Raptive’s 2023 Hackathon: Pioneering AI in a remote world

Brynne Brynne Delerson

Take one remote-first company, blend with palpable excitement for AI innovation and an appetite for possibility, add a fresh infusion of cross-team collaboration, serve in an 8-bit-inspired virtual meeting space complete with go-karts, and you have Raptive’s 2023 Hackathon.

For the second summer in a row, our tech organization cleared their calendars for two-and-a-half days for our company-wide hackathon—an opportunity for teams to set down what they’re currently working on and get creative building something new and different with other people around the company.

 This year’s theme was all things AI, with three categories:

  1. Creating for creators—designing enhancements for our creators’ Raptive experience
  2. Efficiency—optimizing costs and driving productivity
  3. General AI/Machine Learning—encouraging exploration of capabilities and application

AI is a key part of Raptive’s vision for the future, and we’ve put a big focus on empowering teams to learn about and develop AI applications this year. It was great to see the team get so excited about this year’s theme and go wild innovating with AI to build truly amazing solutions for our creators.

Evan Simeone, Chief Product Officer

Raptech Wars 2023: organizing and hosting a remote hackathon

What does it take to host a company-wide hackathon remotely? I asked Alexis Chitwood, Sr. Quality Engineering Manager, one of this year’s hackathon organizers and member of our “Breaking Down the Silos” working group.

The working group, comprised of Alexis, Aus Gomez, Luke Feilberg, Ali Banta, and James Cerone, represents different teams across ad code and tech with the mission to foster connectedness across all our tech teams. They put their heads together to brainstorm a theme for this year’s hackathon and settled on the winning blend of hot topic (AI) and fun concept (Star Wars). Enter the great Raptech Wars of 2023.

A hackathon is inherently tech-centric, but when our Chief Product Officer announced this year’s event in an all-hands meeting, the team was wowed to see the interest across other teams in the company, from customer success to ad sales. 

“We truly felt like no one else would want to nerd out with us,” Alexis said, “but now the working group is excited to look for other opportunities to break down even more silos across the entire company.”

Virtual project pitching

The working group created a signup sheet where anyone in the company could submit ideas or sign up for proposed projects as an interested team member—whether you had the technical chops to execute or the insights and background to put together the use case and help shape the output. 

As a member of the marketing communications team, I’d never participated in any hackathon before, so I enthusiastically signed up as an interested partner for several projects.

With over fifty proposals on the dock, I was interested to see how the kickoff would go. I didn’t know what to expect when I hopped into Gather Town, the virtual meeting space the team set up to host the hackathon kick-off.

The biggest surprise? Virtual go-karts.

Go-karts: Assemble!

As I settled into my virtual seat in the room dedicated to pitches about increasing efficiency, I was admittedly nervous about what it would look like to sell my idea to the programming partners I’d need to pull it off. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but two of my friends came to “sit” on either side of me in virtual support—one in a blazing yellow go-kart, naturally.

Listening to everyone’s ideas, Raptive’s “Make it Better” core principle was clearly at work. People pitched ways to automate and extract insights to better support our customers, help teams work smarter and with greater accuracy, and make accessing data faster and easier. 

Not every project fit the scope of a two-and-a-half-day hackathon, and some prompted the age-old question, “Should we build, or should we buy?” but it was awesome to see so much appetite for taking full advantage of AI innovations—and so much faith in our team’s programming chops.

Hacking the future: Raptive’s AI innovations

Out of the 56 project ideas, 16 picked up working teams during the pitch event. With the clock ticking down, the working teams jumped right in.

I’ve literally blocked out my entire social and professional life for this.

Rohail Altaf, Senior Software Engineer

Collaborating over Slack and Zoom, I joined regular check-ins with the two teams I was riding along with—the first, working on a way to automate and summarize customer sentiment, and the second, working on ways to help creators springboard content creation in their unique style. 

In both cases, the creative brainstorming, energy, and deadline-driven urgency were a fun throwback to my early days with Raptive when it was still known as CafeMedia/AdThrive and everyone had to dabble in a bit of everything to bring our vision to life. 

T-minus 60 minutes to the Hackathon demos, and all that was left was to wish the teams good luck and lament the one drawback of remote work: I couldn’t bring everyone good luck cookies.

Then, everyone gathered on Zoom—over 100 attendees across the company excited to see what everyone had built.

With Alexis emceeing and a strict schedule of five minutes per project, the teams demoed their projects live for the judging panel—Michael Lee (EVP of Engineering), Will Eisner (EVP of Product), Joline McGoldrick (EVP of Creator Experience), and Jordan Moore (EVP of Creator Advocacy).

Best team photo goes to the team who built a custom chat interface to answer questions based on a proprietary data set.

The judges weighed the potential immediate impact, the long-term potential impact, and how appropriately each idea captured its category. The event had so many strong projects, they ended up bending the rules and picking multiple winners for some of the categories, with honorable mentions for each category as well. 

Although my personal contribution was largely moral support (and some speedy content and CSV generation), it was really exciting to be part of the team that won one of the prizes in the Creating for Creators category—“Write Like Me”, a feature built on top of our Topic product that adds auto-complete functionality and rewrite capabilities using the unique voice and tone of a specific content creator!

A sneak peek of Write Like Me!

Even more exciting is knowing that this feature is already in the early phases of testing. Write Like Me quickly went from a spark of an idea to a viable new solution for creators—a testament to the power of a Raptive virtual hackathon.

The Raptive Revolution

The Hackathon demonstrated Raptive’s commitment to a strong remote work culture, proving that distance doesn’t have to be a barrier to innovation. When you get this many creative, talented humans in a room—even a virtual one—the sky really is the limit. 

Learn more about Raptive’s remote-first, AI-focused approach to work and our mission to protect and empower creators through historic changes caused by AI.