Hackathons are incredibly fun and exciting events!
But they're also the ultimate endurance, perseverance and skill test. In a short period, participants have to gather a team, come up with ideas, develop them and pitch their hard work to a jury.
While it may be overwhelming to handle all of this in your first hackathon, that’s part of the goal - to work better, faster, and develop your skills in the process.
We also know that it can be tough for participants that put in the hard work & effort into a hackathon but end up empty-handed. Don’t let that discourage you though!
At TAIKAI, we like to reward all participants based on their effort and not just the winning project. That’s one reason why we are built on blockchain technology and have our own social token - KAIs - which you can learn more about here.
Today, however, we want to show you how you can increase your chances of winning more hackathons. We’ve spoken with the community, and more specifically, previous hackathon winners. Together, we’ve compiled 6 amazing tips that will help you win more hackathons in the long run. Before we head into them, let's take a quick look at the types of hackathons you'll find.
There isn’t a single type of hackathon. Each has its own theme and objectives that participants have to consider. For instance, some are dedicated to developing mobile applications, video games, web applications, operating system variations, etc.
Similarly, some are also niche-based, like health, education, and transport.
Other than that, many hackathons are restricted to using specific languages or frameworks. You will also find many events organized for a certain profile such as students, females, experienced software engineers, data scientists, etc.
Choosing the right teammates is one of the core factors that can make or break your chances of winning a hackathon.
When you're building a solid network, it can be difficult to find people who are committed to developing a project from start to finish. If you know people who have previously participated in hackathons they should be your first priority.
Having experienced partners will undoubtedly be a plus, given the competition is fierce.
The Social HackaCOM was an innovation and communication hackathon that aimed to find solutions for NGOs.
For him, the most important single factor was identifying the initial team setup.
“You can't win a hackathon or build a house without a good foundation” - he stated. “If you have a good and engaged team, the next stages will be successful.”
As previously said, not all hackathons are created equally.
As a result, you should bring on people who provide value to the team. When putting together your team, choose someone who has a skill set that differentiates them from the rest of the group.
Additionally, you can always rely on TAIKAI's matchmaking system. It's possible to find teammates based on their skills and abilities, and you can also assess their profile, background and other projects in which they have participated.
On the other hand, you must fill out your profile to the best of your ability, as other team leaders may be looking for someone to help solidify their squad.
If you’re not feeling ready to tackle a hackathon, you can read our article on how to prepare for coding challenges.
After putting the team together, it’s time to start working on the concept you want to pursue.
You or your teammates may already have some rough ideas for the project, but you should always do a brainstorming session.
Hear everyone, debate and ask as many questions as you can think of.
This will help you visualize the project, and avoid major setbacks that usually come when you're developing it.
The goal of this challenge was to increase community intervention in their neighborhood, whether by developing tools for collaboration between citizens, organizations and local government, or solutions to use public and governmental data.
Micaela’s project, “Get Together”, was focused on developing a platform that citizens could use to engage with organizations and local authorities, by simply using their smartphone or computer.
She told us a bit about her experience:
“Focus on the hackathon, have very clear goals of what you want to do and work with people who you have a connection with.”
Once you have a clear picture of the project, it’s time to assign tasks to your team members. Since you have picked them for a certain skill set, the assignments should line up. However, some tasks may overlap between teammates, so communication is the key!
The bottom line, the faster you have a clear goal, the more time you’ll have to dedicate to the project development and presentation.
Micaela, once again, was spot on:
"For executing the idea it was very important to have a multidisciplinary team. Everyone contributed with their skills. The (short) time was a challenge, but we managed to do it!”
As mentioned earlier, the hackathon is based on a limited time. Therefore, it is better to choose simplicity over complexity.
It’s great to generate multiple ideas while you’re in the brainstorming phase, but you should reduce them and build only the main features and components of your project.
Your focus should be on building an MVP. This applies to all aspects, including programming and designing.
Going for a long code will be much more difficult and takes a lot of time. Plus, even the slightest mistakes will cause errors in your program. In a short time, making a complex UI or design can also be inconvenient. Choosing simplicity means opting for a shorter and readable code. Similarly, a clean, yet appealing design.
“The delivery of check points was essential for us. We anticipated the order and streamlined the initial idea further.”
You might be compelled to jump into coding as soon as you read what the challenge is about. More often than not, this leads to teams developing projects based on erroneous assumptions.
You should start by carefully reading the hackathon rules and making sure you comply with them. Next, you should look for support. And when it comes to hackathons, they come in many shapes and sizes!
Most organizations will have mentors or specialists willing to help teams and clarify any doubts along the way. You should always refer back to them and ask for their opinion too.
Many people mistake this with taking an unfair advantage over other teams, but the truth is, the mentor will not do the work for you - they will only guide you in the right direction.
For more complex and large-scale hackathons, many hosts also create webinars jam-packed with useful information. If you have the chance to, you should always attend them.
Last but not least, stay tuned to any support documentation given by the host organization. It can provide the data you need to validate an idea or even insights that ultimately can give you the advantage to win a hackathon competition.
In the end, it all comes down to the presentation. Imagine developing a great project, but nobody understands what you’ve done because it’s poorly presented? Heartbreaking 💔
This is probably the most overlooked aspect in a hackathon, but one of the most important! It can either make or break your entire hard work.
Micaela Raposo shared her experience and how important the pitch was to increase their chances of winning the hackathon:
“We had to prepare a 5 minute pitch to present our project. We prepared a very clear and appealing video presentation, with mostly graphic information and as little text as possible.
While the other projects were very good, we could engage more with the audience and juris, and explain the project in a simple, but effective way. It was very important because it represents everything we did before, and should reflect it. Good and clear communication is essential.”
As a rule of thumb, it would be best if you prepare your presentation in advance or as you go. It will help you strengthen your work and find its weak points.
Make sure to present all the features, operations, and benefits of your application. Usually, there’s a Q&A session held after the team presentation. During this, judges will ask you several questions about your presented idea or concept. They will also point out the demerits and you should know how to defend them.
Moreover, it is recommended to make your presentation short. If the pitch is only 3 minutes long, plan your presentation accordingly. You don’t want to have your presentation cut halfway through because of time restraints. This stage is also highly rated because it shows your team’s thought process and the ins and outs of your project.
Just like we said at the beginning of the article, hackathons are enduring, but also fun.
One key aspect many beginners fail to realize is to take breaks. Seriously.
Rogerio Oliveira told us it’s essential that “the team must have a leader, a scheduler and even some pauses for water!”
Drink plenty of water, get your daily dose of Vitamin D and don’t work until exhaustion. It may seem counterintuitive, but the quality of your work will stand out.
More productivity, more focus and fewer hours of half-awake writing code can go a long way 😉
Most of all, have fun!
Get to know your teammates, whether they’re from the same school or live on a different continent. Learn from each other. Get to know the host organization better and network with them. You might open a window of opportunity for yourself in the future.
We know useful, valuable information is like pure gold. And who better to give some extra advice to beginners other than our experienced hackathon winners?
Here are their thoughts for those starting their first-ever hackathon:
“My advice would be for you to focus 100% on the Hackaton, have very clear goals of what you want to do and work with people who you have a connection with, even if you don't know each other and have incompatible schedules! Transmit all you have been doing on a structured, clear and appealing way 🙂” - Micaela Raposo
“Go for it! Follow the rules, and when you have any doubts or questions, ask others, reread the rules and find your path!” - Rogerio Oliveira
As the old saying goes, “the value of an idea lies in the use of it”.
To win a hackathon you have to find a good team, set a clear goal, create a simple but effective presentation and take advantage of all that’s given to you.
Combine all of these secret sauces and you will notice a drastic change in your final project.
This is the key to WIN more hackathons in the long run.
Also, if you’re looking to participate in a hackathon, head over to our challenges page and join our community of 50,000 innovators 🔥