5 things I’ve learned on a hackathon

Recently, I took part in a hackathon. That was an excellent experience. Working 24 hours on a project you came up with the day before is very exciting. After that event, I realized something that I think I felt earlier — development is the easiest part of building a piece of software. It may sound weird but it’s true. In this article, I’ll tell you about my thoughts and conclusions that I have drawn.

1. Start with a problem

It’s the most important thing. During the weekend I had at least few other ideas for a new project. Almost everyone came with his own concept. The difficulty arose when they tried to interest others in their vision. If the concept was not good enough or you could not interest others to join you-you’ll fail in finding anyone to help you. It’s a great way to verify the idea. If you can’t interest anyone maybe it’s time to consider other vision or business model?

I noticed that a person who had a problem similar to mine was exited with my solution. However, when I talked with someone with different experience I’ve heard something like this

It cannot feel it. I do not have such problems. It won’t work

Your point of view depends on lots of things and we always should remember that. Having said that I can smoothly move to the next point.

2. Check how many people have similar problem/need

If you have a need it does not mean other people have it too. How to check if you’re not the only person in the world with the same problem? The easiest way is just… to ask. There’s a lot of Facebook groups, forums and any other places where people meet (on the Internet or real life). It’s a great source of information on what exactly the people need and it’s an excellent opportunity to polish your idea. Or quit it if you cannot find any interest in your target group.

Asking potential customers directly has its benefits. First of all, you find out if people are interested in your product at all. Secondly, you can give it a second thought and change something in the project even if you haven’t started yet. It’s well known that the same change in later stages will increase its costs.

This point is closely related to the next one — your perfect customer.

3. Who is your perfect customer?

To start a successful startup you need to have customers. You have two ways you can choose:

  • Sell your product to a limited number of customers but for a higher price and profit per one successful sell
  • Sell a lot of product at a lower price and get a lower profit on one product but the scale will help you earn more money

The answer to this question can change everything. It has an impact on how much you can earn, how many customers you’ll get and how much they will be able to pay for your product, how you’ll communicate with them, where you’ll be looking for them and so on… It is closely related to the previous chapter. You cannot sell expensive products to poor people. I mean, you can but you’ll won’t earn much money.

This is the moment to create a persona. The persona is the perfect client you want to attract. You can find information about personas and how to define them in Your guide to successful persona building

4. How you’re gonna earn money

The cool idea it not all. Every company needs to earn money or have a potential to earn it. Before the event, I did not think about monetizing the idea and it was a mistake. I had a demo pitch in which they asked me few questions about monetizing the idea. I came up with something from the top of my head almost on the spot. They led me to understand that I potentially have a good project but it basically has to earn money somehow and I have to know how I want to achieve it. I thought about everything from scratch and the final pitch was much better in this area, too.

The business model is the next extremely important thing. We — the developers tend to play with toys like a new programming language, a new technology or a tool. The problem with that is we try to find a project to new toy instead of choosing the best toy for the problem. This is a trap in which I fell myself. The business model should be based on few things. First of all, the research. We should find out what’s going on in our market. What the other applications in our industry look like? What will we give what they don’t have? How large is the market? Who is your ideal customer? How much money he spends or can spend money on software like ours?

One of the ways to help us solve the problem is using a technique to structure it and take it down on a paper. It’s very common to use Business Model Canvas which will give us a great overview of the whole idea from the business perspective.

Marketing is very closely connected with the business model. It’s not important what we’ve created if customers won’t find it or won’t get interested in the solution.

5. The pitch

I was the one who pitched our project. It was very stressful for me but I’m happy I did it. When the event ended I realized I could have a perfectly working project but if I present it badly the project has no chance to win. I mean, it has but it must be absolutely brilliant and the jury should notice it on their own.

So the way you present your vision is extremely important. Even more important than technologies you used or how difficult it was. To be honest, if you know exactly what to do, programming itself is very easy.

You can find more about better pitches from this article.

Summary

As you can see, you can learn a lot from the hackathon. It’s not only fun but you can meet some great people with a similar passion or even find a job. Have you ever been to an event like that? What things you’ve learned?


Originally published at Developer 2.0.