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Hackathon, in simple terms, is a coding/hacking marathon that expects you to discipline your product development against a ticking clock and reach your finishing line with a minimum deliverable experience.
A common trait of entrepreneurs is the urge to build a product that they will like to see in the hands of all around them. Imagine if you built products like facebook or google, more than the financial rewards, you always get the joy of everyone around you using what you built. Hackathons give you an awesome platform to build the thinnest slice of your product that you can potentially put in the hands of people around you.
With the experience of participating in 3 hackathons in the past(2 with SDCChi conference,Chicago) and one last weekend(Walgreen's mobile photo hack day) and with 2 wins,I have learned a lot every time. For the interest of the hacker community I'll like to delineate some of the key aspects that I believe are important to consider in a hackathon.
Get rid of some of the common myths:
- Hackathon winning is all about writing the geekiest app.
Not true. You may have written the most complex algorithm behind the scene, but invariably the product that wins, does so by winning through the delivered experience
- Winning is everything in hackathons.
Winning is sweet, but thinking beyond the win is sweeter. Even if you didn't win, you might have sparked interest in your future customers who happened to be a part of your audience. You might even get someone to invest in your idea/product.
In my view, hackathons should be used as a precursor to building a real-world product/venture. If the hackers blend their engineering minds with the vision of building a business out of their product, the value of hackathon gets doubled.
In a consumer centric world, the hackathon participants may like to consider some of the following points that revolve around the 4Cs of marketing mix:
Who are the consumers?How is a consumer going to benefit from what you have built? Is it solving a real world problem? What is it that'll attract the consumer to your product? Are you simply replicating another product? How are you different from a similar product in the market?
OK...you are at your hackathon, why do you even bother about the pricing model for what you are building?
Remember , the outcome of your hackathon is some kind of a reward(cash, goodies etc), but more valuable aspect of the return is a step towards building a real-value product for others to use. Now let's say you didn't win the hackathon, you can still stay excited about what you built- because "you believe in its true potential". With that said, your revenue idea around what you build just bolsters your interest in converting your code into a real product.
If you re building a mobile app, it'll be great to think if you can introduce a popcorn pricing structure for app downloads or your app will be a subscription based pricing model.
How will your product connect with the consumers? Will you be integrating social media based promotions with your product? Can there be a viral aspect of what you are building?
When your consumers are super-busy, convenience plays a critical role in their purchase decisions. If someone is doing a job in 5 clicks , if you can reduce it down to 2 clicks, you can be a winner.
Ultimately here are some of the key components that may help you with your hackathon event like it helped our team:
1. Idea: Does not have to be out of the world, but should solve a pain point and should underscore a real good use of the API(Some Hackathons are API driven, some are not. If you have the liberty to use any API, you may just build something you have been dreaming about). In our very first hackathon where it was all open book for APIs,we built an app that converts support emails into indexed(i.e easily searchable) knowledge base in about 48 hours.
2. Scope: Build the thinnest slice of your idea that can practically be developed within the stipulated time.
3. Time slicing: You will be racing against the timeline. See if you can exercise Agile development, design one iteration , assign tasks for everyone to report on. Just like scrum meetings, you may chose to meet every one hour to see where you stand.
4.Presentation: Hackathon is miniaturization of startup product development. A startup is successful when it can sell its product. Have one person focus on the presentation. You might have a great product, but if you cannot present it well, it's no good.
Few ideas around the presentation:
-Connect with the audience, ask a question, or tell a powerful story in 20-30 seconds.
-Add some good humor. After all hackathons are supposed to be fun!
-Have one person run the demo and the other do most of the talking. This helps the person with the demo follow the talk .
5.Show the potential: Never forget to mention the value your hack brings in. The judges will be connected to your app better if you highlight how your app is a game changer.
6. Have fun: Every hackathon should be taken as a vacation...enjoy the company of some smart minds, the caffeine, the sleepless hours that brings the best in you. Ultimately you'll surprise yourself with your true potential.