Best Kept Secrets to Hackathon Success

Every startup needs a hacker, a hipster and a hustler. The hacker to build your technology. The hipster to make that great tech shine. And a hustler to package up and sell it.

When we run hackathons, however, it’s not just the hacker, hipster and hustler that we need. We also need the “humanitarian”. These are the subject matter experts in public health, education, psychology, sexology, culture, medical and nursing specialists, wellbeing and intimacy, and more. This vital group play a pivotal role in shaping solutions and helping us all to envision a future where sex is not relegated to the dark parts of the web or to taboo conversations.

We run plenty of corporate and social impact hackathons — bringing together teams of entrepreneurs, developers and designers to solve challenging problems. But we find that it is these three roles — the holy trinity of the startup world — when supported by the “humanitarians” outperform all other teams.

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So, even if you don’t have the confidence of the hustler, there are some ways that you can really make a hackathon work for you — and it’s not only about winning the pitch session.

Here are some tactics you can use to put your best foot forward:

  1. Solve the problem: At the heart of every hackathon is (or should be) a clear problem. Use our Problems Worth Solving handbook to question the organisers, mentors and subject matter experts to drill down into the heart of the problem and then work to solve it with their help. (Note: One hackathon super power that you should develop is collaboration. Ask for help. Leverage expertise. Take every offer available.)
  2. Make mentors your friends: A good hackathon will have the support of respected industry mentors. These people give up their time and lend their expertise to help you make the most of your hackathon experience. Listen to them like you would an old friend. Remember, that beyond the intensity of the weekend, these are people who could well offer you your next startup gig. Impress them with your willingness to learn and creative approach to implementation.
  3. Ask for help: It’s amazing how often a hackathon team can close down during an event. The combined pressures of a fixed timeline and public scrutiny can challenge the most confident hacker. As soon as you hit a blocker, find a way around it. Tap the mentors. Ask for insights from subject matter experts. Chat to other teams (you might be surprised how collegiate a competition can be). But don’t go around in circles — the hackathon spiral of death can be fatal to your team’s chances.
  4. Divide and conquer: You each have your roles and responsibilities. Get on with it. Let the hustler hustle, the hacker hack, and the hipster stroke his funky beard. Listen to the humanitarian and take their advice.
  5. Seek out the recruiter: Hackathons are fertile grounds for identifying new talent. That’s you. So don’t be surprised to learn that there are HR folks in the crowd looking for their next hire. Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date. Bring a copy of your resume. Bring business cards. And when you see someone walking around observing the action, casually ask, “what brings YOU to this hackathon?”
  6. Find your people: Sometimes you have to take a chance — turn up to a hackathon where you don’t know anyone and join a team. Speak with others. Offer to help. Get a vibe for the other people in the room. And track down those who seem “like minded”. These are your people. And together you will do great things.

Hackathons are not just about the prizes

Hackathons are more than just a chance to test out your ideas and win some prize money. 

Hackathons are a great way to showcase your skills to potential clients, meet other developers and collaborators and even kickstart your new startup into life. Be open minded and you’ll find that deep inside, there’s a hustler waiting to get out.

What are your hackathon tips?

Be sure to share in the comments.

Test it out yourself! 

We’ve got a great opportunity for you to join us at our upcoming hackathon in New York City.