It’s Friday night, and Chris Best, co-founder and CTO of Kik, is hanging out at The Bombshelter Pub in the University of Waterloo’s Student Life Centre.

The pub is filled to capacity, as it normally is on a Friday. However, the tables are filled with students lit by the glow of their computer screens, eating and chatting as they pull on new grey Kik hoodies. “Hacker” is embroidered on the left arms.

The students aren’t here to party. Kik, the messaging platform, is hosting its first on-campus hackathon at the University of Waterloo, and 150 students have registered for the weekend-long event.

Before the serious business of hacking begins, Best and the Kik team are feeding the students dinner at the Bomber. He is looking forward to what the students come up with.

The hackathon isn’t based on furthering the Kik API, and isn’t meant for students to generate new ideas for the company. It’s a chance for the Kik team to give back to the community that helped it get its start in 2010.

“It’s important that we be active in the community and give back to them,” Best said. “Twenty-five per cent of our company is co-op students at any given time.”

Kik made waves globally last week when it announced it had passed 200 million users and that the average U.S. user spends 35 minutes on the app each time they open it – more time than users of rival Snapchat and other popular platforms.

But Kik is keeping a lot of its focus in Waterloo. The company, whose headquarters have always been in the city, stays inspired by local talent.

“Waterloo is a key advantage to us,” Best said. “There is intense talent and energy from the university.”

Over the past year, Kik has been putting more time and energy into giving back to the Waterloo Region community in general, with its logo appearing at such varied events as Oktoberfest’s OktoberLICIOUS and Building Waterloo Region.

By Sunday afternoon, the Kik team looks a little tired. The Great Hall in the Student Life Centre is quiet as the 33 teams wait to find out who made the top 10 who will pitch to judges including Wes Worsfold, associate director of UW’s Velocity program, Steve McCartney, VP of the Startup Services Group at Communitech, and Ted Livingston, CEO and co-founder of Kik.

Teams had worked around the clock over two nights in the Student Life Centre, fuelled by catered meals and mentors from local startups who stopped in to offer support and suggestions at all hours of the day or night.

The hackathon was already being deemed a success: Kik staff were incredibly happy at the high retention rate of hackers over the weekend. More than 85 per cent stayed engaged the entire weekend. McCartney and Worsfold repeatedly mentioned being impressed with the quality of the pitches and the products that had been created in 36 hours.

The final winning pitches ranged from Tallypost, a voting tally platform; to Grubit, an app that randomly selects food for you when you’re indecisive; to Pixel Perfect Piece Pizza, a bot that orders pizza.

The range of ideas was exactly what Best was hoping for, and exactly why the Kik team didn’t want to limit the hackathon to only the Kik platform.

“Our platforms are the world’s platforms,” Best said. “We live on the web and we’re interested in how the web works for us. We want to see what people want to build for the web and mobile.”


About The Author

Kayleigh Platz

Kayleigh Platz is a storyteller and community relations manager for Communitech. Born, raised and schooled in Waterloo Region, she holds two degrees from the University of Waterloo and is interested in new media, social networks and making connections.