are working and what they can and can’t make promises about.

Selesti developers

Selesti developers: Delivering the moon. Yesterday.

1:00pm: Lunch & biggest problems so far

Pret Supercharged lunch

Every team has encountered some kind of roadblock today, even with sandwiches. The Pret social media team were all over it when Seb had a Tuna/Ham mix up disaster.

Talking to the teams, I asked them what the biggest challenge or problem they faced during the day so far was.

Team 1: Clare (PetPal App)
“Definitely working out the business case of why people would use our app over the standard website. While it seems like a natural choice, we wanted to find some evidence to back up our own assumptions. We found some interesting data on response rates to push notifications versus e-mails. We also think being able to use the camera functionality on the smartphones and tablets will allow us to build a much more personal experience for the user that will make it more of a lifestyle app. Something that you would use in a separate capacity to the site. With those thoughts, we actually came up with a lot of new potential features but I have decided to have these as possible future developments.

Team 2: Owen (Tinder for Kitchens)
“Our team was split with whether to use curated or crowd-sourced images. There were pros and cons to both. It would be easy to integrate with something like Pinterest to source lots of content from users – but this may then begin users on a journey the end business cannot provide. We eventually decided that a curated method, with the business having full control over which content is listed is the way to go. This way, an experience can be crafted around what is possible to deliver to the customer and we can provide more careful links between designs and products. This is where the value for both the client and customer is.”

Team 3: Victoria (Pet profiles)
“For us, it was definitely having multiple pets. Our initial idea was around creating a profile page for each individual pet. Once we started designing this, it became very fragmented, complicated and a much larger development job. We decided on an approach of users having a single profile, which they can upload multiple pets to.”

Design Supercharged

Victoria’s team start to crack the design

3:00pm: 1 hour to go until presentations

We have scheduled each of the teams in to present their ideas internally at 4pm, giving everyone a little under one hour to wrap up and get ready.

Each team seems confident of their idea and has their own way of presenting.

Team 1: Emaze (PetPal App)
Team 1 has opted for fairly traditional (but thankfully not Powerpoint) presentation using online software emaze. They’ve already occupied the meeting room and are running through the points they want to make.

Team 2: Invision (Tinder for Kitchens)
Team 2 have invested some time building a clickable experience within Invision. This will allow everyone to click around their idea, while they are presenting it.

Team 3: We don’t need no presentation (Pet badges)
Team 3 has invested all of the possible time into the development of their idea. Their presentation will be flat designs they will talk through, confident in the content of their pitch.

4:00pm: Presentations

Supercharged Team 1

Clare, Seb and Kate presenting their idea

Each team was given a time limit of 7 minutes to deliver their presentation and a further 10 minutes for a Q&A session from the rest of the office.

In our previous hack days, due to the competitive nature of the pitches we found that the Q&A sessions could be quite, ‘fierce’ – the point where new ideas were sometimes swallowed by the fear of needing to justify them. To try and smooth this over, we introduced a couple of rules into the Q&A session:

1) We introduced the Selesti wooden spoon – you can only ask a question if you are holding the spoon, you’ll lose points for your team by interrupting the Q&A session.

2) You can earn your team extra points by suggestion solutions rather than problems to ideas that are pitched. So rather than “it costs too much”, we want to encourage “you could consider X to reduce the cost by Y”.

With that in mind we went to the presentations.

Team 1: Jamie, Seb, Clare, Kate – PetPal app

Team 1 gave a very strong presentation on the benefits of their PetPal app. Entering information about your pet allows the app to predict the amount of food you should be feeding your pet based on its age and weight. As your pet grows, you receive push notifications to update the profile along with other notifications such as when your pet’s boosters are due (to stop those vet bills when you miss them and have to start again).

A strong case was made for the commercial benefit of having more information on pet owners’ animals and being able to target marketing based on this. Team 1 also presented a marketing strategy, explaining how they would directly gain app downloads via existing Natures Menu fans on Facebook, advertising and the app on the site and even offline advertising via stickers to avoid redesigning packaging.

Some hard questions were asked in the Q&A session around high development costs. How long it would take to recoup these? What is the extra value that the understanding of customer’s data would bring?


Team 2: Owen, Shaun, Katy, Tom (Tinder for Kitchens)

Pitching their idea for a Tinder-like experience for helping people design a bespoke kitchen, Team 2 carefully explained how a user could casually swipe through styles of surfaces, taps, cabinets that they like or dislike. The selections would build a “mood board” on the web which would allow a consultant to gain a better understanding of what style the client is after. This would mean a better informed consultation process, allowing them to bring more relevant materials.

When collecting customer data, it would also be possible to use collaborative filtering to try and suggest what other styles a client may like based on similarities between them and other users.


Team 3: Emily, Chris, Elliot, Victoria (Badges for Pets)

With Emily on board, Team 3 had a great insight into Natures Menu as well as the Magento e-commerce platforms. Their idea is best summed up as a loyalty scheme with a social element to encourage sharing.

They took a good stab at trying to calculate the possible return the project could generate with this rather nifty infographic which explains the process rather well:

Natures menu stats

Sorry, had to remove some of the figures!

The Q&A session revealed with some of the existing solutions Selesti has built, the development time to execute this idea was incredibly low, massively reducing the risk involved by lowering the breakeven bar.


5:00pm: Voting – A complete failure

When it came time to vote, we decided to take a risk and change things slightly. We asked people to vote for the idea they believed was best – but opened up the option for them to vote for themselves.

After handing out some rather superb voting cards, the votes were tallied – the “probably should have seen that coming” happened. Everybody genuinely voted for what they thought was the best idea – and everybody (bar one) voted for their own idea.


5:07pm: Voting – Back to version 1

After discussing how Owen is a psychological divergent from the rest of the team, we voted again with the rule that you couldn’t vote for yourself.

The final results were:

  • Team 1: Jamie, Seb, Clare, Kate – PetPal app – 1 Votes
  • Team 2: Owen, Shaun, Katy, Tom (Tinder for Kitchens) – 6 Votes
  • Team 3: Emily, Chris, Elliot, Victoria (Badges for Pets) – 6 Votes

As Mark had voted for Team 1, he was given the tie-breaking vote which went to Team 3 on the basis of their low-risk deployment.

5:15pm: Winners: Team 1 – Star award: Owen

Team 1 will be treated to a two hour lunch next month at the expense of Selesti. Everybody also voted for a “star person” award, someone who really pulled out all the stops during the day. Owen’s good Karma caught up with him and he scooped this award and a £25 Amazon voucher for his efforts during the day.

Tomorrow, the winning idea will be taken to the next stage, pulled apart, chopped up and improved: Well done all!

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