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What winning InnoJam and DemoJam taught me about failure

Whilst sitting in the (excellent) Fail Faire at the end of my first SAP TechEd a solitary thought struck me – I almost never fail.

As unlikely as it sounds I was struggling to think of one meaningful occasion when I had failed in anywhere close to a dramatic style. Sure there had been the odd set back, the occasional knock but nothing well … nothing significant. On the face of it this should have been the cause of jubilation, I mean no one likes to fail, and if I can’t remember the last time I failed then things must have gone pretty well, right?

Well no. For hot on the heels of this initial thought came the blinding realisation that had been burrowing into my consciousness for the last few days. The truth was as obvious as it was revealing; I rarely fail because I rarely participate; I never lose the race because I never strap on my trainers and turn up at the starting line.

To illustrate the point allow me to rewind back to 7:37 am on the Sunday morning of InnoJam. I remember the time because I was looking at the clock on the TV when I took the decision not to attend the event. I had slept badly and had woken up consumed with trepidation as even though I had been a functional SAP consultant for many years (and I hope a reasonably good one) I could barely write a line of code. In spite of the comments that I had read on the Internet assuring me that non-coders were welcome I had convinced myself that, were I to turn up I would be laughed at, ridiculed and would simply have to exit quietly with my reputation in tatters.

This thought was too much, too unpleasant, my flight reaction had kicked in and I resolved to pull out of InnoJam and quietly attend TechEd without any fuss two days later. I did however have one problem that I needed to address; my boss. What would his reaction be if he knew that I had pulled out without reason? I knew that in his place I certainly wouldn’t have been happy so I racked my brain for a plausible reason as to why I couldn’t or shouldn’t attend. For the next half an hour I wrestled with this dilemma but ultimately (I am now delighted to say) inspiration never arrived and eventually I decided that humiliation was preferable to an uncomfortable conversation with my employer. Reluctantly, therefore I headed to the event with spirits as low as my coding ability.

It was with a heavy heart I took my seat, and concentrated intently on avoiding the faces and gazes of my fellow participants. However, I am pleased to say that this feeling was short lived and was equally pleased to spent the first few hours of the event engaged in ‘Design Thinking’ a brilliant activity that required no coding at all!  Very soon I realised that rather than being a team of hard core programmers our team (christened CloudSitter) were actually a fairly eclectic group made up of (amongst other things) students, a lecturer, a basis contractor and SAP Mentor Twan van den Broek

Of course once the design thinking was over the coding began, and was my lack of coding skills noted? Was I ridiculed for it? Absolutely…. and I loved every minute of it!

You see by that point we had already started to develop personal bonds. We laughed, argued and laughed again as we got to know each other as individuals and by the end of the 30 hours, my concerns had dissipated completely and in its place was left only genuine affection for the new friends I had made.

So what then?  Well then we won InnoJam, and that was (up to that point) the proudest moment of my professional life. Seriously, how perverse is that! In a 13 year career as a SAP Functional Consultant and Project Manager my proudest moment was winning a ‘coding’ completion in which I had not written one line of code!

But that, as those of you who attended TechEd will know, was not the end of the story, as unbeknownst to me the winners of InnoJam compete in the DemoJam completion the next day. Now I’ll be honest, as I’d never been to TechEd before I was a little sketchy of what DemoJam was and by that point I was too busy enjoying the InnoJam victory to frankly care. I was euphoric, tired and, I’ll admit, a little drunk.

This feeling of euphoria lasted until the next day, until the exact moment when the curtain covering the stage was pulled aside and auditorium was revealed.  That second the sheer scale of the place hit and my euphoria vanished to be replaced by an uncomfortable (and somewhat urgent) feeling in my bowels.


But this time the feeling was fleeting, I was part of a great team, one that relied on each other and which supported each other. In addition over the next few hours I was amazed by the level of good will and camaraderie that came from varied and unexpected corners. SAP Mentor Jan Penninkhof joined the team to help us sort out our horrendous UI and InnoJam judge Claudius Metze and Janos Varadi were fantastic.  They came to the rehearsals and most importantly for me laughed at a couple of tentative jokes that I had included in the presentation. They didn’t need to be there, and I’m sure that they had better things to do but it meant a lot to me that they were and I will always be indebted to them. In addition, a multitude of well wishes including mentors, organisers and conference attendees passed on their support and made me feel that somehow things might just work out OK!

I was of course petrified asAndreas Profitlich and I prepared to take to the stage and the appearance of tee-shirt cannons and a flawless performance from

Mark Finnern in the build-up did nothing to sooth my nerves. However the reception we received upon arriving on stage frankly took my breath away. Our team were brilliant, but more than that I saw faces that were genuinely supportive. In particular I was aware of Mentors Phil Loewen and Marilyn Pratt and a (great) Design Thinking coach Julia Dorbic all rooting for the underdogs from InnoJam.

I got through the presentation. We were far from perfect but we were OK, I’d not gone blank, hadn’t embarrassed myself, and the app we developed actually worked! Content with this I sat down and immediately and drank 3 bottles of beers in quick succession that were kindly hidden away for me by a forward thinking team mate (thanks Christian Braukmueller). When it came to going back onto stage for the results, I was happy, we had done ourselves proud and I had had the opportunity to speak in front of a huge number of people. But more that this, I felt like I was part of a team that consisted of not only my Cloudsitter counterpart’s but also everyone else who have passed on a kind or encouraging word.

And then we won DemoJam.

We went wild, and for the second time in two days I was euphoric. Once again the team had managed to triumph against the odds much to our eternal surprise and delight. We passed that evening and the next day in a slightly surreal fashion being congratulated by people who I had never met before, hosting a ‘Meet the Demo Jammers’ session (which I was unaware of until 5 minutes before it began – sorry Uwe Kylau) and finally being interviewed about my TechEd experience. It was truly an amazing experience and one I would recommend to anyone.

However now that the dust has settled and as I look back on my first TechEd experience it is clear that the memories that I will treasure the longest are not directly linked to either winning DemoJam or InnoJam. Being part of the Cloudsitter team, talking to Jeanne Carboni et al after the Fail Faire, watching the Mentor Band or playing Werewolf games onMark Finnern‘s  house boat (with Ali Samieivafa, Gregor Wolf, Uwe Fetzer and others previously mentioned) are the memories that make me smile the most.  Whilst winning ‘the Jams’ was great, undoubtedly the best thing about TechEd was meeting a huge amount of brilliant people who I now consider friends and making the first tentative steps into a community which I never knew existed.

Mentor Band.jpg

So what did I learn? Well no code that’s for sure! But I did come to realise that failure isn’t necessarily bad but not being prepared to invite the possibility of failure into your life certainly is. This experience has taught me to attempt more, to focus on the journey and not on where that journey might lead.

So this blog is my first step on that journey. I have never blogged on SCN before and to be honest I’m still concerned that I’ll put this in the wrong place or that people will think its dull, naïve or just plain pointless. But the difference is that after the last 5 days at TechEd I am at least willing to take the risk, to invite failure despite my reservations – and for me that is big step forward.

Many thanks to you all…

Also many thanks to my fantastic employer Red Solution/Red Commerce for enabling me to attend the event (and hopefully for allowing me to attend others in the future!!!!!!!!)

Winning team.jpg

CloudSitters Team, Andreas Profitlich, Christian Braukmueller, Twan van den Broek,Uwe Haneke, Niels Willems, Martijn van Dortmont, Tommy Aarts, Adrian Matys, Paddy Uduji

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  • Matthew,

    Lucky for us all that you "failed forward" and indeed overcame your flight instinct and participated in Innojam, Demojam and also failfaire

    Meeting you this year at sapteched_amsterdam was one of the highlights of a very high light week.

    Looking to hear much more from you in the future. Some of your experiences would be a good fit for the Design Thinking with SAP space as well.  Bravo on your first SCN blogging efforts.


    • Many thanks Marilyn your post is very kind indeed! Not to labour the point but I had a fantastic time at TechEd. Many thanks for all your kind words and your support during the event it really was (and still is) appreciated and I'll certainly put some work into a Design Thinking blog. Thanks again and look forward to talking to you soon!

  • Hi Matt,

    thank you for your great wrap-up. Just wanted to confirm that you found the right space and did a great job also tagging the blog. Hope to see you soon i.e. on one of the SAP Inside Tracks where non-coders are also always welcome. What would we do without each other (Coders/Functional)?

    Best regards


    • Thanks Gregor - I'm certainly up for any 'Inside Track' event or anything else you can think of! Let me know if you have any events coming up? Also let me know if I can be of any help in any way! Thanks again and who would have believed that you weren't the Werewolf!!!

  • Absolutely fantastic!

    There is nothing to add. To tell the truth I feel ashamed right now, because I am writing a blog with my experience right now and you have set the bar high, probably too high...

    But I will risk either, not only because some people pleased me to, but I would love to share my point of view too.

    Yes, trully it was a lifetime experience. No doubts.

    Once more, thank you for a great work, and really I cannot imagine our team without you. You sold the idea, you created Julia:) etc. I'm so glad you didn't give up!

    • Good to hear from you Adrian!

      I'm now very much looking forward to reading your blog! When will we be seeing it!!! Many thanks for your kind words, like you say it was a great team and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone again soon! Keep in touch!

  • Hi Matthew,

    even though you haven't done any coding at all, I'm pretty sure that the way YOU presented your application at the Innojam stage (with me being there live as member of team 7) was a big part of making it the succes it turned out to be.

    Opposite to some of the other presenters, you do have the advantage of being able to speak in your native language. But still, I don't think anyone else could have done a better job than you did. During the design thinking part, we learned about multi disciplinary teams, well you and your team are the living proof of this.

    Best regards,


    • Thanks Micky its very kind of you to take the time to comment (I always liked team 7!). I had a great time at InnoJam - will you be there again next year?

  • Awesome blog, and by reading it I was actually reliving your wild, unbounded enthusiasm you have shown at TechEd.

    Again, you and your team's double strike is well deserved, and can't wait to meet again next year!

    • Cheers mate much appreciated! Only one thing could make last week better for me - any chance you can post a picture of the shirt and pink jacket combination from the Design Thinking presentation? You are officially my fashion hero!!!! Keep in touch and see you again soon!

  • Matthew,

    Congratulations on your Triumph.  What I like most about your Blog is your


    Unvarnished, Uncomfortable, Unmissable.

    Your story about Not Failing was a great read.  I suspect your future stories may have a little bit more failure, and be even a little bit more interesting.  I look forward to your future posts.



    • Thanks Michael, the blog was a bit of a leap of faith for me and comments like yours make me feel much better about the next one! Thanks again!

  • Matthew Riches - my first 'real' memory of you is this Brit guy  from our neighbouring team asking me, while I was enjoying breakfast Monday morning, day two of InnoJam, whether my 'meringue' was good ... 'meringue'?! Who is this guy? What is it with his eyesight? You then said you wouldn't speak to me again until I found some proper meringue. So this is Matt, I thought, such a typical Brit.

    Turns out that you are one of these special persons who made the TechEd experience so worthwhile for me (and I think I can speak for everyone else who had the pleasure of meeting you), who made me feel like I was part of a big family! You have the talent of making everyone laugh so much that they get muscle aches in their faces and bellys! You are a natural entertainer (and actor; you were the werewolf all along) - Ian Kimbell and Matt Riches on the TechEd stage together next year, that could be very interesting! 🙂

    I am so glad that you decided to strap on your trainers and turn up at the starting line - this decision changed everything, for so many people! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings in this blog, and I am very much looking forward to 'reading' from you again!

    Matt Riches, may the force be with you!

    • Was I the Werewolf? And I asked why you were having a Meringue for breakfast which would have been a good question if it hadn't turned out to be egg! Thanks for the all the Design Thinking help and general support, the team and I really really appreciated it! Personally I had a great time and very much enjoyed meeting you and I'll be in touch soon about organising some design thinking sessions. Also as Marilyn alluded too above fancy co-authoring (if that is the word) a design thinking (and how it won DemoJam) kind of blog?

      Let me know and keep in touch!

    • Many thanks! And without sounding like a crazy man - you should give InnoJam a go - its a great event, even if like me you can't do anything!!! Thanks again for taking the time to comment!

  • Great stuff Matthew! Insightful and gives some greats reasons to jump into the deep end on occasion. Congrats on the effort, double-win and clearly I can see you've meet some awesome guys & girls over there! 🙂

  • Hi Matt,

    Nice profile pic, by the way!  So glad you made the decision to join the Innojam. Sometimes when you don't feel much like showing up for something it's a sure sign that you should. And then, it tends to turn out better than you expected.

    It was great meeting you and getting to know you a bit better. I hope that we'll continue to converse here, as well as live at SAP TechEds of the future!

    Thanks for sharing this blog!


    • Thanks Jeanne - like you say it always feels like its going to be worse that it turns out to be! As for continuing our conversations nothing would give me greater pleasure! It was great meeting you at TechEd and apologies in advance for all the stupid questions I'll be asking you about SCN over the next few months, hopefully I can buy you a drink at next years TechEd to apologies!