6 Things I Learned at Next 36 Startup Sprint 2018 Hackathon in Vancouver

Last week, I participated in my very first code-free hackathon/sprint at the Next 36 Startup Sprint 2018 Vancouver.

Last week, I participated in my very first code-free hackathon/sprint at the Next 36 Startup Sprint 2018 Vancouver.

Making It Happen

This is a long overdue post, but last week, I participated in my very first code-free hackathon/sprint at the Next 36 Startup Sprint 2018. This event was hosted by ProtoHack Vancouver, and it was held at RED Academy. This event is intended for participants to have a hardcore weekend of building, hacking, designing and prototyping something that solves a global problem, then present a solution in front of angels, VCs and industry professionals with a 90 second pitch deck.

I formed a team of 4 on the Friday night, and we had to present our ideas and solutions the following evening. While my team and I didn’t place, it was still a ton of fun! Here were some of my takeaways from the event:

Working in a team of 4 (we called ourselves Team Loqi), our team set out to make our travel app a reality!

Working in a team of 4 (we called ourselves Team Loqi), our team set out to make our travel app a reality!

1) Our Ideas Changed… a Lot!

The idea that I walked in to the event was “a travel app that was targeted towards travellers in a new city to provide them with a local experience by connecting them with local news sources and events”.

The idea that I walked out of the event was “a travel app that was targeted towards business travellers in a new city to provide them with a quick, basic itinerary for the down time in between so they can get the most out of their short stay”.

Ideas evolve and change, and that’s a great thing. As you talk to the other participants about your idea, the collaboration between minds will allow you to gain deeper insights into the problem that you’re trying to solve… which leads me to my next insight.

All I created were 3 screenshots - that’s really all you need to showcase your prototype! Add icons, pictures and more to expand.

All I created were 3 screenshots - that’s really all you need to showcase your prototype! Add icons, pictures and more to expand.

2) Understand the 80/20 Rule

A small derivative of the Pareto Principle, but I think the methodology works more or less the same here. Just like any regular UI/UX project, 80% of your time should be spent diving into whether the problem is actually a problem, and 20% is on the design itself! Don’t put all your effort into building something that nobody is going to use at the end of the day - it’s a big waste of time. I’ve learned that the hard way.

Good startups (and UI/UX design in general) is less about making pretty things, and more about whether it solves a user’s problem or not, so you should be spending way more of your time speaking to your coaches, mentors and the participants to see if your idea is actually something they would use.

That’s the whole concept behind Protohack, and that’s why it works so well in forcing participants to step outside their comfort zone by putting a 90 second pitch together in under a day and a half.

Which is why…

3) Don’t Get Caught Up in the Design Details

In my previous Startup Weekend events (similar to this, but a bit more extensive), I realized that I would always spend way too much effort on the actual design itself, integrating elements like Google Material Design, responsive elements, pop-ups, drop-downs, you name it. Placing the button here vs placing a button there - who cares?

All of this effort was made to showcase these prototypes to the judges for probably less than 30 seconds. Was it worth it? Or should I have spent more time refining the idea or discovering whether there was an actual need for it from our target audience?

Communication is key in any pitch, and during this ProtoHack event, I spent most of my time discussing our travel app idea with every team member to get their perspectives, then translated that into easy-to-understand icons that represented the user flow. Only the last 2 hours was spent designing something that could pass as the prototype.

Know    who’s    going to use your product, and make sure they will actually use it! It’s all about that customer validation.

Know who’s going to use your product, and make sure they will actually use it! It’s all about that customer validation.

4) Use Your Time Efficiently

While we were given a schedule on the key events (workshops, presentation deadline, etc.), we had to figure out how we were going to spend our working time in between wisely.

It’s easy to look at an 8-hour block and assume that you have plenty of time, but once you get in the rhythm of the discussions, time flies by fast! Try this tips:

Divide Your Time Up in Blocks

With an 8-hour block, I used time blocks to divide up our day, making sure that not only did everyone have a very specific role to play (so they couldn’t slack off), we had enough time for discussions, validations, design, presentation, practice, etc.

Here’s a brief summary of what I accounted for, and make sure you actually have someone designated (in this case, it was me) to make sure the team is following it:

  • 8am to 12pm: Discussions & Customer Validations

  • 12pm to 2pm: Coaches/Mentors/Participant Discussions

  • 2pm to 4pm: Team Discussions/Reviews/Finalize Ideas

  • 4pm to 6pm: Design Prototype/Presentation Building

  • 6pm to Presentations: Practice, Practice, Practice!

Use Tools You Know

The event organizers encouraged us to use Balsamiq and Proto.io, but because time was not on our side, I decided to stick with what I know best: Sketch, Invision, Zeplin and Principle.

At the end of the day, it’s all about communicating your ideas in a way that’s relatable to the judges, so just remember that your prototypes don’t have to be perfect!

We spoke with our mentors a lot (pictured here) who helped us with refining our idea.

We spoke with our mentors a lot (pictured here) who helped us with refining our idea.

5) Know Your Target Audience

Who’s going to use your product? Remember point #1:

The idea that I walked out of the event was “a travel app that was targeted towards business travellers in a new city to provide them with a quick, basic itinerary for the down time in between so they can get the most out of their stay”.

We never would’ve figured this out had we not talked to the mentors (who also happened to travel for business). In fact, they were the ones who gave us this suggestion to pivot to in the first place!

If the people whom you’re building your product for tells you that they wouldn’t use it, then why are you building it? Love your audience, and they’ll in turn embrace you.

This hackathon had over 50+ participants (12 teams in total).

This hackathon had over 50+ participants (12 teams in total).

6) Kill It With Your Pitch

With only 90 seconds for your pitch, that’s not a lot of time to communicate your ideas! I would recommend taking out a lot of the meatless information, such as telling the judges who you are vs. telling them exactly what your problem and solution are.

Introduction > Problem > Solution

Every point in your solution has to counteract with your problem, and make sure you spend enough time making the audience understand how it’s a problem. Try using visuals such as icons, arrows, and pictures to simplify your message.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Keeping your pitch in under 90 seconds is hard when you have so much to say, so practice, practice, practice! Time goes by way faster than you think, and just be aware that you’ll more than likely be nervous and speak twice as fast during your presentation. The more prepared you are, the calmer you will be in communicating your ideas!

Reflection

Overall, I really enjoyed Protohack’s idea of “no coding necessary” and would highly recommend this to anyone who wants to expand their business thinking and decision making! You don’t have to be an expert in anything - just an open mind ready to learn and take in as much as possible!

Upon speaking to the judges after the presentations, I learned that our problem definitely didn’t seem “dire” enough compared to all the solutions already out there. While I didn’t necessarily agree with that, I will respect the judges’ decision and use it as my takeaway to focus even more on communicating the problem in the future.

I personally will definitely be attending more hackathons next year, and I look forward to the challenges ahead.