GoKart’s Annual GK600 Kicks The Hackathon Into High Gear

“How long does it really take to get something done?”

A.J. Meyer recalls pondering the question while chatting with a developer many years ago, in the earlier days of GoKart Labs. What would happen, the company’s cofounder wondered, if you challenged a group of smart, inventive people to conceive and meaningfully develop a brand new idea, under strict time and resource constraints?

With that, GoKart 600 – the company’s annual hackathon-style sprint – was born.

On February 22nd, GoKart Labs held the seventh iteration of its GK600 event. “Race Day,” as it’s known internally, divvies up employees into several cross-functional teams tasked with producing a fully envisioned product, plus an accompanying go-to-market strategy, with 600 minutes and a $600 budget to work with.

While these friendly competitions occasionally spawn a venture worthy of further pursuit (nothing so far has advanced past cursory external exploration), Meyer says the real value is in the process, not the output.

“When you constrain resources like this, you don’t have the time to second-guess your ideas,” he explains. “You have to lean on your instincts more, and trust your teammates in such a way that you learn over the course of those 600 minutes that saying yes makes things go faster than saying no.”

This exercise improves both confidence and collaboration, he believes. Connecting people who don’t typically work together, and getting folks from various departments involved with every element of a product ideation and launch, is a thoroughly beneficial experience for GoKart’s team of 46 designers, developers, strategists, marketers and more.

“There’s an art and skill that goes into building a team. That’s nothing to overlook,” says marketing manager Amy Ward.

Of course, as anybody wired into tech knows, the underlying concept here is not unique. The hackathon – described by Wikipedia as a “design sprint-like event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development … collaborate intensively on software projects,” is a Silicon Valley mainstay.

Meyer says what differentiates the Minneapolis-based GoKart 600 is the lessened focus on technology and creating something functional. Instead, this version is about solving problems through empathy and understanding of the end user.

“You might call it a hackathon for human-centered design.”

GoKart Labs finds this practice so rewarding, they’ve discussed extending it into their client operations and even turning it into a public event for career development. For his part, Meyer certainly is not territorial about his brainchild.

“I’d be super happy if somebody were to reach out and say, ‘Hey I’d like to do one of these GK600 things, how do I go about doing that?’ It would be great if, a year or two or five from now, we hear about people leveraging the format and methods of GK600 outside of even what we’re doing.”


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