How I hacked the hackathon: 4 strangers, 48 hours and a good idea

Having worked in the startup environment for a couple of years I was quite familiar with the word Hackathon but I had never participated in one. Until I received an invitation to submit ideas for an internal KPMG Hackathon.

So this is how I teamed up with four strangers to develop a vague idea into a potential multi-million dollar online solution in less than 48 hours.

I already had this export market tool I started building a few months ago which I presented to my data analytics colleagues. My solution never made it to the front of the development priority list. I wasn’t sure whether this type of idea would be shortlisted, but then “You have to be in it to win it”, right?

Two weeks later I was in. I didn’t have any expectations but let me tell you, the results were greater than my wildest dreams.

During 48 hours my team developed a prototype which was pitched and validated by our experts. The value proposition was clear and the benefit to our clients strong enough for the project to be funded and pursued.

Although this is an internal project the same holds true of any Hackathon and the ensuing pitch of your idea.

Here are my top five tips to make the most of it:

  1. Identify the strengths of your team members.

Don’t worry if your team members are not experts in your field. My team members didn’t have much experience in International trade, so the first challenge was to make sure everyone had a good understanding of basic export concepts and of the objectives of the solution we were building.

Having team members with a diverse skill set, and strength enables you to gather fresh points of view, and will ultimately be the key to your success.

  1. Do your homework.

Since I had started thinking about my idea a few months before the Hackathon, I already had gathered data and tools I could use. That allowed me to facilitate the explanation of the idea to my team but also provide the developer and designers with content to work on from the start.

  1. Its only 48 hours, you won’t get it all done.

It is impossible to develop an end product in such a time frame, so ensure you manage your expectations. Try to be realistic and focus your energy on creating a prototype that showcases the value of your solution. For example we decided to add a survey to our tool, but with only a few questions to highlight the main idea.

  1. Show me the money.

Hackathons are a great way to bring an idea to life, present a concept in an original way and demonstrate its value (so much better than a PowerPoint ‘pack’) and pitch it to senior business leaders to secure funding. The key to success is to highlight the financial benefit your solution can provide to your organisation. Create a strong business model with a pricing strategy and gather market data to support your proposition.

  1. Have fun.

I won’t lie, the Hackathon was stressful. Working under pressure with a team of strangers is not easy but I enjoyed every single minute! I had the opportunity to collaborate with talented people in a creative environment and was mentored by innovation experts. Not to mention we were spoiled with amazing food, popcorn, ice cream and homemade hot dogs.

If someone invites you to participate in a Hackathon, don’t think twice, just say yes. You may be surprised by how creative you actually are. You may even find you have hidden talent.


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