5 Things I Learned From An Entrepreneurial Hackathon
A story about what it’s like to collaborate with a cross-functional team in a limited time frame to present a project to potential investors.
Over the past weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the E3 Startup Turbo Hackathon that was hosted by ESADE at one of Aticco’s Co-working spaces in sunny Barcelona. It was the first time I participated in a live event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and I couldn’t be happier with the experience I had.
We were over 50 creative individuals from multidisciplinary backgrounds coming together to learn, share ideas and network with each other. The main idea was to put together teams that had at least one programmer, one designer and 3 entrepreneurs to bring to life a project based on common interests. The organisation held workshops for participants to learn the basics of validating concepts rapidly, building a multidisciplinary team, and pitching ideas to potential investors. They also put together an impressive list of mentors, judges and guest speakers to inspire and help us by providing constant feedback to be able to do our best.
FOGO (fear of going out) is over
It is undeniable that the pandemic has shifted our mindsets in some way and I must admit that, at first, I was surprised that the event was taking place in person. We have become accustomed to keeping a safe distance from people we don’t know, which is funny because when it comes to our social inner circle we tend to trust that they are “safe”.
After this event I have once again gained confidence in going out, meeting new people and letting fear go out the window. If you take all the necessary precautions there is no reason for things to go wrong.
Obviously, to be able to hold an event like this, the hosts went through all the required protocols that have been established by local authorities and had the staff necessary for everything to flow accordingly. Arriving on Friday afternoon, we were greeted by staff members at the entrance to turn in the mandatory COVID-19 declaration form, get our temperatures measured and receive our welcome pack. Going up to the fifth floor of the venue I saw everybody mixing and mingling (at a safe distance) and decided to do the same by presenting myself to a group at the back of the room. We were all seated and chatting, waiting for everything to begin.
The event got kicked off by hosts presenting themselves and introducing the first guest speakers. It was an inspiring conversation with two local entrepreneurs, Sergi Bastardas (Co-Founder of Colvin) and Manu Caldas (Co-Founder of Dribo), mediated by one of our mentors Albert Llobet. We then did a brief training on the Lean Canvas business model and moved on to a team building exercise.
Building a multidisciplinary team based on common interests
Many participants already knew each other, some even came with their teams and ideas set up. On the other hand, I went to this hackathon as a solo participant and knew nobody at the event, which made this experience all the more exciting.
Building a multidisciplinary team based on common interests makes the experience of working together more engaging, as you can really reap the benefits of different know-hows and learn to appreciate diverse perspectives on a passionate topic of common knowledge.
The team building activity was kind of like a speed dating challenge in which we all had the chance to meet each other by moving from one circle of 5 people to the next. It brought me back to my old but unforgotten behavioural patterns of initiating conversations with strangers to learn about their interests and share thoughts about my passions for psychology, blockchain technology, artificial intelligence, circular economies, sports and nature to see with whom I would make a good fit to work with. I moved from circle to circle, actively listening to many individuals until I found people with similar interests.
Once the activity had finished I found myself within a team composed by:
- Bea da Costa (Software Engineer)
- Carla Campàs (Artificial Intelligence Engineer)
- Markus Walter (Blockchain Specialist)
- Pablo Otero (Management Specialist)
- Younes Chouikri (Tracking Systems Partner)
- Myself, Mohamad Safi (Customer Experience Designer)
Together we would form a cross-functional team that would embark on a brief but intense journey over the weekend to present an idea in front of a jury for a shot at getting backed for 3 months to work further on the project at Aticco.
Based on common interest we did a one hour brainstorming session in which we all shared ideas that we’d like to work on. The ideas ranged from designing physical products that were powered by AI, like a pencil capable of drawing on any surface and translating the drawing to a program for easy access to exploring the endless opportunities of how blockchain technology could be applied in different industries such as Real Estate, Healthcare or Cryptocurrencies.
Given the current uptrend of cryptocurrencies and our initial thoughts on the types of problems the industry is facing, it was very appealing for us to work on validating those assumptions and finding a creative solution.
Humans tend to make the same mistakes over and over again, so it only makes sense to look at the past to figure out the types of pitfalls entrepreneurs tend to face.
The startup world is quick paced, so don’t hesitate to make decisions as they will help you move forward. If it happens to be a misstep, don’t worry because you will have chances to fix it. The important thing is to keep moving and avoid stagnation.
- Falling in love with an idea
This is one of the most typical mistakes we tend to make. Thinking that we have “a million dollar idea” and that it shouldn’t change. It’s not about the idea, it’s about the market (our users or clients) and how we intend to meet their needs. This doesn’t mean that our initial idea sucks, it just means that we need to have enough psychological flexibility to adapt the concept to our users specific needs.
- Executing before validating
So you have fallen in love with your idea and decided to build an app. Turns out people don’t use it because they don’t need it. This is one of the most costly and time consuming mistakes entrepreneurs make, so we better make sure we know what problem we are trying to solve and who has that particular problem to test concepts before wasting valuable resources.
- Taking expert feedback without a pinch of salt
Don’t get me wrong, we should always surround ourselves with experienced professionals and get as much feedback as possible but always remember that in the end we are the ones making decisions, so don’t just go with whatever the expert recommends. Building critical thinking skills is crucial to take feedback and make the best of it on our own.
- Delaying launch time by seeking perfection
Perfection is the enemy because it is unattainable. Instead seek a mental model based on being good enough for now, good enough to test and iterate. Remember we want to keep moving and learning in this journey.
- Keeping an idea a secret
Million dollar ideas pop up in every mind, so if we think we have a great idea someone else has probably already thought about it. Instead of secrecy, share your idea as much as possible to get valuable feedback from peers and colleagues. Maybe we’ll gain an interesting insight along the way.
- Not learning and adapting fast
As stated previously, building a startup must be fast paced because even if you have the famous “first mover advantage” the competition can catch up and surpass us in any moment. Keep learning, keep moving and do it as fast as possible.
It is important to understand that a solution is only valid if it solves a problem that people actually have. Our mentors made sure of getting this thought through our heads as they were constantly passing by our workshop to give us feedback and also gave interesting presentations on the manner.
Lucia Horvilleur is a marketing and strategy consultant for startups and solopreneurs and was one of the key guest speakers in charge of helping us understand how to validate our ideas. She stressed on the importance of reaching out to potential users to interview them in order to learn about their behaviours and mental models regarding whatever it is we were trying to validate, in our case investment habits.
As I was in charge of designing the customer experience, I took this manner into my hands with deep care and began to reach out to mentors and my network to conduct guerrilla research, which is a fast and low-cost way to gain sufficient insights to make informed decisions.
How to deliver an awesome pitch
Investors want to know what problem we are trying to solve and how we plan on doing it. Mario Brassesco is a Venture Capitalist at Encomenda Smart Capital and was one of the guest speakers. He delivered an interesting and engaging talk that really sinked in as he asked the audience to explain their ideas.
As you might have guessed, most of us were strongly focused on our solutions and I’m glad he was there to highlight the issue. We were able to rapidly shift our mindsets towards focusing on the problems our users have and trying to solve them based on their needs.
He also proposed the following steps as a guide to deliver a pitch that would be capable of capturing the attention of potential investors:
- State the problem
What problem have we validated that users experience? Demonstrate that you have done the research necessary to find out what problems people are having. Only then will you be able to come up with a solution.
- Why current solutions don’t work
Highlight how the problem persists even though there are other solutions. Do this briefly as you will have time later in the pitch to explain exactly how your business is different from others.
- Our solution
How is it unique and why will it be effective at solving the problem? Communicate in a coherent manner, you have already stated what problems exist, now make sure to tailor the message of the solution to those problems.
- Present a product or prototype
Build and show a representation of what the solution looks like. As mentioned before, it’s not about executing a full on product, it’s about creating a visual representation that is able of communicating how the business will work. Make a mockup using a prototyping software like Figma or Sketch. If you don’t know how to use these tools yet you can also pick from a variety of website builders like Squarespace or Wix to create a landing page. This will capture investors attention as it demonstrates proactivity.
- Business model
How will the business make money? Is it a B2B, B2C, do you intend to generate revenue based on fees, commissions, a subscription model, freemium etc. Study all the possibilities and pick a system that fits with the interests of the business it’s stakeholders.
- Go to market plan
How will we reach our target and grow? Explain how you will communicate the business idea with your target audience. Make use of social media as it will be a major plus if your product is already generating traction.
- Competitive analysis
What other players are in the market and how will we be different? Do the desktop research to find out about all products or services that are trying to solve the same problems you are. Do benchmarking by analysing all the pros and cons of the competition. This will also help you come up with a creative way to differentiate your business.
- Market growth
What is the size of the market and what percentage do we plan on reaching? Again, dive into google to learn everything about the industry. Show how big it is in terms of economic value or sheer number of users and how rapidly the market is growing. Sharing recent news or articles by renowned researchers will be a great plus.
Who is involved in making this dream a reality and why are we the ideal option to do it? Be confident about yourself and the team, demonstrate your expertise and passion on the topic and convince investors that you’re the right fit. Remember, a brilliant idea is nothing without a solid team, however, half an idea can be brilliant with a solid team.
How much money do you need to make it happen and how will it be spent? Do the research to learn how money should be spent on the business. Show investors that you will be capable of handling the money wisely and tell them exactly how you plan on dividing funds.
Participating in this event has been challenging yet very rewarding as I not only learned everything I shared with you in this article but more importantly had fun doing it. I met founders, co-founders, bright individuals who are bound to become entrepreneurs, mentors and even the famous comedian David Guapo as he was on the jury panel.
I guess what I’m trying to transmit here is that even though the pandemic has hit humanity hard, we are resilient creatures still moving forward to find creative solutions that solve problems. A shout out to the amazing team of Niment for winning this hackathon as they are proof of the power of putting users at the core of a project to impulse innovation. They are building a software powered by AI for predictive maintenance so be sure to keep an eye out for them.
Thank you for reading and catch you on the next article.