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Marine Levy-Belder
Marketing Project Manager @ Yotpo
May 26th, 2020

7 Things We Learned During Our First Virtual Hackathon

Yotpo’s first intercontinental Markathon set a blueprint for future remote hackathon events.

Table Of Contents

At the beginning of May, Yotpo tried something a little different. We hosted our first ever virtual hackathon, challenging our marketing team to create six marketing campaigns in just four days, all while working remotely.

Transforming what is usually an office-based event into one spread across continents and timezones presented us with more than a few logistical challenges. What would the schedule look like? How could we keep things fun and engaging? But despite the hurdles, our inaugural work-from-home Markathon turned out to be a tremendous success.

More than 50 team members took part, each of them working from their homes in London, New York, Sofia, and Tel Aviv. The goal was to impress the judges with an innovative new demand-generating campaign and assets, to develop an even deeper understanding of Yotpo’s products, and to improve our collaboration skills under challenging conditions.

Along the way, we discovered a lot about what works and a little about what doesn’t. Here are the seven key lessons we learned during Yotpo’s first virtual hackathon.

1. Create a structure that provides a flexible framework for teams

Early on, we established an organization team to draw up plans for how the marketing hackathon should play out. What they landed on was Markathon: Class of 2020, a four-day virtual event bookended by a pair of lively opening and closing ceremonies, at the end of which the winning team would be declared by an impartial panel of judges.

A coherent structure is key to keeping everyone organized. Each new day of the Markathon would kick off with a short quiz to whip up some buzz and get everybody into a collaborative gear. Individual teams will self-organize, but it pays to have a visible daily framework around which the hackathon can take shape.

2. Use pre-hackathon ideation rounds to get people invested and excited

Our marketing team already has regular ideation events, in which each team member submits new ideas based on a chosen theme. These ideas are then whittled down to just a dozen or so pitches, before a select few are chosen to be produced.

The Markathon followed many of the same beats, starting with a submission round of 65 ideas and ending with the six campaigns our teams would develop. As pitching obviously couldn’t take place in person, we took advantage of Zoom presentations and online communication between teams to reach decisions.

3. Create a vibe that transcends distance

One of the first casualties of any virtual event can be atmosphere and tone, so it was extremely important to establish a strong visual theme to bring participants closer together. To do this we looped in Yotpo’s amazing design team, who quickly set to work creating an overarching visual language for the Markathon itself — as well as distinct, club-style branding for each of the six competing teams.

This sharp set of designs, which included a collection of animated team crests and banners, helped to characterize and unify each of the teams, communicate a vibe, and foster a sense of healthy competition. Despite the distance, Yotpo’s culture and personality still shone through.

4. Think carefully when choosing your teams

One of the very first steps we took when organizing the Markathon was thinking about how we could create teams with members who often don’t have the opportunity to work together. At its core this was a marketing challenge, but it was also an opportunity to encourage collaboration.

Each of our six Markathon teams were composed of members from a range of different disciplines, giving people the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues and teams they might not have worked with before. Designers worked alongside data scientists and inbound marketing managers, for example, forging relationships that could be taken into future projects.

5. Use games to drive communication

Before turning the Markathon into a virtual event we had planned to host it right here at Yotpo headquarters, with plenty of free-flowing snacks and the occasional happy hour to keep things sociable and upbeat. Preserving that same lively atmosphere in a virtual context was a big priority, but achieving it while working from home posed a serious challenge.

Games were key to making it a success. Before the Markathon began we sent out a list of questions to everyone taking part, asking each person to reveal some interesting facts and entertaining trivia about themselves.

We then started each new day with a short multiple choice quiz, awarding correct answers with tokens to be redeemed for fun prizes — lovingly created by the design team — at the hackathon’s closing ceremony.

Participants could win the keys to a different office’s music playlist for the day — “Gangnam Style” on repeat, anyone? — or a flash new Zoom background drawn up by a designer. These games not only encouraged lots of great communication between remote teams, but added some much-needed structure to each day.

6. Choose judges that can bring unique perspective to the projects

To decide the winner, we hand-picked a superstar panel of expert judges from across Yotpo. When assessing the success and viability of our projects, we wanted fresh eyes and the distinct insights that would come from different departments.

At a virtual conference on the final day, the six teams presented each of their campaigns. Judges were invited to ask questions before grading each team’s work against a set of three weighted criteria: potential impact, execution, and innovation.

The judges were hugely impressed by the results and “top of the line execution,” putting to bed any concerns that remote working might have impacted the quality of the finished campaigns. Working from home had only magnified the enthusiasm and energy with which our teams had approached the task. The first intercontinental Markathon was a success, setting a blueprint for future remote hackathon events.

7. Champion your winning idea

As well as being an upbeat and social way for our teams to continue collaborating during a crisis, this year’s marketing hackathon also produced very real results. Our winning campaign — a concept conceived, developed, pitched, and executed by a team spread all around the world — has been taken into production.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to rethink how we do things at almost every level of the business and to find new ways to collaborate on complex projects remotely. What we discovered when we hosted the Markathon is that our biggest and best ideas are driven by our teams — and no distance can stand in the way of that.

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