Stretch Goals Are Important (Or WizzyWig Won $100k in 48 Hours at a Hackathon)

[ Summary: Stretch goals are important, and the ones we set for the first LAUNCH Hackathon this past March resulted in a team of three unknown 20-somethings from Pittsburgh building a killer product in 48 hours, landing over $100k in investment on the spot and later earning a slot at a prestigious accelerator. On November 8-10 we host LAUNCH Hackathon 2 with stretch goals of 1k *actual* developers, $250k in investment prizes and five teams funded or accepted to accelerators. ]   

At some point 10 years ago I overheard the buzzword ‘stretch goals’ and it stuck in my brain.

It might have been from an ex who was at Harvard Business School, or from reading Jack Welch.

Stretch goals, as far as I understand them, are lofty goals that you set even though you have no idea how to reach them at the time.

My Three Stretch Goals

Last year I started setting stretch goals for myself and my kick-ass teams.

Three notable ones at LAUNCH:

a) the largest startup technology conference / hit 5k attendees for the 2013 LAUNCH Festival
b) the largest hackathon with 300 *real* participants
c) the largest hackathon prize ever

Well, we had 6k folks come to the LAUNCH Festival in March, resulting in folks coming to me for the past six months saying, ‘That was amazing! It was huge!’ We blew past the stretch goal by 20%. Wow.

At the end I got a standing ovation from thousands of folks, and for the first time in my professional career I choked up on stage. It was perhaps, professionally, the highlight of my 20-year career.  

Stretch goals indeed.

On the Hackathon front we had 500 folks, blowing past our 300 stretch goal!

These were actual developers, as we turned down anyone without code samples on Github, etc. And you had to be pushing code to stay at the event.

My hope was that I would invest $25k in one of the startups, but that snowballed and a bunch of friends -- old and new -- jumped in and pushed it over $100k. That’s a first. That’s $100k in cash, not some dorky conference saying $100k in prizes and giving away $5k licenses to some piece of software.

Cash money baby!

Google’s Don Dodge walked up to me and said he had never seen this many folks coding at once -- and he’s been supporting these events for almost a decade with two different companies (he was at Microsoft before Google -- he knows what he’s talking about!).
A photo is worth a thousand words (not that it will stop me from writing them): here's WizzyWig with hundreds of devs in the hall.

And a video overview of those 48 hours.

BOOM: WizzyWig Wins Big

After two days of hacking, five finalists presented on stage. One of them was WizzyWig, and their fresh take on web publishing -- a clever ‘what you see is what you get’ CMS (content management system) -- blew people away.

In fact, their project was better received than most of the 50 companies launching at the LAUNCH Festival! Those companies had been building their products for six to 12 months on average.

Who were these guys?!

Well, the three founders -- Nathan Speller, Jordan Messina and Patrick Conway -- were from Pittsburgh and found out about the Hackathon watching my podcast This Week in Startups. In fact, Jordan told me he’s been watching since episode one -- four years ago!

On stage they received investment commitments of over $100k: $25K each from my pal Dharmesh Shah, long-time LAUNCH supporter Jonathon Triest of Ludlow Ventures, new partner Barracuda Networks, myself and even $5k from our friends at Krooshal.

You can watch the five finalists here. WizzyWig goes on at the 25-minute mark. It’s worth watching.

We asked Jordan on the WizzyWig team (product now named Designly) a couple of questions:

“The best thing that happened from the Hackathon was... the investment obviously, it was like, amazing. It allowed us to take an idea that we had and come up with [it] in 48 hours or however long we had, and we get to work on it full time now. [Co-founder] Patrick quit his job and we're all here in San Francisco working together on something we really believe in. Just amazing in general to get that opportunity from a Hackathon. But on top of that, the investors that we ended up with...everyone who said they were going to invest they did end up investing, so that was pretty great."

"All the traction that we've seen so far has all been because of the Hackathon, too. It's a really great way to jumpstart a company. We got a lot of press from the Hackathon, a lot of people interested in our product. And those people who are interested are becoming our customers for Designly. Without that we would have had to start from nothing."

"YES! I had a blast. Winning the whole thing was amazing. We just had a ton of fun regardless. We would have been fine just getting last place or whatever. It's just a great time to be with friends, be nerds on our computers for a weekend and building something fun."

LAUNCH Hackathon 2 Stretch Goals

The LAUNCH Hackathon 2 is taking place November 8-10 in San Francisco in an epic location: the Metreon! Right there in the middle of town.

Our stretch goals are as follows:

1. $250k in investment prizes - I’m sure we will have $100k invested, but I’m hoping some of my angel and VC friends come to the event, find the raw talent and do the hard work of being FMI (first money in!). That’s hard, scary and bold work being FMI!

2.  1k real, actual developers -- not interlopers. That’s 3x+ our previous stretch goal -- insane!!! We are holding the line on non-coders at the event to make sure we have only three types of people in the building: people competing, killer fireside chat guests and our partners/sponsors. The partners make stretch goals and dreams like WizzyWig’s reality. We love our partners, and I encourage you to become one! Email

3. Five funded / accepted into accelerator teams. Yep, this is a new goal. We want to see five of these projects get into TechStars, Y Combinator, AngelPad, Samsung’s new Palo Alto accelerator, Microsoft’s new venture and angel funds, Qualcomm Lab’s startup program or the like.

Now, what stretch goals are you setting for your team this weekend??!?!

best @jason

PS - We have three open slots left on the killer dev team: sys admin, front end, Ruby:

PPS - LAUNCH Mobile & Wearables is a summit-style event with 150 of the most important folks in mobile. Sign up here. We’re looking for startups to launch as well.

PPPS - Did an amazing interview with Yves Behar, the designer behind the Jawbone headset and Leaf lamp for Herman Miller, at the D conference (thanks Walt & Kara for letting me tape).