Takeaways from winning Central Eastern Europe’s biggest fintech hackathon

24 hours. Just enough for your daily routine. Or, for an adrenaline pumped, emotional roller-coaster if you dive into a hackathon like I did last weekend. Curious what I’ve learned and how we won it? Thinking about participating to a similar event? Read on!

The terms: In my interpretation

Hackathon: lock together a large number of tech people for at least 1 day, and let them turn their brilliant ideas into a Minimum Viable Product while getting to know each other.

Fintech: another buzzword, referring to companies (mostly startups in different stages) that use technology to make financial systems more efficient.

The event: Novathon #withCIB

Honestly, I’ve signed up without expecting much, simply wanted to foster my hands on investment banking experience. Huge was the surprise when I arrived! It turned out to be the biggest fintech event in the CEE region, superior in all aspects.

110 participants, 22 teams, tens of speakers and mentors, brilliant location, great food, all-inclusive bar, open air Dj and live music, inspiring guest speaker…this event really had it all. Organizers, I hope you’re reading this, as you did an awesome job!

The story: Lessons learned

At hipwerk, we need to innovate on a daily basis. Participating to startup related conferences and events abroad is a must to remain ahead of the market and practice our skills. I’ve learned & reinforced the following from this awesome experience:

  1. Be open minded: If you have no team upon arrival, be prepared to pitch yourself and listen carefully to what others are looking for. If you’ve found the suitable spot, get in.
  2. Setup roles: No team can finish a project in 24 hours if the roles are not clear. Make sure to nominate a leader who defines and assigns tasks, otherwise you won’t be ready when needed.
  3. Don’t give up: We’ve been brainstorming our 5 different ideas for 5 hours (longest session in my life) without any solution. And then it hit us, baaam! We’ve had a sixth idea, and we knew this was it.
  4. Network a lot: the event ends quickly, but connections you make can last forever. Leverage on this, initiate conversations.
  5. Mentors: Listen carefully to them, but judge their feedback wisely. Great mentors ask the right questions and empower your idea, instead of trying to force you in another direction.

The winning formula

I have to disappoint you, there is no such thing. Moreover, you should keep in mind the purpose of these events: It’s not about winning, it’s about practicing how to get from idea to prototype, build teams and meet like-minded people. Keep that in mind.

But don’t get me wrong, I am extremely happy that we’ve managed to win! And as many of you insisted on how we did it, here are 3 things that helped us getting closer to the first place:

  1. Team above all: I can’t emphasize this enough. You have 24 hours to make an MVP from nothing! If there is no chemistry and trust within the team, you’ve lost before even starting it. Hint: Not everyone is so lucky as I was in getting into such a fantastic team, so bring your mates with you if you can.
  1. Disruptive & validated idea: The “crazier”, the better. Just do the following: make sure the whole team believes in it, then validate it within your circle of friends. If these two are checked, go for it, and don’t get distracted. If not, don’t be afraid to take drastic measures and pivot your idea. Hint: A nice typeform survey works best for validation. We’ve received 103 responses in less than 12 hours.
  2. Pitching and Q&A: You’ll probably have 1–3 minutes to mesmerize the jury. Introduce the problem, present your solution for it, detail the benefits of choosing your product followed by a brief overview of your team. Always conclude the pitch by stating your needs (funding, team members, advice etc.) Anything else is distraction at this point and should be detailed in Q&A, if asked. Hint: do yourself a favor and prepare your answers in advance.
  3. The idea: Sophia
“Full banking experience in a chat window, guided by your automated personal assistant.”

Sophia is a mobile banking app to engage youngsters between 18–26, by connecting with them in their natural communication environment. Users register, can open an account and perform banking services in a chat window. They are guided constantly by their personal assistant, a continuously learning chatbot, backed by human over-watch for increased security. Once the chatbot learned the users’ habits, it can start offering them products and services matching their needs.

The thanking notes

Thanks again Intesa SanPaolo, CIB Bank and the whole team for organizing Novathon #withCIB at such high standards. Tamás, Gábor & Tamás, I hope you’ll keep up with the tremendous effort you’re putting into the Hungarian startup community!

Thanks Brett for your truly visionary talk! Many thanks to our mentors, your input guided us to the right direction. I especially loved how Maurice and Biljana stood with us to explain all the pain-points and processes of a commercial bank. Barnabas, your last minute feedback to our pitch was really valuable.

Everyone who validated our idea, amazing response rate guys, we couldn’t have done it without you!

And most importantly, thank you to my amazing team: Andris, Bálint, Dani & Ricsi . Guys, you rock and I feel lucky that we’ve met. It’s a pleasure to be part of the mighty Letucci team!

The next steps: Hungry for more?

If you like Sophia, I have good news for you. We’re planning to implement the project, expect to hear from us soon! If you don’t want to miss the launch, make sure to join our waiting list of 120+ users by filling our survey out and leaving your email at the end.

Want to learn even more about Sofia, team Letucci or other disruptive startups we work with at hipwerk? Just drop me an email to [email protected]

Until you hear from us, did you know, that my teammate Adam has won a similar prestigious event in Munich last year? Make sure to read his insights. He put together a brilliant list of what he learned, fully valid in 2016 as well.

Team Letucci, from letft ro right: Dániel Trencsényi, László Lukács, Bálint Barczi, Richárd Fülöp, András Pop.


Originally published at blog.hipwerk.com on June 30, 2016.

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