How Le Wagon alumni won the Japan Hackathon and launched a startup
With just 52 hours to build their web app and convince judges, Le Wagon graduate Paulo (Tokyo #252), Ann (Singapore #375), Julien (Tokyo #394) and their team had to move quickly as their coding powers were put to the test. And we are very proud to say that their amazing teamwork brought them ¥500,000 and a victory at the Japan Hackathon!
What is a Japan Hackathon?
Japan Hackathon is a 52 hour event where designers, developers, project managers, creative and innovative people gather to develop a software for the purpose of solving a problem in their communities. In 2020, 11 teams were selected for a final round out of the 250 applications from more than 40 countries. The team led by Le Wagon Tokyo alumni Paulo D’Alberti won the Japan Hackathon and was awarded ¥500,000 from Kyoto Prefecture.
Before joining Le Wagon in Tokyo, Paulo had experienced many kinds of jobs: teaching English, working in sales administration, procurement, project management and online marketing. Despite this varied background, he struggled to find a job in Japan without speaking Japanese, so after two months of job-hunting he joined Le Wagon and landed a back-end developer job shortly after graduation.
We spoke with Paulo to learn how a full time employee dived into a hackathon adventure and ended up winning the whole contest.
What is your project about and how did you come up with the idea?
Odaiba is an innovative way to solve problems with socializing at quarantine-time schools. The idea was born out of the painful experience of my friend’s family being badly hit by the elementary schools’ lockdown. At first, her kid had a positive attitude but then it became harder and harder for him to work through the piles of homework.
My oldest kid would normally play with his classmates in the kindergarten. Now he has no one to play with so we parents need to step in and take over that role, while working our full-time jobs.
That made me reflect that school is not just for learning but also for interacting and socializing with your classmates. All these kinds of little ‘talk’ events that happen at school disappear with the lockdown.
How was your experience participating at the Japan Hackathon?
I completely forgot that I’d applied to it when less than a week before the hackathon a message came telling me that my idea was selected. I quickly convinced my co-worker, a talented graphic designer, to join the team and sent a call to the community of Le Wagon alumni.
On Friday evening, we set individual tasks and created key features for the app. Next day, two people set up a functioning backend on Rails and one front end developer implemented a view and API for calls. While the rest of the team was working on the development, I took Saturday to talk with mentors and prepare the pitch content.
Still we weren’t done. The final version was being completed while the pitches were already going on. My team was working hard behind the scenes to make sure that it works. Then something unexpected happened: minutes before our turn to pitch my son got lost outside! Luckily he was found soon but you can see me in the video trying to get a hold on myself for a couple of minutes.
Congratulations with Odaiba’s victory! In your opinion, what were your winning points?
I think the main reason we won is that our product idea resonates with a lot of parents and teachers. The application, which solves a remote learning problem in a simple way and doesn't require any input from schools or parents, has a strong appeal.
We mirrored a pair-programming approach used in the startup world, and as a developer I know that it is a very efficient tool for group work. Itreduces distraction and helps create an environment where teachers can lean on the more capable students to share their knowledge with classmates.
But in any case, we would not have managed to build anything decent if it wasn't for our team. The front end design and functionality were carried by very talented people, and for the rest I could rely on Le Wagon grads. Having gone through the same bootcamp myself, I knew that they would be able to build an MVP quickly and would be very motivated to work in a team. Indeed, Le Wagon curriculum is designed for aspiring entrepreneurs!
Why did you decide to carry on with your project?
Feedbacks we received at the hackathon and the incredible spirit of our team convinced me that we need to turn our product into a reality. Our next step is to get further validation from target customers, improve the product and slowly get into a sales mode. We're still working on the web application but hoping to get some volunteer React Native developers to help us develop a smartphone version.
I'm extremely grateful to all team members who help me keep this project moving despite having full-time jobs and other commitments. Once we can get this project off the ground, I’ll put my efforts in bringing everyone onboard in a proper way.
How to become a tech entrepreneur?
There are many paths to become an entrepreneur and participating in a hackathon can definitely be one of them. But make sure you dive into entrepreneurship with a solution that brings real value to society. I've seen many startups developing a ‘cool business solution’ or just aiming to make tons of money.