This is a re-post of the article I originally posted here: https://medium.com/@sasojakljevic/my-research-on-how-to-win-a-hackathon-71d3761d1b23

In the month of October there are two hackathons coming up and I want to attend both of them. One with my team (Turist Hackathon) and the other one as an individual (Gorenje Hackathon). Im not a confirmed participant yet, but before going I wanted to see what the winning teams are doing at these competitions, and this is a recap of my research.

1. Understand who are the joudges

What are the backgrounds of your judges? Are they investors? Are they business development folks? Are they CTOs or do they have an Engineering background? Are they API Evangelists representing their company? Choose your idea and tailor your presentation based on the judging panel at your Hackathon.

2. Define who you need in your team

Based on the type of a hackathon if possible select team members ahead of Time covering multiple fields. Eg. If you are attending a tech hackaton try to have on your team a business man covering the business aspect, designer creating the product, a great front-end developer to transfer design into a prototype app and an amazing speaker presenting the final results from all three. Usualy built prototypes are scored higher than clickable prototypes but that depends on the judging team.

3. Gather your own team

Have a team of friends or previous hackers to participate with. Knowing each member’s strengths and weaknesses beforehand gives you an advantage in preparation and execution.

Caution: In general, don’t join a team solely because of the idea. Ideas pivot extremely fast. But really take the time in the beginning to get to know the team members and talk to other participants. There will be a lot of give and take once the hacking begins.

4. Get bizDev to do some research before hacking

It is good to understand the problems in the area Hackathon is covering. Assign him the task to get some clues on the idea and speak with the customers. Type up these notes for the presentation, as it is one of the secret ingredients to your storytelling during presentation.

5. Stick to a schedule

Set up milestones in some kind of scheduling tool before the event begins. Take the first hour or so to nail down your idea and a basic schedule. Nominate someone as the project manager and have them check in with the team at predetermined times (e.g. every four hours).

6. Solve a problem

Just like in real life, product sould be solving a certain problem of the user. Do the user interviews, test, learn and build.

7. Get a buy-in on the idea from the whole team

Pitch your idea during the initial pitching session and get folks to buy-in on a shared vision. You want the whole team feel like owner of what you guys came up with together.

8. Don’t waste time coming up with the name

It’s a time waster and it’s difficult to get consensus. Just go with a codename and sudden inspiration will come actually through working on it. You might even fall in love with the codename instead.

9. Use tools and technologies promoted by the Hackathon

This will give you bonus ponts from the joudges as usualy the main point of the hackathon is to promote something to you as a participant.

10. Skip the onboarding part

Start by landing right on the content. This is the meat of the project and needs most focus. Onboarding for now is not necessary and you can usualy imagine it anyway.

11. Work iteratively

Get something up quickly, like a few concept drawings and then test them. Then change based on the feedback and add more detail.

12. Stand on the shoulders of giants

Use templates and utilize the color schemes that past designers have already perfected. Copy from the great product developers and fuse into your own hack concept.

13. Use a design prototyping strategy

Particularly if your concept is more about a new User Experience make prototypes. Loads of them and test.

Digital products: Design prototyping strategy provides a great way for creative people who cannot code: — Cut and paste together designs from Pttrns.com onto Adobe Illustrator. — Combine features and design layouts together. — Make 4–5 page layouts. — Use Invision.com or Flinto.com to wrap it.

14. Always, always, validate

Validate the problem, validate idea and validate the product prototype! If the hackathon is a 2-day event, it is highly recommend spending the second-day getting out of the building and talking with potential customers. Get users on the phone, outside of the building,… ask a lot of questions and document it with pictures, video, audio and include it in the presentation.Having at least 2 of these artifacts shows the judges that you: 1. Dared to take the next step on customer validation 2. Used the Lean Startup methodology in some fashion 3. Used a data-driven strategy 4. Customer approval and ready for trial.

15. After that it’s all about the pitch

You should stop work every six hours, stand up and do your demo. This way, by the end of the hackathon you’ve done at least five or six rehearsals.

16. Building the Presentation

A simple format that has worked well is:

· Problem

· Solution

· Market (Who’s the customer, Acquisition Strategy)

· Validation (Pictures with Customer)

· Demo

· Business Model

· Future Rollout

· Team — why you chose to pursue this hack. Highlight your experience. Let the judges know about your work and industry experience. (No need to waste precious few seconds saying your names though; your name is on your nametag.)

For the actual presentation, here are some recommendations/tips:

  • Act out users day to demonstrate where a person might encounter the pain point.
  • Do an interactive demo. Add animation if it fits. Involve the audience if your product allows. For example: Text into this Twilio number to find out the answer.
  • Ask the audience questions for another level of validation. Or at least be remembered for Audience-Choice award. E.g. “Raise your hands, how many people hate the post office?”
  • Show that your project could work. Simulation and correctly articulating how the end product should work are two perfectly acceptable workarounds to an incomplete solution if one can’t be built in 2 days.
  • It’s important to be passionate,be confident and practice. Stand out from the crowd and dress to impress, or at least to be noticed!
  • And never say you did not have enough time. Everyone has the same amount of time.

Despite only working on it for only 24 hours, your hackathon project is often judged on the level of a more mature startup. Be ready for questions like:

  • What’s the business model?
  • How do you compare to XYZ?
  • How do you plan to acquire users?
  • How sustainable can it be?
  • Is it a scalable project?

Unspoken question, most judges are also looking for:

  • Can I deem you guys as winners so you and your team have the confidence to continue building this?

If you are the 1st team to present, prepare for a lot of different questions because all the judges are awake. After 10 presentations, there will be no more questions. If there is no question, quickly speak up. Continue to create selling points and talk about your user feedbacks. Show artifacts and evidence that you went out to test it. Talk about the results and what you learned speaking with those customers. The time is yours to lose — so maximize it. For example, when 1 judge asks the question, and 1 of your teammate answers, have another teammate show your PowerPoint slides on Market and Business Model in the background if you haven’t already. It’s your extra time to show the rest of the business validation. Or continue to show the rest of the app feature you have not been presented. Optimize for those time, otherwise the judges are just staring into space.

And now into preparations, finding last team members and do more research:

I will be using team hackathon as an opportunity to test out team chemistry, interaction style, and handling pressure together as a team.

Vision of the product I’m gathering my team around is to build a physical interactive game placed in Bela krajina in the world of Slavic methodology, localy myths and history. It would also tie in real locations, people and items found localy.

I will let you know how it goes in one of the upcomming articles after the hackathons. I will also be writing about my salles research and testing. Defining sales proces is crucial in the early stages of your company. If this sounds interesting to you follow me on medium.com, add me on LinkedIn, Facebook or instagram. Leave a comment, a cheer and share if you like the content.

This advice was gathered and adapted from the following articles:

  • http://calacanis.com/2015/01/27/why-hackathons-are-important-how-to-win-them/
  • https://medium.com/garyyauchan/ultimate-8-step-guide-to-winning-hackathons-84c9dacbe8e
  • https://www.smartcompany.com.au/startupsmart/advice/win-hackathon-seven-steps/
  • https://www.sparkfun.com/news/2049