Zenfully, Playfully, and Sleeplessly hacking our way to a big WIN
Being a part of a competition — wait, an “Interac-a-thon” — that, at its heart, was about innovating how businesses and individuals request and receive money online, was a no-brainer for OpenSports, Toronto’s pickup sports platform.
Interac just came out with a new API for requesting and receiving money online. By collaborating with Communitech, Interac was able to show off its new API to startups and companies (such as OpenSports), who could play around with the API to come up with innovative ways to solve the problems of payment between individuals and organizations.
Great Ideas Don’t Come Overnight
When I was playing a pickup soccer game in Williamsburg, NY a few years ago, the organizer of the game actually walked around with a little paper cup, and collected $3 from everyone. This was one of his businesses and according to a local, he did pretty well. I watched as some people claimed they forgot their money and would pay him back (myself included), and some requested change.
Recently, we — OpenSports — experienced this pain ourselves, several times. On top of the discomfort of asking for money from friends and strangers, keeping tabs on who paid and who didn't is mentally taxing. Most sports players can also relate to situations where the one person on a team with a huge credit limit heroically absorbs the entire $2500 cost to sign their team up for a league, only to have to chase their friends down for payment.
There was also that day in February, when we learned from a regular user of OpenSports — and now a friend — that not having a Visa prohibited him from playing a soccer game through our app. We needed a better way to allow game organizers to collect money from players through our platform.
April 26, 2017, 7:07am— Morning of the Big Day
I met James and Yi An at 7:07 am, at the Greyhound bus terminal.
“James, did you sleep?”
“Uh….. No. I got home (from our office at iBoost) at 6:05am, laid down and set an alarm for 8 minutes, and after 7.5 minutes, got back up”.
Once on the bus, we still had a lot of things to fix, so James and Yi An continued coding on the bus, while I jammed to some Taylor Swift songs.
10:00am- Still Fixing Bugs.
We sluggishly arrived at the Communitech office in Kitchener where we would present in less than an hour, and to our dismay, had a final bug to fix in the demo...would we finish it on time?? As James and Yi An relayed to me, “It is iffy — there’s a chance that the bug fix will do more harm than good”. To me, this translated to: this demo might completely go to shambles during our pitch, which will be heartbreaking after spending an entire week and several all-nighters working on it. We so badly wanted the demo to go smoothly. James and Yi An finished working on the demo at 10:20am and we had 20 minutes to rehearse before presenting to Interac.
10:50am — The Pitch.
We walked into the large board room, and to our surprise, faced about 12 execs from Interac. The pitch went well. It went extraordinarily well! We couldn’t fully read the faces of all the Interac execs in the room, but we were fairly confident they liked it. The two minute demo was smooth: we got to show the entire flow of an organizer requesting Interac payment for a pickup game, and the player paying for and joining the game. After our presentation, what at first seemed to be a defeaning silence turned into a very fruitful Q n A. I told James he killed it, and our team hugged it out.
11:30am — Celebs?
Interac hired a PR company called HK Strategies to capture the entire day through cameras and multi-media. Matthew, the creative director, and the most enthusiastic, upbeat person we have ever met, walked us outside to a fully equipped media interview set up. They set us all up with special hidden microphones! Oooooo lala — this was all very exciting for us— and off we were with the interview. Thank you Matthew, for energizing us, supporting us, and making us feel like absolute rock stars all day :)
12–3pm — Eat, Drink, and Chill.
After we ventured off for lunch and beer, we toured the Velocity incubator, which included spending some time in the “zen” room. Wherever there were couches — we laid.
3:15pm — Decision Time.
All 8 teams stood on one side of the large board room. All Interac Execs on the other side. Camera’s rolling. The build up was intense. The tension in the room was palpable…
“After a very tough deliberation….
All of you did so well….
we were so amazed…
this was so hard…
In third place…..Not us.
In second place…. Not us.
And in first place…
A level of elation that I will never be able to put into words caused James to jump up, scream, shift the entire energy in the room, and metaphorically punch me in the gut with so much joy that I cried (see above photo). Needless to say, it was one of the most euphoric feelings. I was aware of the cameras on us as my face muscles continued to twitch, and people in the room chanted “Speech! speech!” to James. Whatever came out of his mouth was very eloquent and our gratitude was clear and honest. Everyone else was very gracious, as we spent the next 20 minutes meeting the other competitors, as well as thanking the Interac team.
The objective of the Interac-a-thon was to help Interac find a way to help businesses request payment more easily from groups of people, and our current business model and their new idea aligned very closely. They loved that players can send money to their peers through OpenSports, and that organizers and facilities can request money as well.
We savoured in our “win” for a few hours after, calling the rest of our team back home in Toronto, and calling family members, while perpetually smiling and laughing amongst each other.
We’re very happy and very excited about this opportunity. The return on investment — the investment being about a week of time that could have been spent on OpenSports product development — was high. A 25K prize from Interac and the opportunity to work alongside Interac for up to a year-long mentorship to refine our idea and test its viability in the real world.
As a pickup soccer organizer myself, our solution is one that I am excited to see being brought to life. Gone will be those days when you have to collect $5 per person from a group of people who only brought $20’s. Gone will be the days of one person paying for their entire team, only to have to hound their friends down for payment. And much, much more.
As for sleeping and re-fuelling so that OpenSports can continue to be boss, in James’ words, “I came home and crashed like a baby.”
Thank you, Interac and Communitech!!!
If you ❤ us, please give us a shout on social media or rate us in the App Store!
Alicia and the OpenSports Team