We spent quite a bit of time yesterday in USV's regular monday meeting talking about hackdays. I had attended Music Hack Day at General Assembly on Sunday and was inspired by all the amazing hacks (72 in all) that I saw there.

These 72 hacks were built over a 24 hour period between early saturday afternoon and sunday afternoon. Like all hacks, very few, if any, were fully polished products, but they showcased new ideas, new directions, new technologies, and most importantly the talents of the hackers. I was like a kid in a candy store.

As I sat there and watched hack after hack present, I started counting up all the free publicly available resources that were being used; MongoDB, JSON, jQuery, Ruby, Django, SproutCore, AppEngine, Soundcloud API, Last.fm API, Spotify API, Twilio API, Twitter API, etc, etc, etc). There were literally hundreds of these resources that the hackers were using to put together ther projects.

General Assembly is an excellent phrase to describe what was going on. It is also a great place to do a hack day. Our new USV offices will be perfect for that as well.

And so we talked yesterday about how to get more of this kind of thing happening. We know that our portfolio companies like Foursquare, Twilio, Etsy, and Twitter are sponsoring hack days like this. Foursquare's hackday is this coming weekend at General Assembly.

We hope to see more of our portfolio companies doing this. But we also recognize that hacking in specific verticals (like music) is a great idea. We'd love to see a Education Hack Day (Hacking Education for real), an Art Hack Day, a Robotics Hack Day, a Big Data Hack Day, and so on and so forth.

There's a great group in NYC called nyhacker.org. We hope we can leverage their network as well as locations like General Assembly and other coworking spaces around NYC to activate the hacker community in specific verticals to do more of this. It's so much fun and so important too.

I'll end this post with the Music Hack Day theme song, courtesy of the Soundcloud guys:

Forss feat. MC Lenberg - We Will Hack by Eric


Comments (Archived):

  1. karen_e

    Sounds like a lot of fun, good business, and totally inspiring for all. How many girls/women were hacking?

    1. fredwilson

      more than i expected but not enough to make me happy

      1. Guest

        Maybe the theme song turned them off:”who cares about some glitches we’re getting all the bitches”

        1. fredwilson


  2. Ryan Drew

    djtxt is such a smack-your-forehead, ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ great application. Forget party playlists, I could see my wife and I song-dueling on a random Tuesday night.

    1. Keith Hopkin

      It probably helps that djtxt actually built most or all of this project over a month ago before the hack day. Not too difficult to impress the judges when you’ve been working on this for longer than a day. Here’s a youtube screen cast of the app from January 3http://www.youtube.com/watc…

  3. Stan

    Have you seen many hacks materialize into long-lasting products or businesses, or are most of these just one-off creations that fall by the wayside after a couple days?I much prefer vertical hackdays to hackdays for specific company APIs. The latter feel too much like exploitative marketing events. Particularly since the developer community has learned (the hard way) to never trust a single platform.

    1. falicon

      There are some that emerge as true businesses (ie. GroupMe is probably the most famous right now)…but taking a one-to-two day hack and birthing a company is no small feat and so I suspect that it’s fairly rare.What I think you can expect to get out of these sorts of things though:1. Great team building/networking. You may not launch a ‘real’ company at a hack event but dollars to doughnuts you will meet interesting and motivated people…one of which just might be that ever elusive co-founder you never knew you were looking for!2. Freedom to play and a chance to learn. You go in with the expectation that you aren’t trying to change the world…you are just playing with an idea that you hope a few people might like…and it always gives you a reason, and some dedicated time, to learn something new in a very friendly environment (usually with lots of people to help give quick answers to small newbie problems)3. Inspiration. It’s an environment of ideas and energy…so you can’t help but get inspired at hack events. Even if your own hack doesn’t inspire you to put in the time to build a real company out of it…there are probably at least a handful of other ideas that *could* become companies (and are at an early enough stage that you could probably jump on board too if you wanted)…and I always find that inspiring too.So…yeah…lots of great reasons hack events are awesome! =D

      1. fredwilson

        Great articulation of the key value points



    2. kidmercury

      i hear what you are saying, but i actually advocate the opposite — explicit marketing events. the tone of fred’s blog post is “la la la look at all the wonderful openness la la la” when in fact there is a much more “let’s get down to business this is all about the cash money” side of these events. company-specific events make discussions along those trajectory far more straightforward. i also think the best applications in the long run will be those that have deep integration with the platform, and thus platform-specific events will be a greater tool in enabling that to occur IMHO.

      1. daryn

        Kid – hack days are less about real products and cash money than about brand exposure and especially about recruiting good devs.

        1. kidmercury

          same difference….what are brand exposure and recruiting about?creating real products and making cash money.

          1. daryn

            hah, true true..

    3. Sebastian Wain

      Look at the Mega Panda video: http://gamejam.360idev.com/…This was done at the 360iDev GameJamYou need preparation for Hackdays style events.

    4. daryn

      The goal with most of the hacks wasn’t to create a business, just to create something awesome, and I think that was a good thing. I personally am not a huge fan of events like ‘Startup Weekend’, which attempt to create companies/businesses in a weekend. There are a lot of moving parts to consider there, and it is much more efficient, and fun, to focus on just one (the product).I do agree on vertical (or even horizontal) hack days versus single company supported hack days. Sure, there’s nothing exclusive about foursquare hackday that excludes using other APIs, but having a set of complimentary tools in front of you to work with inspires some interesting mashups. A USV portfolio hackday would be pretty cool, as would any of the verticals.I’d love to hold one of these in Seattle, there was so much energy and raw talent in the room at General Assembly last weekend which, by the way, is an awesome space. Would love to create one of those here as well 🙂



    5. fredwilson

      Most dont get productized. But some do. But there are many good things thatcome of them



        1. ShanaC

          technically da vinci was painting for a while for pay before Mona Lisa.which makes me wish even more that there were introduction to hacking hack days

          1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


  4. Wills Hapworth

    Some company’s are calling these “Fedex Days”, where you have some deliverable after 24 hours, not exclusively tech. Think it’s a great idea and gives people some autonomy over their work and team, and leads to useful (and by nature simplified) servicesI like GigBeat and Soundora

  5. Gerardo Capiel

    Fred, I used to be an entrepreneur (co-founder of Digital Impact and later Attendio/Gydget – you passed on the latter, good call 🙂 ). I hung up my entrepreneur hat for a while and I’m now VP Of Engineering at a non-profit called Benetech (.org). We recently announced an API to our library of a accessible eBooks for the print disabled (e.g. blind, severe learning disabilities). Currently over 120K students benefit from our service. I would be interested in organizing a social good hack day with other non-profits with APIs, such as Kiva and All for Good. Let me know, if you want to be promote it or be involved in other ways.

    1. fredwilson

      That would be good. Are you in NYC?

  6. Tim Ogilvie

    Great idea. We definitely need more.Another hackday idea to plant: synthetic biology hack day. The folks at genspace.org are pushing on the combination of biology and programming and I expect there will be some fascinating outcomes.

    1. fredwilson

      Ooh. I like that

  7. Jeff O'Hara

    Fred, I can definitely see Edmodo organizing an Education Hack Day in the near future :)-Jeff

    1. fredwilson

      Bring it!

  8. Devon Smith

    Culture Hack Day UK is a recent example of a hack day for the arts: http://culturehackday.org.uk/. The interest from the arts community is definitely out there. This is actually a panel I proposed (but was unfortunately denied) for SXSW this year, “The Tools Artists Need Geeks to Create” (http://panelpicker.sxsw.com…. There’s an active online community of folks at the intersection of arts & technology, including @TechintheArts, @FracturedAtlas, and @2amt. If you can bring the hackers, I can bring the artists.

    1. fredwilson

      I’m mostly working on bringing the APIs. Etsy has one. Who else?

      1. Adam Huttler

        I’m the Executive Director of Fractured Atlas (http://www.fracturedatlas.org). We’ve just gone beta (should really be alpha) on ATHENA, an open source software framework for the cultural sector (http://athena.fracturedatla…). The whole thing is basically a giant API – it’s a service oriented architecture that allows developers to focus on organization-specific logic while taking care of the hard commodity problems for them. Everything is RESTful JSON over HTTP.We’d love to participate if you’ll have us.

  9. Nick Grossman

    Not explicitly a hack day, but an unconference with a hands-on component, for those interested in transportation tech: http://transportationcamp.org. March 5-6 at New York Law School and March 19-20 in SF for west coasters out there.There will be reps from US DOT, MTA, NYCDOT, NYSDOT, MBTA, SFMTA, BART, AC Transit and others, all with open data and APIs that can be used to build good things. Plus folks from all manner of transportation-related startups.Here’s to vertical hack days, and hope to see you there…

  10. Volnado

    I love seeing hackdays like this I just sent the best ones out to all the guys on my team.The problem I see with these hacks (and music technology in general) is the lack of focus on solving the real problems of music… sustainable revenue streams and fan relationship management.Not many of these hacks seemed to be working on ways to make musicians more money…. just new ways to make experience better for music lovers independent of the music makers… but what about the creators? Dont we owe it to them for giving us their music as the platform to create tech awesomeness.

    1. fredwilson

      Agreed. But soundcloud is all about the creators

      1. Volnado

        Yea and I applaud you investing in them well done. They arent the revenue or customer management solution musicians need though just like youtube isnt the solution film/video makers (myself included) need. They are 100% necessary though and I love them and reccomend that djs use them. I can’t believe there wasnt a company that got funded to do this way back when youtube was first acquired bc its really the same thing. Why didnt google just make a yoump3 service?Soundcloud and these hacks are adding to musicians frustration by being another place they are obligated to maintain presences on (myspace, facebook, twitter, youtube, itunes, web in general, etc etc). Thats alot of time for them and their managers plus add reading the music blogs and listening to other new music and rehearsal and managerial bullshit not to mention touring and gigging…. Raises the big question : When are musicians going to find the time to make us new music if they are doing all this other stuff on the web??

        1. fredwilson

          two points:1 – you are right about the monetization partners. we looked closely attunecore and topspin. i think both of those companies are addressing theissues you mention2- soundcloud’s approach to the “multiple presences” problem you mention isto build tight integrations with all of them so that musicians can simplypost to soundcloud and then their content will be everywhere their fans are.they are getting there through partners like root music, and hopefullytumblr and twitter soon.

          1. Volnado

            1 : They both are slices of the solution but the dont have THE solution that is really going to fix the problem. Most of what topspin offers now for commerce an artist could make themselves with paypal buttons bc its just packages. Tunecore just puts your songs out there for a fee… useful but keeps your sales even more splintered thru all different services…and your customer base fragmented. There are a few more roots of the problem that these guys dont solve… top problem : how do you get the traffic to your topspin or tunecore or other commerce spaces in the first place… that has to do with how you put your content out in the first place so they are part of that problem.2 – Another API could solve this problem more completely than soundcloud bc its just for audio. Bands are putting out many more types of content : videos, concerts, statuses, blogs, press, contests, games, whatever else. They cant be expected to sign into a different service for each and then try and organize all of these. What they need is an API that powers their entire businesses (including an audio upload like soundcloud). That way when you have a music hack day the hacks can be integrated into the music businesses themselves (artists, labels, producers, venues) not just making cool shit that sits there because no artists or fans are driving it.You should take a look back into the music industry. The big play is a paradigm shift in economics that changes they way content is distributed. Music is the most engaged network in the world … its just been spread so thin due to lack of innovation and 3rd parties carving off parts of the whole. When all the spokes are reconnected around the proper hubs it will be amazingly robust and profitable.

          2. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          3. fredwilson

            I agree with all of this. However souncloud is not focused exclusively onmusic. They are focused on sound

  11. Ivan Kirigin

    I’m reading “Where Good Ideas Come From” right now. The idea that good ideas aren’t created in a vacuum but come from exploring the immediate boundaries of what is possible is really compelling.It makes me think that the value in these Hack Days isn’t the projects themselves, per se, but what you can learn from seeing the projects being made and watching the results.I’ve had a similar feeling when meeting with other “growth” guys at other companies. It isn’t the specific ideas necessarily, but where the conversation turns that yields the most promising new leads.Check out the book. It’s very good so far: http://amzn.to/hG0jdX

    1. fredwilson

      I love that book. And you are so right about what makes hackdays so great

  12. John Britton

    Thanks for coming out. I agree that NYC needs more of this kind of stuff, and that’s exactly what NYHacker is working to provide. Along with quarterly themed events we host weekly office hours and monthly hacker town halls to get people into hacking for real.I love the idea of an education hack day, we’ve already started talking about hosting a Game Jam and have a few other ideas.http://nyhacker.org

    1. fredwilson

      Can you come to USV and talk to us about how we can help?

      1. John Britton

        I’ll shoot you an email, it’s about three months out but would love to have USV involved.

  13. michaelgalpert

    my favorite hack day story is that of groupme, that it came to be bc of techcrunch disrupt. One of the shortcomings of hackdays is a lot of great ideas die after the hack day comes to an end bc lack of time/resources/expertise etc. For themed hackdays there should be a resource that would allow ppl to see what was hacked before hand and see what project they can revive.

  14. paramendra

    General Assembly is a great space.

  15. ShanaC

    Can we do introductory hack days?

    1. daryn

      There were definitely a few first time hackers (some musicians, some not) at Music Hack Day, and they just worked through stuff the best they could, or joined up with teams to help in whatever way they could.

  16. MicroSourcing

    It’s great how a social networking giant like Twitter supports Hack Day. It nurtures new talent.

  17. Snoggle Media

    Wow absolutely amazing Fred, what a great tale. I’m almost jellin’ out wishing I could have been there!

  18. Dan

    Would love an Instagram hack day with the new API…

  19. mobile tracking software

    This sounds like a really fun time. Cool to see these kinds of events happening.

  20. Mark Essel

    Love the events, plan to join in the fun shortly.

  21. Tarikh Korula

    In case folks are interested, I put together a list of resources for NYC-based haxors here: http://unprojects.tumblr.co

  22. martin j

    it is kind of strange that you listed a bunch of APIs without naming the one that most of the hacks at MHD NYC actually used – The Echo Nest, a boston music startup that provides APIs for all sorts of music stuff. It was used by far more than last.fm, soundcloud, twillo, spotify (there were no spotify hacks by the way), jquery, etc etc. I guess they are kind of a “behind the curtain” kind of company but I think they do a lot of cool stuff that doesn’t get a lot of love. They also co-organized the MHD.

    1. fredwilson

      Great point. Failure on my part. Echo nest is awesomeYouzak used spotify

    2. Elissa Barrett

      Thank you Martin for showing the love.The Echo Nest were in fact a large part of the organizing team for that weekend and our API was used for 30 hacks out of 72.For others who might not be familiar with our stuff: the.echonest.comLook for the next Music Hack Day to take place on the West Coast in May. Details will be tweeted and posted once we have secured a location for the event.

  23. Frank Denbow

    This was one of the better hackday events I’ve seen in NYC. The major reason was that so many companies were represented and were there to teach about their APIs. I would presume that this was one of the motivating factors for getting people to come out. Its easier to be creative when there are many tools laid out for you to use.Startup Weekend will have some NYC events of a similar vein. Hopefully we can create a great atmosphere like Music Hackday’s.

  24. John Dineen

    I would love to see the Education themed Hackday. Education is a huge vertical that is all too often overlooked.

  25. Julia Kaganskiy

    Thanks for this write-up, Fred. It’s definitely inspiring to see so many amazing projects come out of the creative efforts of a group of people willing with a few hours to kill on the weekend. I’ve been wanting to run a similar type of event for a while now in conjunction with my meetup, the Arts, Culture & Technology meetup (http://www.meetup.com/Arts-… but have never had the resources. Great to hear about the NYCHacker group! What’s the best way to get in touch with them?

    1. fredwilson