Getting set to be outsmarted - our hackathon team is ready for kick off!

That’s the mindset we set out to enable at a recent hackathon in Munich, Germany, where we opened up the adidas Smartball platform over a weekend for them to hack and play with.
We had less than a minute to pitch our challenge to a group of 250 developers from all around Europe and excite them about our challenge. There is no doubt as an organization or even as an individual professional you can learn quite a lot from such events but only if you are able to conduct a successful hackathon and excite people to work on your idea/product. How do you do that?

Here’s my recipe for presenting and navigating the hackathon experience:

1. Value proposition

Clearly state your product/idea’s value proposition. If needed, use a value proposition canvas. This will help you answer a lot of product questions during the event.

2. Technology readiness

What technology/tools would you bring for the hackers and are they ready in the context of the event. Most hackathon organizers offer a tech audit as part of their service to sponsors – go for it! Sometimes you may have to design a specific workaround to get all hackers into your system – keep the legal & IP guys informed about this.

A tech audit upfront ensures your hackers can access your system and be creative on the day.

3. Audience

You want to know your audience well in advance so as to get your message tailored to them. Organizers should be able to provide this to you well in advance.

4. Define your challenge

Most hackathons will have a webpage before the event describing the challenges to give participants a sneak preview. Get your marketing guys in a room and define a challenge in less than 10 words. E.g. Reinvent Football with adidas Smartball!

5. Legal and IP

Discuss the topic of IP in detail from the beginning within your company and with the organizers. This is where a true testament of your open source culture shows up, however you don’t want to end up in a legal battle with someone two years later for your product idea presented during this hackathon and this is where your legal team can help!

6. Bring your tech team

Unless you are the architect of this product and know all the answers it’s much easier to have technology experts from your team at the event to answer or help with technical questions.

7. Elevator pitch

If you can’t sell your challenge in 50 seconds you probably won’t have a lot of participation. Keep it simple and impactful! Don’t use a PowerPoint or videos and be real. Bring some of your own prototypes and products on stage and try talk about its evolution and why you think it will be worth their time for the next couple of days to further develop it.

By letting participants experience and test the product adds an emotional connection to it.

8. Prepare your partners

You don’t want to stand on stage with a partner company showing something you have not seen before or see them wearing your competitor’s brand. Make sure you are aligned beforehand.

A good briefing makes people feel comfortable and prepared to focus on things that really matter on-site.

9. Rehearse the logistics

Don’t assume the projector and sound will work, know the venue and logistics and if possible practice your pitch in advance!

10. Workshop hosting

If you manage to get a lot of teams interested in your challenge, you may be asked to conduct a workshop to explain more about the challenge and technology you brought to the event. Being able to tell the story of your product and potential ideas that you have already thought of in your organization can help spark some ideas in their minds for the event that they can work on for the next days.

11. Facilitate

Typically these events don’t have a lot of structure so facilitating when possible or asking teams a lot of questions about their ideas or brainstorming with them can help some of the teams validate their hypothesis early on before they go too far down the road with their ideas. It also shows genuine interest on your part.

12. Recruitment

Some of these events could be a good place to hire talent for your organization, so having some of your HR team members there with some of the participant-relevant job information doesn’t hurt.

You can find talents in unlikely places. Recruiters have to be where the potential candidates are, not the other way around.

13. Bring extra product

You don’t want to run out during the event when teams really want to use it.

14. Prizes

Prizes can be important but in our experience it’s the complexity of the challenge that motivates hackers more than the prize money. However, carrying a token of thanks to show your appreciation for the time they put into your challenge can go a long way!

15. Don’ts

  • Don’t change your slides last minute.
  • Don’t bring people on stage if they are not comfortable there.

Do you have experience in conducting a hackathon? I’d love to hear your dos and don’ts.

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by Mark Turcotte 12.12.2016
Nitesh - nicely written, and couldn't agree more. Being a part of the first Shark Tank, all of these points came into play. Any tips or resources on facilitation you can offer?
by nitesh Mark Turcotte 11.01.2017
Hi Mark,
Thanks for the f/b. Sorry about my long winded answer - My take on facilitation would be, having a clear structure and agenda defined from the get go on what you expect from the participants in the given time frame and also certain milestones and check points from time to time. For e.g. if you are hosing an event for 24 hrs, you can have first 2 hours to present the challenge, next 2 for team formation and initial brain storming, next 2 for helping teams shape up their ideas and the first milestone could be each team present their initial ideas to everyone at the end of these 6 hrs. After which you can interject a session or two in between for the participants to loosen up a bit and have some speaker present an interesting and somewhat related topic before they all have to present their final concept. Hope this helps.