10 Ways to Win a Hackathon!

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“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” Vince Lombardi

I once served as a judge at a hackathon put together by Co-Creation Hub, done in collaboration with The British Council. The hackathon paired existing creative companies with IT geeks to produce new products that leverage technology. (You can read an excellent write-up about the competition here).

It was interesting to be on the other side of the table for a change, having been on the winning team at Nigeria’s first Startup Weekend. I could identify with the incredible talent, hard work, sacrifice and trepidation of the participants.

I found the model of this particular hackathon very intriguing. The competition focused on existing businesses who would continue to operate, whether or not they won the top prizes of N800,000, N500,000 and N300,000. The 6 finalists who battled for the top 3 slots were:

Mainframe Film and Television Productions
Chocolate City
Taé
Parresia Publishers
Nigerian Film Corporation
Fetch Strategic Insight & Co.

The three winners were:

Mainframe Film and Television Productions
Parresia Publishers
Fetch Strategic Insight & Co.

During the competition, I made some observations about how an enterprise can attract funding and do well at hackathons. I will share them here.

1. Maturity matters: Venture funders don’t care if you’re 19 or 50 years old. What they do care about is whether you are mature, responsible and can be trusted with money. Never come off as naive, unserious or likely to waste time and money. This will be made clear by the seriousness and quality of your pitch.

2. Commitment matters: Funders are impressed, when you’ve already spent years building your enterprise and have invested your own resources. Demonstrate track record and build a working prototype. Remember, there’s a reason many entrepreneurs begin in school. After (if) they graduate, they have years of experience tucked under their belts. Volunteering/internship is another great way to gain invaluable experience doing what you love.

3. Passion matters: Be in love with your product. If you don’t love it, you can’t sell it convincingly.

4. Know your competition: You come off as someone who’s building pies in the sky, when you are unaware of obvious competitors and have no strategies to beat them.

5. Do your research: Data is invaluable and there’s always an environmental context for every product. Are you aware of industry trends, customer needs and your product’s potential for growth?

6. Tell stories: The best pitches are personal, illustrative, inspiring and entertaining. Instead of relying solely on a PowerPoint deck, tell a story.

7. Show funders the money: Be very clear about how your product will make money and from where. Remember many funders don’t speak “technicalese”. They think in terms of numbers. Focus on the customer experience and the business case, not on the finer points of technology.

8. Branding matters: No matter how brilliant your product idea is, if it’s ugly and poorly presented, few will want to buy it or fund it. Your grasp of branding, assures funders that you have what it takes to gain advantage in a highly competitive world and that you possess that indefinable ingredient ‘x’ shared by the world’s most successful products.

9. Team dynamics are important: Ensure you have the best people on your pitch team and make it clear what each person’s specialisation is. It may be in your interest to let the most charismatic person pitch your idea, while the technical people answer questions. Also ensure that at least one person on your team is committed to driving the enterprise (and possibly quitting his/her day job to do so) should your team win the hackathon.

10. You matter: Ultimately, the greatest risk in an enterprise is the entrepreneur himself/herself. You must inspire confidence in your abilities. The only way to do so is with your words and passion.

I’m very impressed with the fledgling enterprise development ecosystem in Nigeria. I look forward to seeing many great products and services.



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