Hackathon Runner

The inaugural all female hackathon - She Hacks, was held in Melbourne and Sydney on March 21 - 22. It ran from 6-12 on Friday and 9-4 on Saturday and included time for sleep and yoga as well as about 8 hours to build a kick ass app.

Teams of three were assigned by the organisers to have a balance of design, development and marketing skills. There were plenty of mentors making the rounds to pitch to and ask for advice. The theme for the event was community and neighbourhoods.

Pitches were 3 minutes and the judging criteria was:

  • Team
  • Innovation
  • Community & Neighbourhoods
  • Hip (design)
  • Hack (development)
  • Hustle (marketing) This is my game plan for the next hackathon. It’s not necessarily what the winning teams did, it’s more what I wish we had done after seeing all the pitches - taking the best elements of each.

The first step is coming up with a good idea.

The idea

1. Get to know your team.

People’s hobbies and passions can spark ideas. Finding out each team member’s background and interests can help spark ideas. A good exercise is for each member to consider the theme and find a problem in their life related to the theme, then as a team brainstorm an app to solve the problem.

2. Analyse the idea/s

For every idea ask questions you think the judges will ask. We had the high level criteria to consider but the big question is monetisation. You need to have an answer for that, even if it’s a vague one like ‘We would approach these organisations for funding/partnerships’ or ‘We would apply for these grants’.

3. It’s ok if you don’t love your idea

Other people will have feedback and suggestions that will help you polish your idea. Sharing our idea with mentors and other attendees over the weekend really helped me fall in love with it.

The plan

Planning is the most important step.

Plan to the pitch

At the end of the hackathon what you’re actually delivering is a pitch. Each person on the team needs to understand this and know what they need to do.

Start by refining your idea down to it’s smallest form - the minimum viable product (MVP) and do a feasibility check around whether it’s achievable in the time you have. If you go for the MVP make sure your pitch is clear that it’s a working product and not a prototype.

If the MVP isn’t achievable, build a clickable prototype and spend development time on the technical problems that need solving. An example would be integrating with some APIs to show what can be done.

I…built this city

I took our MVP as a challenge: Can I build it in 8 hours without a front end dev? Turns out the answer is a big ‘yes’ followed by an even bigger ‘but’. I built the MVP but I didn’t get the most out of the event. So this is where some big lessons were learned.

It’s OK to take the easy road

A hackathon isn’t business as usual - take all the help you can get.

At one point a member of my team offered to design the front end on a hosted wordpress site she was familiar with. My first thought (as it usually is when wp is mentioned) was “we don’t need no stinkin’ wordpress”. In reality we did need something, so if stinkin’ wordpress is all you’ve got, just take it.

To a lot of people in the room there was no difference between a prototype and a working MVP. The runner up team had a good pitch and a great prototype (and no MVP).

It’s OK to share

The She Hacks atmosphere was great for developing ideas. Instead of spending every minute working, get up and talk to people. Share your idea with as many people as possible. After our pitch we had a heap of suggestions, it would have been better to get them before the pitch so they could be incorporated.

Pitching

By the end of your pitch this is what you want everyone in the room to be singing.

First you need to explain the problem - telling a story about a fictional user is a really good way to do this. You should cover how the problem is being solved by the marketing, design and tech. Show how you’ve got solutions for all the immediate barriers Make sure to point out any tech that is fully working One last thing Before you get there have a pitch ready for yourself. You’re going to be meeting a lot of new people so be ready to introduce yourself a lot.

Good luck, see you at the next hackathon.