The winners of this year’s TransferWise Hackathon ran to the top step of the podium with an idea made possible by the European Union. We spoke to the two guys who led the team: the man behind the concept, Joel Süldre, and the man who sold it to the jury, Hanno Särg.
Tell us about the idea that won you the Hackathon. What problem is it solving?
Hanno: “Accountants are still having to jump through a whole lot of hoops if the company whose books they’re keeping has bank accounts in different countries. But since the EU signed off on a directive last year obliging banks to make data available to third parties under certain circumstances, it’s now possible to create a platform on which accountants can access all the bank accounts they’re dealing with. They no longer have to log in to 15 different banks in 10 different countries, but sign in to one platform and they can do all their bank-related stuff right there.”
How did you come up with the idea?
Joel: “An everyday problem led to one of those lightbulb moments. I work for Fortumo, which operates all over the world. It’s got bank accounts in different parts of Europe and around the globe. I’ve seen how much time our accountants have to factor in, which is to say waste when doing their work. Every morning they have to extract information on money received to all these separate accounts, and there are almost as many different log-in functions – they have to use a PIN calculator for one, their phone for another, text messaging for third, and so it goes on. This eats up a huge amount of time each day. Which is why it made sense to us to centralize all that information in one place.”
How did producing the prototype go as part of the Hackathon?
Hanno: “Right from the first night we knew what we were doing because we realized we were onto something. We spent the first hour brainstorming all the potential problems we could think of. We concluded that none of them were deal-breakers. After that, we put together a straightforward overview of what we needed for the demo prototype and what sort of nice-to-have functions there should be, most of which we managed to include. And then we got to work.”
How did you find working with the mentors?
Hanno: “They gave us a lot of really constructive feedback. Some of that was ideas we’d already thought of, to be fair, and we spent quite a while explaining to them why certain problems weren’t problems at all. But it was great that they were thinking along the same lines, and they even came up with a couple of smaller things we hadn’t thought of.”
Did you already know each other before the event? Is that why you worked so well together?
Hanno: “Nope – Joel and I met at the Hackathon and just managed to build a team around us.”
What were the benefits of the Hackathon compared to just developing your idea on your own?
Joel: “Impetus. If it’s just you on your own thinking about how to make something of an idea, the lack of drive can mean it never gets off the drawing board. But at the Hackathon, you get a chance to trial-run your ideas and find people who have the skills and the motivation to get things done. More than anything else it’s a great environment for testing – you find out straight away whether your idea has got legs and whether you can make something of it.”
Hanno: “Anywhere else, Joel wouldn’t have had three software developers at his fingertips to look at his idea from a technical point of view and say what they think. Or a designer.”
Where do you go from here?
Hanno: “The first thing we want to do is validate the product on a market that’s slightly smaller than the entire European Union. It’s too early to say when exactly we’ll get a chance to do that since we’ve only just won the Hackathon. (Our interview takes place three days later – Ed.)
Three questions to the organizer (Alvar Lumberg, Engineering Lead at TransferWise)
What is the idea behind the event and what is it designed to achieve?
There can never be enough people in Estonia who have an innovative approach to problem-solving. That’s why we organize the Hackathon every year – it’s an opportunity to find answers to essential questions based on real ideas. Particularly issues faced by those developing digital products.
What skills and qualities do the competition demand those taking part?
Intense concentration and teamwork. It gives people the chance to step outside their comfort zone, experience something new and learn to cast a critical eye over their ideas.
What does TransferWise get out of it all?
The competition helps to highlight the fact that behind every product or service we use daily is people like us. For our staff, the Hackathon is an opportunity to share what they know and ride the wave of activity and enthusiasm it produces. For TransferWise as a company, it’s a chance to showcase our values and what we have to offer as an employer.
Photo by Taaniel Malleus
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