Startup Advice

Five tips for nailing your next hackathon from a winning team member

Angela Castles /

 

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Hackathons are great ways to get your startup idea validated in the real world, but simply having a great idea won’t guarantee you success: it also takes teamwork, leadership and the ability to land a great pitch.

StartupSmart spoke to Shamren Natale, whose team Teerah took the top prize at the latest Global Startup Weekend, held in Brisbane in November 2016, for their mobile platform that delegated chores and responsibilities between roommates living in a sharehouse.

Here are her top five tips for achieving success at your next hackathon.

Read: Wait — what even is a hackathon?

1. Pick the right hackathon team

For Natale, being part of a team that was solving a problem she was passionate about was crucial to achieving success during the hackathon weekend. 

“Make sure you’re passionate about whatever you’re trying to work on and find the right balance of skillsets,” Natale tells StartupSmart.

“We all had to love what we were working on and be really passionate about it — that kept us really focused and grounded on the customer problem we were trying to solve [throughout the hackathon],” Natale says. 

It’s also important for a team to have a balanced skill set, says Natale. This means having an even distribution of developers, designers and business people, known in hackathon terms as “hackers”, “hipsters” and “hustlers”.

“From a skillset perspective, having the right amount of skills for a balanced team is crucial,” Natale says. 

“Some of the challenges that I encountered was if you have too many developers or too many hustlers you can get too many people trying to lead the pack — this can cause issues,” she advises.

2. Be prepared for conflict

The “pressure cooker” of a hackathon can cause tensions can run high, according to Natale, who recommends directly addressing conflict as soon as possible to avoid miscommunication and misunderstandings further down the track.

“You’re in a pressure cooker — you’ve got a limited amount of time, have people you’ve never worked with before and potentially don’t know … some would say you’re almost destined for failure in some instances,” she says. 

Although hackathon participants may be inclined to follow the person who initially pitches the idea their team has chosen to validate, these individuals “may not be the best person to lead the pack”, says Natale.

Instead, Natalie recommends hackathon teams be “really clear in their communication” about who should be team leaders and identify who these are early on in the competition.

3. Have regular check-ins

To ensure your team is always on the same page during the hackathon, Natale recommends having regular check-ins and debriefs to stay focused and productive.

“Every couple of hours have a 5-10 minute standup to debrief on the challenges you’re facing and agree as a team on the best way to go forward. Dial people in if they’re not there, knuckle down and work hard but always come together for an update,” Natale says.

4. Get validation from your target market

Getting validation from your target market is also key to hackathon success, according to Natale, who suggests the best way to prove validation of a concept is to convince potential consumers to part with their money.

“Everyone on the first day went searching for validation from consumers in the vicinity of the venue — we learnt from that mistake,” recalls Natale.

Validation needs to come directly from consumers of the product, says Natale. In the case of her team, this meant finding young students using sharehouses. 

“After that we went to uni campuses and places we knew students would be,” Natale says.

Once you’ve found your core demographic, the next step is to convince them to part with their cash.

“If you can get someone to part with their money that’s the best validation you’ve got. Ask people how much they would pay, get them to pass over a [monetary] note, take a photo with that — that’s the best proof of validation of the problem,” she says. 

“That helps build confidence that what it is [you’re] doing is solving a real problem,” she says. 

5. Be pitch perfect

After gaining validation for your product, it all comes down to the pitch — something Natale says should be clear and concise.

“A successful pitch comes down to being really clear about the problem you are solving and being really clear about how your solution solves that problem,” Natale advises.

A successful pitch should “take the listeners on a journey” so they can relate to the problem your team is trying to solve, she says.

“When I opened the pitch for my team, one of the first things I did was ask questions to the audience,” Natale says.

“Asking the audience questions like ‘have you ever been in this situation? ‘Has this happened to you?’, [it] very quickly engages the listeners because they become involved in the problem you’re trying to solve,” she says. 

This is part of a 12-part series into hackathons SmartCompany is publishing in association with GovHack.

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Angela Castles

Angela Castles is a Journalist at StartupSmart with a keen interest in the legal issues startups face. In her free time she can be found eating sushi and seeing live music.

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