If you’ve never been to a hackathon, they are typically a 24-48 hour event during which time your team needs to build a working prototype for a product, usually a web or mobile app, but some teams build actual hardware devices. I’ve been to a lot of these hackathons, and have observed some patterns for what makes for a successful hackathon experience. So without further ado, here are 10 tips for hackathon success:
1. Set realistic expectations
There’s the temptation to go into a hackathon thinking that you’re going to build a 1.0 version of a product. The reality is that with only 24 hrs, you’ll be lucky to build something that actually works and is demoable. Make sure it’s something you can build in 24 hrs. Otherwise, you’ll spend the majority of the time postulating on all the different things you could build and trying to prioritize the features, and you’ll be left with a bunch of diagrams on the back of a napkin, but no actual thing that you can demo.
You need to think big, but start small. What is the simplest thing you can build that provides value? Err on the side of subtracting functionality rather than adding functionality. In lean startup terminology, this is called a minimum viable product (MVP).
2. Attract talent to your team
If you are a business guy and can’t write code, you’re going to need to convince a developer to join your team. Likewise, if you’re a developer but can’t design, you’re team is going to be much stronger if you can attract designer talent. Without the right people on your team, you’re going to be handicapped and have a hard time getting to a working prototype.
How do you attract talent to your team? Most hackathons provide an opportunity to pitch your idea before the hackathon starts. Write down a concise description of what you want to build, who it’s for, and why they would want to use it (what’s the problem that you’re trying to solve). And then practice your pitch so that it comes off naturally when you stand up to present it. State very clearly who you are looking for, and if you have a particular technology in mind, mention that too. If you’re planning to develop in Django, you just might attract other developers who want to code in Django too.