Ilma from MailerLite

Ilma5 min readBehind the ScenesSeptember 20, 2018

Hackathons: why do we do them?

Hackathons: why do we do them?

Hackathons are a big part of MailerLite’s culture. Once or twice a year our developers, designers and product managers go to a resort in the forest and spend 24 or 48 hours coding new features — non-stop.

This is how our landing page, popup and GDPR features were built. Let's take a look at why hackathons work so well.


#1. No distractions

There are so many distractions in the office. You come in the morning, have a coffee, chat with others, check your email, have another coffee. Oh, it’s lunchtime already. After lunch, you sit down to work, but then someone comes to ask for help with a small fix, just 5 min they say. You will need another 30 minutes to concentrate and get back to what you were doing. But it’s already time to go home…

Does this sound familiar?

In the hackathon, you don’t have any distractions. No phones, no email, no social media. Someone else is taking care of your food, coffee and energy drinks.

#2. You are in the zone

We always have clear goals that we want to achieve in a hackathon. And we always know that time is very limited. That's why the team is completely focused and in the zone during the hackathon.

Hackathon on the ferry
Our first hackathon on the ferry to Sweden

When a motivated team comes together to solve a problem in a limited amount of time, a certain magic happens. In 48 hours we built a new feature for MailerLite — popup subscribe forms. 

At our most recent hackathon, we built most of the features necessary for GDPR in 24 hours. Normally, a project of that scale would have taken us a month or even more to build if we would have worked our regular hours in the office.

#3. Organic team building

Working for 48 hours non-stop is an unconventional way of motivating your team and it can be a very pleasurable experience. 

Dopamine, known as a “pleasure chemical,” is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine spikes when we accomplish tasks with our team, especially if we are being praised and recognized.

Hackathon

When the team works together to achieve so much in so little time, bonds are organically created and the team's confidence grows. Co-workers gain trust, respect and awe for one another. And, a major task is completed.


The surprising outcome of our first annual Hack-a-SaaS hackathon

We’ve been doing our own hackathons for years. We love them so much; we decided to organize a big one – this time inviting people outside of MailerLite to build a new SaaS product.

The rules were simple: Build a B2B SaaS product in 48 hours.

People were allowed to pitch their ideas and recruit a team to build their prototype. The top three prototypes received cash prizes as well as a bunch of other perks and networking opportunities.

We were amazed by the turnout and high level of ideas. Over 15 teams pitched SaaS products ranging from chatbots and e-commerce integrations to HR applications and a myriad of mobile apps.

hackathon mailerlite event

The weekend was full of energy and positive collaboration. In between coding, there were pitch coaching sessions and mentorship meetings, as well as fun activities like a visit from the Red Bull team and coffee tasting by Vilnius’ Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories.

See the entire itinerary and program details.
Hack-a-Saas Event

And the winners are...

On the last day, a group of judges heard final pitches and then were faced with the difficult decision of choosing the winning teams. In the end, the SaaS products were so impressive; the judges found it impossible to pick just three. So here’s what happened:

Top Prize

The top prize went to a team that created an e-commerce integration with social media. Their product enables you to seamlessly upload your products to social selling platforms within minutes.

Second Prize

The second place team developed a chatbot with the online gaming platform, Steam. The Steam chatbot allows brands to communicate directly with gamers within the platform.

Third Prize

Third place was a tie. One team created a chatbot that replaces the CV when applying for a job. Instead of asking for a CV, the chatbot asks questions to determine if the candidate is qualified. The other third place winner developed a security product for companies that use multiple clouds. This IT solution enables you to secure all your clouds under one VPN.

All four ideas focused on different industries, but they all solved real problems with elegant solutions. Proof that with the right mix of people, ideas and a structured process – hackathons can push people to create amazing products.


We’ve always had a passion for hackathons. Hosting our First Annual Hack-a-SaaS has fanned the flame, and we hope to make it a yearly event where the best and brightest can come together to create and innovate.

Have you ever participated in a hackathon? Please share your experiences below in the comments. We’d love to hear your stories and ideas on how to make our next one even better!