Nikhil Punjabi

Hackathon Best Practices: Minimum Viable Hack

You’ve decided to participate in a hackathon — that’s awesome! How do you put together the best possible project in the limited amount of time you have?

Your first instinct is to prepare beforehand — you’ve got all the time in the world leading up to the event! Unfortunately, as per the hackathon’s rules, you may be restricted to develop any digital assets beforehand.

You have an idea, napkin sketches and an up-front agreement on tabs versus spaces with your teammates. Now you need to prioritize your efforts to make the most of your time. In order to understand why the Minimum Viable Hack is appropriate, let’s take a look at the MVP.

Minimum Viable Product

The Minimum Viable Product, according to Eric Ries, is the “version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort”.

Typically the MVP defines your product’s target market, top features and cost. The key here is to minimize resources (cost), while maximizing validation of your product (features) with your target market. Once the MVP is shipped, you should be geared to continuously build, measure and learn, until you’ve garnered substantial, accurate data to achieve product market fit.

During a hackathon, your time is scarce. Rather than many months of testing and iteration, you’re preparing for a stretch of only a few hours. Achieving product market fit is winning. You want to present the minimum viable project to extract the best score from the judges — your target market.

How do you do this in such short time?

Minimum Viable Hack

To build the MVH of your app/software/API, here’s what you should do:

Strategize with a clear vision (don’t scramble)

During your lengthy hacking crunch, no one person should be straying away. Disorganization increases your chance of failure. Ensure that the time you have preparing for the hackathon includes multiple revisions of how you’ll execute during the hack.

Leave the heavy lifting to novel problems and impressive feats

Do as little as possible from scratch. What you’re doing is great; however, ensure it doesn’t take up too much time or effort for a hackathon. With the limited hacking time you have, forget all of the heavy lifting required for building the next Facebook.

Why set up your database or logging service from scratch? Manifold lets you simplify your project and quickly spin up developer services in just a few clicks. Pair those services with Zeit Now real-time deployment, and you’ve saved substantial time, so you can focus on efficiently getting your product ready.

It doesn’t have to work if it looks like it does work

Ideally, you’d want a finished product. If you’re demoing in a controlled situation — again — you’d want to efficiently show the judges how you created the product. In this case, your team possesses more control in showcasing your product. Therefore, you have more leeway of not having the “perfect” product, but you want to present your product in the best way possible.

However, if you’re not demoing in isolation, you want to make sure it works for whoever is trying your project. Provide as much guidance to the judges as possible. Over-communicating through preparing README.md file and other documentation are keys to ensuring the judges receive a clear, functional view of how to use your product. Surprises are not good.

Fuel up — you don’t want to be crashing

Ensure you’re hydrated, eating and taking breaks. Joe Kutner’s “The Healthy Programmer” recommends that “You’ll also need to pick two or three exercises you want to do. They could be walking, nerve-gliding, curl-ups..” Stay caffeinated, but don’t overdose/consume incredibly unhealthy amounts. What’s the fun if one of your team members taps out during the competition that your team worked so hard for?

The Minimum Viable Hack ticks all the boxes to succeed in a hackathon, while working smartly and saving ample time that can be used to focus on producing your best app. Start saving time now with Manifold, so you can easily spin up a database or search service.

Make the most out of your hackathon, and remember to have fun! Good luck! Happy Hacking!

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