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Everything We Learned at Our First-Ever Remote Hack Week

“Be the change” is one of our core values here at Rocketrip. As a technology startup that prides itself on innovation, one of our greatest assets is that my colleagues and I all thrive on challenging and changing the status quo by breaking boundaries and pushing ourselves to be better. With the landscape of the travel industry changing as rapidly as it is, we decided to tap into this strength with a company-wide Hack Week focused on what companies and business travelers will need once travel resumes in the post-COVID world.

For those new to the startup world, Hackathons are idea-generating events where teams come together to design innovative (and sometimes radical) new product features in a short period of time. Hackathons are popular for a few reasons — they spur innovation and break down departmental silos. They also democratize the idea-generating process by giving everyone an equal voice to put forward their best and brightest ideas. Rocketrip has held them regularly in the past, but typically when most of our team is gathered together in our NYC HQ.

We’d never done a totally remote Hack Week, but there’s no time like the present!

A glimpse behind the Hack Week curtain

I’ll let you in on a little secret: the key to any good Hackathon is a fun theme and energetic kickoff to get everyone going. That’s challenging in an all-remote environment, so we built out a 1970s-themed musical kickoff that included cameos from dancing team members (including myself — and no, I will not be sharing any gifs) and a company-wide cheers. Instead of it being a continuous one or two-day event, we decided to spread it over a week (hence, Hack Week!)

Hack Week Cheers

Our Hack Week ideas were centered around what changes our customers and their travelers will need to make in a post-Covid world. Although we don’t know any timelines for certain, we’ve hypothesized that many things will be different when travel returns. For example: 

  1. Duty of care, traveler wellbeing and mental health, and traveler empathy will be more important than ever. Travelers may have heightened sensitivity to their health/safety and may be more conscientious about their decisions on whether and how to travel. 
  2. Corporate travel managers will need new and different types of information and reporting than they had access to before. Their travel policies may rapidly and repeatedly evolve to reflect new information, so the urgency and timeliness of these needs may change as well.
  3. Supplier inventory (especially flights) will be inconsistent and pricing will fluctuate more than ever.

Working in cross-functional groups that included members from engineering, product, customer success, customer support, marketing, and sales — despite my pleas to join a team, execs were excluded from the ideation — each Hack Week team brainstormed and built out a business case for new features or capabilities. Teams used Trello boards, Zoom calls, and Slack to stay connected and to coordinate their presentations to the entire company. Teams leveraged internal Rocketrip insights to make their ideas incredibly granular and data-driven — analyzing data around average trip spend, rewards distributions across roles and traveler types, and travel expenses for entire trips. 

A full week later, we gathered as a company to see what all of the teams had envisioned. I was taken aback by the creativity, innovation, and talent on display as were my fellow executive team members. Here are just a few things which our team said about the presentations:

  • “I was legitimately blown away and couldn’t stop smiling the entire time.”
  • “The idea of having to vote for only one idea seemed impossible. It was incredible seeing how cross-functional all of these ideas were in addressing areas where the business could add additional value for our customers.” 
  • “It’s really rallied the company together in such an incredible way and has been great for morale. The ideas that have come out of it… teams are truly thinking big,”
  • “So many great ideas that got the creative juices flowing for our future planning. We were blown away by the creativity and enthusiasm of the whole organization, especially while everyone was remote.”

Hack Week Closing Claps

Each idea that was presented will be evaluated for inclusion in our Product Roadmap for the remainder of 2020. Even if the idea doesn’t directly get added to the product roadmap, it will have sparked internal discussions, highlighting an area my colleagues are excited about. I will be back soon to detail how we start building these new features.

For now, I can share some of the general themes which came out of Hack Week: making Rocketrip even more rewarding for travelers, focusing on sustainability features, and expanding our influence on company culture.

The prize, awarded by popular vote, was in the form of Rocketrip points. And in the spirit of the kind of community we all need at this moment, the winning team split their prize evenly with all of the other Hack Week participants.

Send Your Rocketrip Points

Cheers to all the team members that participated and made it so much fun! Till the next time.

Sandeep Chand is the chief technology officer at Rocketrip.

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