Jason Calacanis Just Made His Company Mahalo One Big Hackathon

In: entrepreneur

15 Dec 2010

Long-time Internet entrepreneur Jason Calacanis recently shared an epiphany he had regarding startups. A critic of Facebook, he has come to appreciate the value of the company’s developer-driven culture. His new belief is that the primary cause of Facebook’s success (and, to be fair, mistakes) is that within the organization, developers are empowered to create products and features then push them live, all without oversight, formal review, or interference from management. They just build and launch, build and launch, over and over.

This is unusual in any company, much less one of the most popular websites in the world. While it has at times created problems for Facebook and left them with a PR mess that needs cleaning up, it has also allowed them to move incredibly quickly and keep up with their explosive growth. It also gives them a competitive advantage that other large companies just can’t top.

Being More Like Facebook
Based on this revelation, Calacanis decided to completely overhaul his company, Mahalo, and “remove everything between the developer and iterating on the product.” He cut back on people and positions, eliminating the formal role of product management. One of his more interesting decisions involved the actual creation process:

No more formal wireframes is Rule #1 at Mahalo. You build your wireframe in HTML — or maybe on a white board or bevnap at a bar.

No more mockups is Rule #2. Instead of having a product design team, we’re outsourcing our site design to independent design shops and individual designers of note.

This instantly made me think of the hackathons that we participate in at my company, Kickstart Concepts.

Running a Company Like a Hackathon
This is basically how we operate during a hackthon. With a limited amount of time, we don’t have the option to create traditional wireframes, have lengthy discussions, or entertain a formal review process. We just build. Every minute of effort needs to be spent on something usable.

For example, the advantage of building prototypes or mockups in HTML is that once you’re done, you actually have a skeleton of a site to continue working on. By eliminating traditional product management, you’re removing the massive layers of overhead that go into administration, developing spec documents, traditional project management and more. It’s amazing how this sense of focus can produce incredible results in a short amount of time.

In a hackathon, these are all removed by necessity. At Mahalo, they’re being removed to reduce drag on the product and allow the company to innovate at a much faster rate.

A Growing Approach
Hackathons demand the type of iterative prototyping, rapid-development approach we use with our clients at Kickstart Concepts. And Facebook is helping drive it’s adoption, with Mahalo being a great example. But this road isn’t without its bumps. The secret is to just have more big wins than big losses.

I’m excited to see how this change in direction will work for Mahalo. It’s not easy to make a decision like that, and I applaud Calacanis for taking the leap.

Now comes the fun part: seeing how it plays out.

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Mark Webster

About Mark Webster

One of the Co-Founders of SideTour, former TechStar (NYC Summer 2011), ex-NBA'er, and past TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon Winner.