10 Tips to win a hackathon

Everyone wants to be a winner. However, in both life and hackathons, victory comes to those who want it the most. With limited time to solve problems, and submit prototypes, a hackathon is an ultimate test of skills and endurance. Here is what you can do to win your next hackathon:   

1) Plan to win

Be clear on your motive for attending the hackathon. Be hungry to win. Plan and prepare for the hackathon in advance. Set up any templates, Github repositories, and components that can help build prototypes faster.  Do your research, study APIs, and go through sample applications. If the theme or topic is available in advance, brainstorm with your team. Be ready with the practical ideas that can be implemented fast.

Additionally, conduct a mock hackathon a week before the competition.  Work together as a team, and get to know your teammates well. Know your team’s strengths and weaknesses. Figure out ways to distribute work evenly. Work on any specific challenges that you face.  Decide on the communication channel for exchanging files and messages.

2) Form a good team

Planning is the easy part. Success depends on the implementation of plans. It takes team effort to implement ideas. When team members have good chemistry, it is easier to work under pressure  and build something cool, really fast.

Team up with friends with whom you have a good rapport. If you have friends from previous hackathons, get them on-board as well.  If there is chance to pitch your idea  and form your team, be ready with your pitch in advance. Explain your idea with a clear and concise description.

While forming the team, look for the skills that you need for building the prototype. A good team has people from diverse domains and backgrounds like designing, frontend development, backend development, business development, etc. Assign roles clearly to everyone based on their area of expertise. Finally, choose a good leader to complete your team. Select someone who is good at making decisions fast.      

3) Think through your ideas

All ideas are not great. At a hackathon, you won’t find the time either to execute everything you plan. After generating ideas, filter them based on the value they provide. Think like a product owner and try to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Focus on the main problem statement: Who is the end user? What is your hypothesis? What problem are you solving for them?

Consider the time involved in executing the ideas. Pick only those features that you can build in 24 hours. With a clear product vision, you can create a rough prototype on paper. Share this with your team so that everyone knows what the key components are and who is building what.

4) Validate concepts

Don’t jump to conclusions about concepts without researching. Be clear on what you are building and why.  Share the dependencies, priorities, and checkpoints with the team. Talk to potential end users or customers of the product. Understand their pain points. Include these insights in your presentation. Validate the concept before prototyping and after building the product.

5) Focus on building a MVP

To win any hackathon, you need a good MVP with a well thought out value proposition. While it may be tempting to chase multiple ideas, it is not practical to build lot of features in a short period of time. Address the opportunities and limitations of your product beforehand. Work on two or three primary components to build a working prototype.

6) Set up a repository on Github

Set up a repository on Github to create your product. Use the feature branches to help your team develop new features.

7) Know your audience

Get to know your judges, vendors, and sponsors better. Find out who they are, their evaluation criteria, and the past winners of hackathons. Customize your submission and final presentation accordingly. Interact with them at the hackathon. Introduce yourself and explain your product vision. Additionally, if specialists have been assigned to your team, take their help to understand the problem statement better. Refine your project accordingly.

8) Choose the right approach

Prioritize on creating a fully functional frontend product experience. Setting up the backend takes up a lot of time that,  you cannot afford to lose at a hackathon.

9)Take short breaks

After hours of coding, taking a break is a good idea. A short break is not only refreshing but also provides the opportunity to check in as a team and update each other on the progress of the project. Go for short breaks and who knows, you may even come back with the next big idea that could win the hackathon.

10) Invest time for the presentation

A good presentation is the key to winning a hackathon. Don’t wait till the end of the hackathon to prepare the presentation.  Picture your perfect demo and work backward from there. Incorporate the right message and highlight the key features of your product. Try to keep it as simple as possible. Explain what problem your product is solving, how it is different from the competitors, and share market statistics to back your assumptions. Be prepared for questions from the judges. Don’t forget to share your experience as a team and the reasons for pursuing the idea. Practice the pitch and try to make it more interactive. Involve the audience in the demo.  

A great idea alone cannot win a hackathon. It is a combination of the right strategy, the right approach, and the right team that ultimately wins hackathons.

About the Author

Tharika Tellicherry
Marketing professional, blogger, movie buff, music fan, traveler, collector of memories, and tic-tac bottles.