When I first heard what a hackathon was, I couldn’t even imagine half the things it might involve. What came to mind first was the word “coding” and how much (or how little) I knew about it. Coding has never been my biggest strength, and although I sometimes create excel and regex formulas, it’s not something I do in my day to day.

But I was pleasantly surprised when I bit the bullet and actually took part in a hackathon. For starters, it’s about a lot more than just coding. It requires creativity, innovation and a bit of common sense; but more importantly, you have to be willing to face problems you are not used to. Getting out of your comfort zone, so to speak.

And get out of my comfort zone I did when I decided to put my name down for the 3 days Cross-Border Hackathon in Melbourne. We had build a product with 3 other people in 48 hours and then present a fully formed business case in only 4 minutes of speaking time.

The following is my account of taking part in this awesome event. You can also read more about the whole event here.

The Team

I met my team for the first time at the Isobar office. We were a group of 4, each with different skills and backgrounds: Chen Zhao (Josh), a Developer; Matthew Bodsworth, a Project Manager; Martin Tozzi-Condivi, a Client Engagement Director; and me, Juan Blas Gomez, a Digital Strategist.

The Challenges

The challenge that the teams faced was to develop and present solutions around one of the following two topics:

1. Focus on Australian businesses selling to China

Not all Australian businesses are fully leveraging their opportunity to export to Asia via e-commerce channels due to lack of knowledge of Asian consumers, platforms, export procedures and regulations.

2. Focus on Chinese tourists and migrants coming to Australia

Chinese tourists and migrants have difficulty finding and engaging with many Australian services (including financial services) when traveling or seeking to establish themselves in Australia.

The most important part of the challenge was to ensure that we correctly (and imaginatively) made use of APIs from NAB, Alibaba and other third parties such as Google.

Introducing “Alimate”

We decided to choose the second option, probably because we felt closer to the problem and more confident on the solution. We brainstormed different ideas around how the APIs could be used. We shared personal histories and got real deep into the problem.

The key insight was: “Chinese people in Australia prefer products and services that are made for Chinese people”. We discussed successful Chinese business that made existing products fully in Chinese and focused on the Chinese market.

However, after considering almost all the angles possible, more information and insights were needed. As more and more observations and discussion were done, we managed to define the problem, and felt we had landed on a good solution.

Some of these insights discussed included the target market’s lack of knowledge of the Australian financial market, systems and payment methods before coming to Australia, the barriers in transferring money from China to Australia due to a lack of banking connections, and Chinese people’s low confidence when approaching and conversing with strangers in English.

Based on all the insights above, we created “Alimate: Your good fortune companion”, a product that aims to help Chinese migrants coming into Australia by building a bridge between each respective country’s financial systems.

We divided the idea into three main sections – before, during and after the move. This helped us to define the customer journey from being in China until stablishing a short/long-term life in Australia. The audience was also targeted accordingly in a similar way: with a focus on visitors, students and permanent migrants.

The main key insights on the solution included:

  • Being introduced to Chinese migrants while they are still in China
  • Being fully in Chinese
  • Assisting in the verification process of setting up an account with NAB
  • Informing customers about popular local places around Australia, based on other users’ behaviour
  • Facilitating payments with local business that have Alipay available
  • Building trust with our most valuable customers by providing investment insights on new developments in the business and property industries.

Here is a summary of the customer journey and how we mapped the insights, the problem, the business solutions – and how we could use APIs to bring it all together.

We also considered how both Alibaba and NAB could remain relevant to the audience over time. Alibaba payment would facilitate the transition of money between countries and between local businesses, Alibaba cloud would store the user data and provide recommendations on similar customer behaviour via machine learning techniques, and NAB would build trust with the most valuable Chinese migrants coming into the country.

What we learned doing the Cross-Border Hackathon

  1. Develop a MVP. Focus with your team to build specific features that solve specific problems. This will help your team to be ahead of the game. Being too conceptual could be the difference between winning and losing, so simplify the product and make it work.
  2. Be committed 100% to the event. Get ready for the fun but also for the hard work. Get comfortable. Eat and sleep well the nights before. Build a demo/video and demonstrate how the product works.
  3. Timing is key. Divide the tasks with your team and get everything you need into the room. The presentation will also be short, so condense the problem and present your solutions efficiently. You can use the questions section at the end to talk about what you couldn’t add in.
Juan Gomez

Juan Blas Gomez is Digital Strategy Manager at iProspect Australia. Juan specialises in providing clients with integrated strategies that drive search performance and improved experiences, while growing clients’ presence online.