I’ve been at Salesforce for about 6 years now where I work every day with our developer community building apps. I spend a LOT of time at Hackathons, whether it is a Salesforce run event, or other company/product/technology. I’ve won a few, lost a bunch, met great people, and learned a hell of a lot along the way. Perhaps the biggest learning of all is that the most important part of any hackathon is the 2-3 minutes you and your team have to pitch the judges.
Unfortunately, time and time again, I notice that teams do not spend enough time preparing for this part of the hackathon. To assist teams put their best foot forward, I’ve listed some simple strategies on how to deliver a winning pitch at hackathons:
1. Assign a speaker, and a demo driver
Pitches are typically short, 2-3 minutes. Assign a single speaker from your team to be the pitch person. I know it’s a team project, but the best thing for your team to do at this point is let the best speaker pitch. A really good speaker not only can present comfortably, but they have a personality the judges and audience will remember: be witty, let your passion shine through, and don’t get rattled.
Once you have a speaker, assign someone from your team to be the demo driver. Then allocate time for the speaker and demo driver to write a script of what you want to say and show, and practice it over and over again. Then, practice it some more.
2. Restate your vision and business opportunity
A good pitch has structure. Start strong by restating your vision, why your approach is unique, and what the business value/opportunity is. The judges will ask these things. You should preempt this and show that the technology decisions that you made during the hackathon were intentional.
3. Don’t call out challenges or problems
I see teams call out challenges, or problems, they faced during the hackathon way too often. The judges will likely ask you about any challenges, but don’t put it in the pitch – it’s only going to draw attention to the weaker points of your app. Think of your pitch as if you are meeting with a VC to start your company based on the prototype: lead with the positive.
4. Keep slides to a minimum
If you are going to use slides at all, use them to tell a story. I’ve seen successful pitches use slides to add some humor, introduce personas who will use your app, or describe the architectural from a high level. A good strategy is to use a single slide that the speaker can talk to, get into the groove of presenting, and feel comfortable on stage. This slide should include something memorable, such as a logo and name for your app.
5. Maximum demo stage time
Your speaker and demo driver should practice their pitch to maximize demo stage time. Use a strong narrative to talk through the app while the demo driver is showing the app. And most importantly, ask yourself is it clear to the audience and judges what is the killer feature of the app.
My colleague Dave likes to share the story of Tivo. The story describes how the inventors of Tivo were struggling to articulate the value of their product until they clicked the pause button on a live TV. Instantly the investors understood the value.
If you can’t identify your pause button moment, go back to your vision statement, and find one, even if that means tweaking your app.
6. Q&A is part of your pitch
Almost all hackathons give the judges an opportunity to ask questions. Make sure that you do your best to prepare some responses ahead of time. The benefits of preparation is that you will be confident answering the questions, and have strong opinions to share.
I’ve listed a few common questions that are regulars at Hackathons. At a minimum, you should be able to answer these:
a) What were the challenges you faced?
b) If you had more time, what would you focus on?
c) What’s the business value / opportunity of this app?
d) What is your plan for the app/idea post hackathon?
e) What was the inspiration of the idea?
f) Who are your target users?
g) App abc is very similar. What makes yours unique?
In summary, hackathons are about bringing ideas to life in a very short time frame. Judges understand that there is only a finite amount of time to build out a complete and fully functional app. Bugs wont loose you a hackathon, but if I can leave you with one piece of advice it is allocate more time to practice your pitch. Don’t let 3 minutes of stage time undo all the hard work & sleepness nights!