How to Hustle at a Hackathon

They say that every startup needs a hacker, a hipster and a hustler. The hacker to build your technology. The hipster to make that great tech shine. And a hustler to package up and sell it. For our upcoming #Hack4Homelessness hackathon, we also need the fourth “H” – the humanitarian. It’s a vital role within any social enterprise.

At almost every event we have run, seen or participated in, these core roles are on display in the hackathon teams that win.

But even if you don’t have the confidence of the hustler, there are some ways that you can really make a hackathon work for you – and it’s not only about winning the pitch session.

Here are some tactics you can use to put your best foot forward:

  1. Solve the problem: At the heart of every hackathon is (or should be) a clear problem. Use the Disruptor’s Handbook’s Problems Worth Solving handbook to question the organisers, mentors and subject matter experts to drill down into the heart of the problem and then work to solve it with their help. (Note: One hackathon super power that you should develop is collaboration. Ask for help. Leverage expertise. Take every offer available.)
  2. Make mentors your friends: A good hackathon will have the support of respected industry mentors. These people give up their time and lend their expertise to help you make the most of your hackathon experience. Listen to them like you would an old friend. Remember, that beyond the intensity of the weekend, these are people who can help bring your idea to life. Impress them with your willingness to learn and creative approach to implementation.
  3. Ask for help: It’s amazing how often a hackathon team can close down during an event. The combined pressures of a fixed timeline and public scrutiny can challenge the most confident hacker. As soon as you hit a road block, find a way around it. Tap the mentors. Ask for insights from subject matter experts. Chat to other teams (you might be surprised how collegiate a competition can be). But don’t go around in circles – the hackathon spiral of death can be fatal to your team’s chances.
  4. Divide and conquer: You each have your roles and responsibilities. Get on with it. Let the hustler hustle, the hacker hack, and the hipster stroke his funky beard.
  5. Seek out the best opportunity: Hackathons are fertile grounds for networking. That’s where you put your best foot forward. Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date. Bring a copy of your resume. Bring business cards. And when you see someone walking around observing the action, casually ask, “what brings YOU to this hackathon?”
  6. Find your people: Sometimes you have to take a chance – turn up to a hackathon where you don’t know anyone and join a team. Speak with others. Offer to help. Get a vibe for the other people in the room. And track down those who seem “like minded”. These are your people. And together you will do great things.

Hackathons are not just about the prizes

Hackathons are more than just a chance to test out your ideas and win some prize money.

Hackathons are a great way to showcase your skills to potential clients, meet other developers and collaborators and even kickstart your new startup social enterprise. Be open minded and you’ll find that deep inside, there’s a hustler waiting to get out.

Other hackathon hustling tips?

Be sure to share in the comments.

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