How to Hack a Hackathon: Friday Night

A hackathon expert’s advice on how to make the most of your 48-hour experience. 

Loring is a regular participant at UP Singapore hackathons. Recently, he took part in the GeoHackathon 2014, where his team, Team CheapBeerSG (pictured below), won the Second Prize and the Best Design Prize. In this series of articles, Loring shares some tips and tricks on how to hack a hackathon.

1. Tackle a Real Problem

Long before you arrive at the hackathon, identify a problem that people experience painfully and regularly.

I recommend tapping your own experience. (After all, you have problems. And what could be better than a herd of nerds toiling away to solve them?)

Alternatively, if you are able empathize with human emotions, dive deeply into the experience of others to identify the problems they face. Talking to humans may help here.

2. Create a Simple Solution

Your solution should be simple from the users’ perspective, even if it is quite complex technically. Ideally, it should appear “auto-magical”.

Never include the business mechanisms, gamification and/or social networking in your solution. These are all tools to monetize and scale solutions — not solutions in themselves.

3. Craft a User Journey

Now you have a real problem with a simple solution — what could be better?

Before you build anything, write a story detailing the user journey — focusing on the problem and solution from his/her perspective. Write it together, with your entire hackathon team, to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Then do a ‘reality check’ to see if the story rings true to your experience.

The user journey will provide two important roles. First, it will serve as a point of reference for each team member as he / she works independently. Second, it will serve as the first draft of your pitch presentation.