From Idea to Idea App in 3 Days Flat

Hacking together an idea at the WeTransfer Hackathon

From Idea to Idea App in 3 Days Flat

It started with a meta-moment late at night. As I do often, I was listening to a podcast to try to get to sleep. In this case, The Anthropocene Reviewed, where the author John Green reviews “facets of the human-centered planet,” basically rating everyday-objects, art, history, or just about anything else on a 5-star scale. His voice is deep and soothing, but his way of looking at the world is perhaps a bit too engaging; that is, when you’re trying to doze off.

In an episode titled “Notes App and Sports Rivalries” as the title implies, Green rated the iPhone Notes App (4 stars) and the entire concept of sports rivalries (3 stars). His reviews are usually poetic, personal, and free-form. As a developer, and general nerd, I was really curious to hear where his musings on the Notes App would take him.

Green, a #1 New York Times bestselling author, sounds like a Notes App power-user. Constantly jotting things down to himself for future use, he uses his Notes App both like a sketch pad to quickly capture snippets of prose and a staging area for new ideas. His problem, however, is the familiar experience of finding a note to yourself and forgetting what it was you were on about.

“They’re painting the ceiling of the Rijksmuseum?” he asked himself in one note. “Were they painting the ceiling of the Rijksmuseum? Or did I think that was a good line for a story? I have no idea.” Of course, for us Amsterdammers, we remember the 10 years the museum was being renovated, with many a ceiling painted; but whatever inspired John Green to jot that in his Notes App will never be known, and perhaps an entire thread in a novel gone along with.

The night I was listening to this podcast, I had an idea. What if there was a better way for catching those quick one-off ideas than the Notes App? And, what if the app did as much as it could to help the John Greens of the world place themselves back where they were, so a good idea wouldn’t go lost.

Having nowhere better to write it, I fired up my Notes App and wrote “Idea catcher app” with no other context.

Fortunately, I’d remember what I meant. A few days later, WeTransfer had set aside 3-days for its first-ever “Hackathon,” a chance to push boundaries, pitch new ideas, and work with new colleagues on quick, innovative projects. I pitched an “idea catcher,” and thankfully, a small group thought it was a good idea and joined in.

The clock was ticking from the very start. Our team had just the right number of ingredients: a UX-designer, two iOS developers, and me, a web developer and designer. The idea felt just ambitious enough to push us toward a working prototype without it being too simple that the final product wouldn’t pack a punch. We wanted quick entry of new ideas (including via Siri and watchOS and as much context as we could muster attached to each note. Design-wise, we were shooting for simple, without it looking too basic.

The development team put in long hours. The designs went through multiple iterations with big questions looming like “if you know the weather and where the note was written, will that actually help you remember it?” Our original logo (this abstract catcher’s mitt thing) was objectively pretty bad, but we convinced ourselves it worked, what with the lack of time.

In just three days, we managed to prep a working v1.0, complete with a working watchOS entry, a full demo presentation, and even a fake promotional website with the incredibly boutique domain catchdotcom.website.

Catch in practice

To me, it showed the power of focus. With a new team that had never worked together before, when singularly focused, tasks that would normally take weeks or be slowed by indecision, could take just hours. And, at the end of the Hackathon, Catch was born.

WeTransfer strives to spark the creative process, both with its products and in-house, for its employees.

From "Innovation" days and Hackathons to dedicated resources for L&D, like the dynamic wallpapers we build, our people are rarely sitting still. WeTransfer’s next Hackathon is this week already and I’m really looking forward to it, because I’ve got an app full of ideas just waiting to get out!