As many of you might know, Qminder started at a weekend hackathon Garage48.
What is Qminder? Simply put: it's a queue management system.

Since the next event is taking place this weekend and we are getting more and more pings and questions about our experience, we offer a quick overview of Qminder’s first 48h and hopefully some useful tips:

Briefly on the concept of Garage48:

Garage48 events usually start at 5pm on a Friday evening. All participants gather together in a big room and pitch about 30 to 40 ideas on stage. Each idea is put on the wall and everyone can choose their favourite idea and team. Usually, about 12-15 ideas will be selected and teams start working.

Friday

…or even before Friday - Do your homework! - although a common guideline for these kinds of events suggests that no work should be done beforehand.
The Garage48 ideas are posted in the participants’ Facebook group, listed, tweeted and presented in some form before the event. Getting familiar with these ideas is not cheating, but rather common sense to speed up the process on-site, in order to find the best suitable idea for you. Because the way the teams are formed can only be described with the word ‘chaos’.

When you are pitching and trying to attract talent – it gets even harder. Not to get into the intricacies about the art of pitching, suffice it to say that you have to make sure it’s clear, visual and offers information on who you are looking for and what you hope to establish in 48h.

This was exactly the case with Qminder:
Our design and concept author Markko Karu listed the idea and thus made it a no-brainer for me, Rauno Rüngas, to approach him before the event started, as I had had a similar idea written down a few months prior to the event. This glimpse of mutual vision helped us gain confidence and form the team more quickly. And again on the subject of preparation: Markko’s one-pager in its visual glory was miles ahead of the pitches that consisted of “here is the word document – read it”.

Qminder queuing idea

Don’t hold back on forming the teams! Furthermore, you need to make sure that there are enough people in your team to handle the different sides of the project. It may vary according to your goals – depending on whether you want to start a business, have fun, challenge yourself or just find that one person who is willing to work with you .
But you have to take into account that even the brightest idea and the most elegant code will fade fast, if it has no face or it is not backed by someone who can communicate it all to the audience.

Pro-tip: There is no shame in targeting your initial 48h prototype to the direction of sponsor prizes.

In our case, it was the Nokia Prize. To win a couple of development phones, we had to ship something on the Nokia Meego platform. We did exactly that and won the phones, regardless of it having a low groundwork value for the future development and platform. It still provided us with a solid prize for further motivation, a fast reward for the developers and having a smart and hands-on sponsor representative close during the whole time. Most of all, the developer who we recruited last, “who had done something on Qt/Nokia platform 7 years ago” and was willing to “give it a try”, wound up being one of the most valuable assets – our CTO Siim Raud.

Once you get working: if possible, sit behind one table! As many of these events are held in auditoriums and classrooms, don’t fear to mess around and quickly form a conference table.

Pro-tip: leave a chair empty, door open, pathway seen to project manager/marketing guy, so that people can visit you. They could be organizers, mentors, journalists, event sponsors or whoever. This can be summed up into the simple fact of keeping an open mind-set, keeping the dialogue going and being available to spontaneous others.

A big part of Friday will be planning, but that does not mean that you have to decide the platforms, frameworks, the name, domain etc. then and there.
Brainstorm, and if something is left undecided, just mark the deadline for the next morning at 10:00.

Pro-tip: Getting everybody under the same roof definitively helps bond the team. So, if you have floor space in the same city where the event is held, be ready to take in nomad team members. Aside from making sure nobody sleeps in after a long night, it speeds up the process of continuing where things were left off the previous evening.

Saturday

Qminder plan

Make no mistake – you do not have 48 hours! You have Friday for preparation and Sunday for finishing up and polishing – to get something done, you actually only have the one Saturday!

By noon, the plan has to be almost solid, so that everybody could focus on their work and get into the zone, get wired in, be in the moment or whichever term suits best – everybody has one. This is the time to be on the top of your game.
For the project manager, it means a clear plan and following it, for coders and designers, it means focusing on the creative effort, for the ones responsible for marketing, it means calling/going to potential customers and partners.

In our case, it meant hustling people on the last weekend of the summer – demonstrating that there are no excuses to be made on the customer development part! Validating the idea and preparing for the future is just part of that – in 48h having that extra confirmation and validation on Saturday evening to motivate a tired and a newly formed team is priceless!

Qminder runs on pizza

Tip: Use whatever resources you have. Your job is to make it happen in 48 hours. That is difficult. That is what great men have taught for ages:
“All is fair in love, war and Garage48″. For Qminder, it meant forcing a friend to pick-up the machinery from a potential partner we had called, and to drive 2o0km to Tartu, where the event was held.

Pro-tip: If as a project manager/marketer you want to motivate the developers to give all they have on that Saturday evening , you’d better know what time the nearest pizza place closes, deliver it, leave them alone to not over-manage and hope for the best.

Tip: If you are the guy having to pitch the next day, maybe give an interview, talk to customers, mentors etc. – get some sleep, you don’t have the privilege to be grumpy, tired, smelly or anything the like on the next day.

Sunday

By Sunday morning, the product will most likely not be ready, your vision on the other hand had better be ready. You have to know what you are going to pitch, what is the plan for the day, the coming weeks etc. This will all change anyway, but while talking to visitors, mentors, or judges on the last day, you have to have a plan – they cannot help, advise or comment, if you don’t have the plan. We are now talking about the plan that is the mix of the naive vision you had on Friday, the harsh reality you experienced on Saturday (both tech, bizdev and custdev), and a plan that has to win the hackathon and keep the team together even after they go back to their daily jobs on Monday.

On the last day, the project manager really has to step in, evaluate what has been done, what can be done in the last hours and how to gain the maximum out of all the options. To get a working demo for example. To see what he or she can pitch on the stage in the evening.

Tip: Don’t change the pitch at the last minute. You might have gotten some great new idea, but changing a pitch that you are doing for the first time at the last minute, will most likely mess everything up.

Unfortunately, this was the case with Qminder. A pitch within the time-limit was completely restructured at the last minute and basically collapsed on stage.
…But it didn’t matter:

Pro-tip: Don’t worry about the pitch – DEMO! Show the progress, show what you did, communicate how the customer reacted and what the partners said. Nobody is taking your short pitch word by word giving information about the made-up numbers, about the market size and what you THINK customers need. Surely after 48 hours you can’t know that (even if it is true, they will not be convinced). The only thing that matters is a working demo with every validation point you can get your hands on: a customer testimony, letter of intent or partnership.

Be sure to have a webpage up with a clear call-to-action and conversion plan. The hype and traffic you get will most likely be the high point for many weeks or months.
For Qminder, the primitive webpage with a couple of screenshots and e-mail collection fields was the only thing visible for the outside world for almost 4 months.
Good thing we had great designer on board who created it, because the prototype you ship within 48h will most likely suck pretty badly and will not be operable anyway, so all you have is the design. The design of the plan and the design of the webpage.

Qminder working on laptop

Tip: Help others! Although this might contradict the strict “All is fair in love, war and Garage48″ postulate, don’t forget that this weekend is also about networking and proving with hundreds of other people, that times have changed and shipping something within 48h is possible. The benefits of having connections and helping others should in general be clear to everyone anyway.

How to win a hackathon,
how to get the maximum out of the weekend,
how to connect,
how to form a team,
how to pitch,
- these are all subjects demanding discussion and experience-sharing.

Qminder winning with queue management system

… in the end it just comes down to #JFDI

Just F****** Do It!