The PolyFinTech100 API Hackathon is a yearly fintech-oriented hackathon that aims to nurture fintech talent to meet the rapidly-changing needs of the financial services sector. First conducted in 2018, this year's hackathon presented problem statements under six distinct categories: the creator economy, decentralised exchange, eco-payments, gamified finance, insurtech, and regtech.
My group took part in this hackathon under the gamified finance category. While (spoiler alert!) we didn't make it to the top three, it wasn't exactly our intention to clinch the top positions either. Coming with practically no experience or knowledge about the fintech industry, we simply wanted to test the waters and expand on what we know by taking part in this hackathon.
The problem statement
From the beginning (sometime in April), we were given a brief about the category that we picked alongside additional workshops (one on APIs and the other a category-specific one). For gamified finance, the following was our problem statement:
Design and innovate a blockchain-based fintech application that incorporates Web3 and gamification.
Web3 is a whole can of beans that I was, and probably still am, not prepared to open. It involves concepts that still remain incomprehensible to me; I was barely grasping the very idea of what NFTs are, for instance. While I did work on a Web3 project before in another hackathon, I still wasn't sure what I did then.
My group comprised of two students (including me) from the School of Infocomm Technology and the remaining two of us were from the School of Engineering. Quite ironically, the students from engineering had a greater grasp on what Web3 was in general; to be frank, I'm still trying to wrap my head about some concepts.
Our project aims to combine idle tapping with rebating in cryptocurrency. Named beNFT, the idea was that we would work with local merchants and create in-game bosses, of which players would work together to defeat (since the boss has high health).
To enhance their character with upgrades, players can spend at the merchant's physical stores and get in-game currency in exchange (which could then be used to upgrade their character). We planned for there to be a tiered system to prevent those who spend the most from monopolising the entire game.
Once a boss is defeated, the top players will be rewarded from a prize pool in the form of cryptocurrencies. In addition, randomly-selected players are chosen to receive parts of the boss as NFTs. From there, players can sell and buy these NFTs and assemble full bosses; they will then serve as additional perks and help the player deal additional damage to future bosses.
Somehow, our idea (I must admit, ideation of which was heavily carried by the remaining three members) earned us a place as finalists; we were one of 13 remaining teams in our category that stood the chance to be the top two teams that will make it to the final finals.
All in all, this hackathon has been quite an eye-opener. There are definitely a lot of things that I've learnt; some of them that I'll talk about include:
- stepping out of your intellectual comfort zone;
- planning commitments wisely;
- leaning on each other for support; and
- winging it.
Stepping out of your intellectual comfort zone
I have to admit that my participation in this hackathon isn't as much as I would with other hackathons. The fact that our problem statement was heavily Web3-oriented was quite the deterrent for me, so there were many instances where I felt like I couldn't do much.
It didn't really help that I was somehow the group leader (I didn't really know), and I felt bad that I haven't been doing much yet I helm the title of the person leading the team. The true team leaders were the other three students, since they mainly pushed for things to happen in the ideation stage.
There were many instances in this hackathon when I backed away because I knew that I hadn't had the knowledge to back up whatever I was saying or presenting; the few Q&A sessions that I was in (I wasn't in many) were hell because of that, and mostly the other group members handled the questions.
I think that this hackathon has certainly exposed me to the daunting world of Web3, and while I'm still hesitant to learn about it because of how big it is in general, I think it's an important lesson to not shy away or turn your back on new things that you need to learn. Although it's a big topic and you'll never really get to learn it in one sitting, I think it's worth the try to attempt to understand it.
Planning commitments wisely
This hackathon has a pretty long duration that spanned most of this year. First starting out in April till the finals (technically the semi-finals?) in September, there'll be many more projects and commitments running concurrently with this hackathon.
I think that the lack of ability to plan my commitments wisely has led to me contributing less than I'd hoped for in this hackathon. In general, perhaps as a way to compensate for not taking part enough in secondary school, I've been lunging at many opportunities that I could take.
I'm starting to learn that this is an unwise choice, but to give credit it can be difficult in the moment to really consider if something is feasible or not (you only have so much time to say whether you're in or not). Polytechnic studies, especially nearing the end of the semester, heavily involve hands-on projects that require you to work for it. Therefore, I had a lot on my plate that I didn't consider back when I signed up.
The next best thing that I could do was to adapt to the changes as they came, but even then, there was a lot of pressure for me to navigate and handle. Many projects required my attention at once, so generally I parked this hackathon and the things I had to do in the background while I catered to the more important graded assignments and projects. I wonder: had I put more effort into this hackathon, would we have gotten anywhere closer to the final finalists?
Leaning on each other for support
As I've mentioned above, it was quite funny when we, the ICT students, had less of an idea of Web3 compared to the engineering students. With that, though, we've learnt to lean on each other for support. When one person doesn't have the time to do something, we try to redistribute the workload to everyone else (or someone else) to ease out the work.
Generally, I tried to focus on minor details on the slides and help out to clean up the prototype that we had made on Figma. Those who had greater grasp of Web3 generally worked on solidifying and strengthening the idea, while everyone else tried to help out wherever they can.
I found it great that my group managed to do quite a lot asynchronously without having to actively assign work, but I wonder if doing so may have led to everyone knowing what roles they specifically have? And if that's the case, would that have helped?
Frankly, no one has the answers to everything. Our product had holes that came about because of our poor understanding of Web3, but no one person in the team was to blame for it. I think that we've winged quite a lot of things in this hackathon, and many of those things ended surprisingly well for us.
Especially during instances when we know uncertainty is around, it's important to be adaptable and change according to the situation. That's mainly what we did throughout the hackathon, once even realising that we only had a few days to prepare for something as none of us had caught an email sent previously.
I think something I've learnt from taking parts in hackathons is this: it's much more impressive to pretend and be confident in your idea than to point out every flaw your product has. Sounds like a no-brainer, but your confidence in what you made can really falter especially when you know the holes it has!
Was this hackathon fun? I guess so. Was it stressful? Definitely. With all that said, though, and though mentioned several times in this post, I've learnt so much from this hackathon. Whether it's the theory of Web3 or on soft skills like management and coordination, it's been quite the journey for my team.
I'm glad that we did whatever we could. I think the project we made isn't really bad at all, either. The other participating groups have ideas that are wild (in a good way), and I'm happy to see that the spirit of innovation and hacking at something isn't lost with this hackathon. Especially with this year's iteration being the first hybrid one after the fully-virtual ones in years past due to COVID, there's a certain atmosphere of excitement around.
To all the other participants, if you're somehow reading this, awesome job! You deserve a pat on the back. For the finalists, I wish you the best in presenting; there's still a little more to go!