Yesterday, Scott Adams announced a hackathon for 3 different contests surrounding his WhenHub app.

A goal-oriented startup would have a specific customer and a specific product in mind. If that doesn’t work out, the startup might have enough cash left over for a pivot, or maybe two, to try again. But in each case, there is a specific goal. And the way startups work, the odds of any particular startup hitting its goal is dismal. That’s why WhenHub was designed from the ground-up to be a systems business model instead of a goal-focused model. The idea is to get something like a portfolio effect to increase the odds of at least one of the things we’re doing becoming a profitable line of business.

[…]

Now we’re taking it up a notch by running an online hackathon for our WhenHub platform.

Being systems-oriented sounds good in theory and it works in certain situations - evidently it worked for Donald Trump - but when it comes to a product, it doesn’t work. What Adams needs is a very clear product and value proposition while simultaneously being willing to pivot by listening to what the market tells him. Instead, he has an ambiguous product that he’s attempting to crowdsource into existence. What does WhenHub do, and why do I need it? That question needs to be asked and answered succinctly and satisfactorily. The fact that it can’t be is worrisome.

This morning I cloned the WhenHub/mycomposer repo and played around with it some. Going through that process was buggy. I had to re-clone the repo several times before the system dynamically populated my instance’s manifest.json variables to my own data. And even then, because it wasn’t bulletproofed to handle repo deletion and re-cloning (despite it prompting for this), the css and js folders didn’t exist, so I had to manually copy them from a zip version of the original.

Once I was finally working - it took me over an hour, and I consider myself decently well versed in how to set up front-end environments - I got to looking at the actual JS code. It’s all in ES5, not ES6. This tells me right away that the developers aren’t living on the edge. They aren’t hustling. Scott’s not surrounding himself with a Class A team. Now admittedly, doing that is tricky when you’re not a developer yourself and don’t know what to look for. But man. I went from thinking, It’d be fun to take a stab at one of those $4,000 prizes, to thinking, I could spend the same amount of time elsewhere on a guaranteed gig, make the same amount of money, and actually get to work with a code base that I’m not cringing over.

So we’ve got:

  • A product that’s a non-product, one that glories in the fact that it doesn’t know what it is yet.
  • An interface that’s as bloated as Microsoft Word.1
  • A code base that’s full of holes and lives in the past.

I’m going to leave this hackathon to others. It’s fundamentally flawed in ways that I can’t help it. I’m reminded of a comment that a Dilbert Blog reader left about it.

There is an idea behind it, it’s the execution and presentation that sucks, something that [Steve] Jobs would eat the developers alive for.

The idea might suck too, but we’ll never be able to tell.

Yeah, pretty much.


  1. Not actually that bloated. But definitely too busy and way too many borders and box shadows. ↩︎