Whatever is your purpose of attending a hackathon.
You should keep in mind that winning is everything.
Here are the 3 Ways to Win a Hackathon
1. Find an awesome team member
This is not so easy and it will require you to make a lot of collisions.
Which means that.
You have to meet people, connect with them, meet some other people, talk with the previous people, talk with more people.
You might need to collide with the same people a few times to see if they are a match.
Teams usually get formed on the first “day” of the hackathon. Which usually is just an evening, when they initiate the event.
This might not be enough time. Don’t rush into finding just anybody.
You should spend some time the following day.
What is a match?
What are you looking for?
- A developer?
- A designer?
- A business person. One of those that know how to talk to the humans?
Then review the profile of the person that you want and search for that person.
2. Get found by an awesome team member
You are not looking for.
You want to be found.
You need to pitch an idea. Any idea. But just don’t pitch the idea.
Sell your skills first.
Start like “My name is Bob and I am a software developer with 5 years experience in all sort of crazy experiments including 10 iPhone apps….”
Pretend this is your chance to look for a job.
This is your opportunity to sell your skills in front of a crowd.
You don’t have to be just a developer, you can also be a designer, an entrepreneur or one of those with people skills.
Your first priority is to sell your skills.
Your second priority is to sell your idea.
If you want a good idea. Don’t go with the crazy idea that nobody cares about. You could do 3 things:
- Pitch an idea that is of interest for a hackathon judge
- Pitch an idea that is on topic with the hackathon theme
- Pitch an idea that matches the crowd.
This last one can be tricky. You need to evaluate who your crowd is. Are they a lot of college students? A drinking game/app idea could be a match.
Mixed crowd? An idea that solves a general problem in your city. The “problem” has to be a real local pain. Not just a minor problem.
Now that you pitched your skills.
It’s time to wait for people to come to you.
You might need to put on your name tag your profile, rather than just your name.
You should also walk the room and sell your skills to your best match.
3. Do a lot of business development and a fake prototype
I have seen so many people that spend all day all night coding their app.
This is not healthy.
You would say that hackathons abuse people.
You are mistaken.
You abuse yourself.
Why spend all night coding an app.
When in reality nobody wants your app.
Do exactly this:
Do Business Development
If you choose an idea. This cannot just be “The Idea”.
You should iterate really fast to modify the idea or just change it completely.
Iterating requires you to do business development, and that means talking to the humans.
If you are not used to talking to them, you must find a team member that can.
Someone that works in sales or marketing should be a good match.
They should be able to do exactly this:
- Pitch the idea
- Present the problems
- Present the solutions
- Get feedback
All this could be done on paper. You don’t have to design or code anything.
When presenting a solution. Draw your “app” on a piece of paper. Or many pieces of paper, showing all the user experience.
Get feedback and iterate.
Change the drawings. Get feedback again. And so on.
Getting feedback from who?
You need to do customer development.
Identify all the users of your solution.
Categorize these users.
Then find these users which could be:
- Other hackathon participants
How do you know if these people are “users”.
The questions should be specific as to identify niche categories.
For example, if your solution has to do with lawyers, maybe just the general category of “lawyers” is not enough.
Dig in to find the subcategory “Immigration lawyers that do Work Visas for Hispanics”.
A segmented category such as this would be able to provide the best feedback.
“I cannot find this subcategory in my crowd”
You should be asking this all the time:
- Are you a (user)?
- Do you know somebody that is a (user)?
Then ask them if that other person is at the event or if they can setup a phone call with that (user) right there and then.
Do not do this:
- Go on twitter and ask for feedback
- Prepare a survey and send it on twitter
- Prepare any survey
This is a waste of time.
Now you must.
Build a Fake Prototype
A drawing of an app on a piece of paper will not help you win a hackathon.
But you can make it prettier.
You don’t need Photoshop or Illustrator.
There are tools like Proto.io
You can learn how to use it in an hour.
It will take you about 2 hrs to build your paper prototype there.
Google “mockup tools”.
There is Balsamiq, which is kind of ugly, but good enough to draw it on the computer instead that on paper.
Invision has interactive mockups.
There is one (I forgot the name) that you can even download on your phone and it looks just like an app.
Just build a fake protoype and get more feedback from your segmented users.
You didn’t win?
Yes you won!!!
- You found a team member for your next project/startup/company
- You got a job!!!
- You learned how to do business development and design prototypes.
You won 3 times!