Earlier this month Millennial Media hosted a time-honored tradition: Hackmatch. The bi-annual event encourages employees to form teams and build a product or feature from scratch to finish over the course of 20 consecutive hours.
Team Doubleshot worked through the night to win Millennial Media’s Hackmatch. Please note the sunrise occurring through the window on the left.
Hackmatch is like going to war. The direct opponent is the business problem, and the main constraint is time. A clear strategy and the right team of warriors are the foundation for success. Here’s how Team Doubleshot came away with a win.
Choose the right opponent. While you’re likely to win your battle, you won’t get points for conquering a litter of puppies; puppies are not the enemy. And while it would be impressive to conquer a platoon of T-Rexes, sometimes too much ambition can kill you. Your opponent must have the following requirements:
- It must exist.
- It must offer something of value upon defeat.
- It is not impossible to defeat. The chosen problem (if solved) needs to bring real value to the business, and the chosen solution needs to be completed within the allotted time – which often requires slicing off a smaller problem than the original target.
Team Doubleshot’s mission was to tackle the inevitable scalability challenges when targeting hyper-specific audiences.
Know your opponent. Understanding the history of the problem – the circumstances that made it what it is today – and the current circumstances that enable it to rear its ugly head are necessary in deciding the best strategy. Knowledge of problem will allow your team maximal flexibility in your approach, allowing you to pivot as you encounter inevitable and unforeseen challenges.
In our case, as audiences are layered, the potential campaign reach inevitably becomes smaller. Our goal was to demonstrate how we could minimize that impact. What we didn’t have were specific examples to measure the success of our approach.
Luckily, Millenial Media employees are rock stars. Operations Analyst Stephanie Flynn walked us through specific use cases, and Kyle Brudvig (another OA) was still up feeding us current approaches to audience extension at 11 p.m. on the night of the Hackmatch.
Have the right team. Depending on your terrain, you may need the Army, the Navy, the Marines or Special Forces. The team must have the right skill set for the attack, be equipped the right tools, and work together to conquer.
Recruiting the right team was pivotal to our win. In addition to Stephanie and Kyle, our team of warriors included: Ashish Agrawal and Elisha Heaps (Data Science); Thomas Wall (Machine Learning); Kristen Patten and Scott Robinson (Audience Platform Developers); and Kelson Berkus (Marketing).
Ensuring the team had access and experience with the systems we expected to use as well as familiarity with the data we expected to process saved crucial time during the Hackmatch.
Maximize your resources. Twenty hours is not a lot of time to win a war. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to fix a failing or inefficient approach. Focusing on a set of defined success metrics allows the team to win without defeating every last soldier, and thus optimizing its energy, and defeat the opponent rather than building the most destructive weapon.
Once we could see what success looked like (using a real use-case), we were able to define the approach in terms of the problem: we subsetted the data and simplified the algorithm, allowing us to drive to completion within the time we had available.
Also, a case of Starbucks Doubleshots and a few bowls of M&Ms helped everyone go the distance.
Fight the good fight. Commit to the win and conquer.
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Millennial Media is the leading mobile ad marketplace, making mobile simple for the world’s top brands, app developers, and mobile web publishers. The company's data and technology assets enable advertisers to connect with target audiences at scale, while driving monetization for publisher and developer partners. AOL acquired Millennial Media on October 23, 2015. Millennial Media boosts AOL's global, mobile capabilities and scale across ONE by AOL for advertisers and agencies, and offers the most attractive monetization platform for app developers.