Borne Out Of Hackathons

Hackathons which gave birth to million dollar ideas.

With the release of API, the chitchatter ChatGPT has made it to the hackathons already! No doubt, hackathons are the superheroes of the tech world. These fast-paced events are a melting pot of collaboration and creativity which have given rise to a new generation of innovators. Hackathons have always brought out solutions for the most abstract issues but that is not all. Some of these innovative collaborations have given birth to millions dollar ideas too. 

In 2012, Lucas Ngoo and Quek Siu Rui participated in their first hackathon conducted by Startup Weekend in Singapore. The idea for ‘Carousell’, an app for selling unwanted household clutter, won first place in the hackathon and turned into a success story. The startup closed its series C funding at around $70~$80 million. Born out of a 54-hour hackathon, Carousell may have begun as a simple one-stop mobile platform to buy and sell used items but is valued at $1.1 billion today. 

From left to right: co-founders Lucas Ngoo and Quek Siu Rui, and lead engineer Victor Neo at Startup Weekend

Like many who attend hackathons, Tallis Gomes and Dennis Wang, co-founders of ‘EasyTaxi’, went with only an idea in mind. Initially, they intended to create a bus monitoring application. After waiting for a taxi for half an hour on a rainy night, however, they decided to forgo the idea and focused on creating a taxi booking app at Startup Weekend 2011 in Rio de Janeiro instead. After winning the hackathon, the duo launched the beta version of the application and successfully raised close to $75 million from investors since its inception. Today, the app covers a network of 30 countries. 

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An important advantage Gomes gained from the event was being able to validate the product. “Hackathons are great environments for ideas and you have people you can bounce ideas off [of],” Wang said. “You get to meet like-minded entrepreneurs who can introduce you to potential investors, offer you tips and advice, and give feedback. The advantage is you understand how marketable your idea is.”

Things were slightly different for the Carousell team. Ngoo and Siu Rui joined the hackathon just to hack “a fun project that could solve a meaningful problem”. This was the first hackathon they had attended and Siu Rui described it as “intense”.

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Similar to EasyTaxi’s Gomes, the Carousell team received instant validation for their idea as it resonated with people. Eventually, the encouragement led them to pursue the idea even after the event.

Acquired (And Shut)

The seed for ‘GroupMe’ was sown a few days before a hackathon when co-founder Jared Hecht’s fiancé was complaining about an email chain she was on which kept on breaking down in real-time. Back in 2010, group chat was restricted to computers and wasn’t as robust as it is today. So, Hecht, along with Steve Martocci, pondered: “How can we make group messaging better?”

Once at the hackathon, the pair locked themselves in a room and, fuelled by pizza and beer, settled down to work on their idea. Within the next six to seven hours, they had the solution and began the journey of GroupMe. In an interview, Hecht recalled, “Steve and I found ourselves pacing around the hallways at around 2 am talking about how this is actually going to be a business”. 

Following months of talks between GroupMe and Skype, the latter purchased the app for a whopping $80 million, only one year after it was born.

Similarly, in 2014 Google acquired ‘Appetas’ to battle Yelp in the restaurant vertical. During the 2012 AngelHack, Keller Smith and Curtis Fonger created Appetas, a site where restaurants could build websites, integrate services like GrubHub and OpenTable to add extra features like delivery services and reservations. The co-founders were able to raise $120,000. They announced the news in a blog post which said, 

“Google shares Appetas’ vision for bringing incredibly simple experiences to merchants that strengthen their business. We’re excited to use Appetas to create something even better at Google.” 

As part of the acquisition, Google announced the shut down of the service along with its plans to work on transitioning existing users to alternative platforms “to focus on our new endeavours”, without specifying exactly what they were. No further updates have been announced since then.

The bottom line is, hackathons have proven to be a fertile ground for successful startups. The environment allows entrepreneurs to validate their ideas and receive feedback from like-minded individuals. The above examples clearly demonstrate the potential of hackathons to give rise to million-dollar ideas. 

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by Vijayalakshmi Anandan

The Deep Learning Curve is a technology-based podcast hosted by Vijayalakshmi Anandan - Video Presenter and Podcaster at Analytics India Magazine. This podcast is the narrator's journey of curiosity and discovery in the world of technology.

Tasmia Ansari
Tasmia is a tech journalist at AIM, looking to bring a fresh perspective to emerging technologies and trends in data science, analytics, and artificial intelligence.

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