The Next Evolution in Hackathons: From Ideas to Market Tested Results in 90 Days

After experimenting with both public and internal hackathons for the past decade, companies are looking to supercharge the hackathon through a more structured and results-oriented approach. This shift has led to a new form of hackathon strategy, one that can bring an idea to market in just 90 days. Our Hackathon Specialist, Faateh Dhillon describes this approach — the MVP Hackathon — in more detail.

The MVP hackathon method produces concrete results. Its process unfolds in four steps, starting with a three-day hackathon. The approach minimizes time-to-market and helps to avoid many of the expenses incurred during traditional and long R&D processes. As such, investment decisions for a new product can be made quickly, at minimal cost.

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This rapid, cost-effective way to create products and services provides other benefits. For instance, it accelerates company intrapreneurship. Faateh explains that developing new products and services traditionally face a gamut of challenges from bureaucratic “blockers.” These blockers — compliance measures and multi-layered approval processes, to name a couple, can delay projects or even prevent them from launching at all. The MVP hackathon methodology frees companies from such bureaucratic limitations. It sets intrapreneurship loose because startups are essentially created internally, using the company’s very own resources, know-how, and experience. Teams get to work independently and in an agile fashion.

Additionally, the MVP process is designed to gather end-user feedback at the most important stages — during the hackathon when the concept and prototypes are being developed, and again during the market test. When it’s time to evaluate whether or not to continue the project, decision-makers are better informed. End-user feedback is just as important as the numbers.

Four steps in 90 days for outsized outcomes

Faateh explains each of the four steps of the MVP hackathon methodology.

Step 1: The three-day hackathon

Two outcomes are expected from this hackathon: a prototype of the solution and a backlog. The backlog will be passed to an external agency for the 30-day product development phase.

The MVP three-day hackathon differs from the usual hackathon, where typically 50 or more people participate and several projects emerge. At an MVP hackathon, a small group, often between 5 and 15 people, work on just one idea.

The participants are carefully selected stakeholders, each fulfilling an important purpose. A project lead is present, as well as end users who can test the solution and provide feedback. “Blockers” also attend, advising the team on issues (e.g. legal aspects, technical issues, HR) that could hamper implementation. Finally, a developer from an external development agency attends, helping to create the 30-day backlog.

“30 days is not a long time… you are constraining all of the stakeholders to just the main features that will deliver the value proposition of your product or service.”

Faateh says that to ensure the entire operation’s success, each participant must be motivated and committed to delivering their part. In such a rapid and complex operation, every moment and person counts. Choose the right people from the outset.

During the hackathon phase, it’s also important to set stakeholder expectations. All members must leave the event in agreement with every aspect of the operation and product. This avoids conflict and setbacks later on in the project.

Step 2: The 30-day external development phase

In this step, the backlog produced at the hackathon gets tackled by an external development agency over 30 days. At the end of this period, the created MVP is ready to be market tested.

Before the hackathon, it is extremely important to set a 30-day limit for creating the backlog. Doing so, as Faateh puts it, ensures “creativity through constraints”. Make sure to communicate the limit to the developers before the hackathon. This will help the team prioritize and then focus only on the main features that deliver the value proposition.

Setting a 30-day budget limit is also essential to avoid unpleasant surprises. Receiving a large quote for a longer development period would mean re-planning the entire project - an unwelcome setback indeed.

Step 3: Monetization through market testing

Now that the MVP is ready, it can be tested on the market. We set a two-month limit for this phase as that’s sufficient time to test the market waters to see how the product performs with end users. Now is the time to obtain valuable feedback from users. This is vital for understanding how the market and individual customers take to the product and what improvements can be made to it. There is little point in perfecting your product before testing it to bolster chances of market success.

Companies can conduct market tests in different ways. For instance, the MVP created to provide an internal solution could be an animated prototype tested by end users who were present at the hackathon. For internal solutions, tests would be based on these questions:

  • Are users able to easily use the product?
  • Are people getting enough value? — in other words, is the product improving current work processes and/or saving time and costs?

For B2B products or services, the test is often a simple landing page. For such external situations, companies should conduct market tests with these three questions in mind:

  • Is the landing page converting?
  • Are people able to use the product?
  • Are people getting enough value to leave their email addresses and/or pay for the service?

For most markets, Google Ads is a good tool to get traffic to landing pages for testing. The budget for ads will depend on the scale of the project but should be limited. Remember, this exercise is to simply get an idea of whether the market test gets positive results.

Based on traffic, click-through and conversion rates, this test phase gives a sufficient indication of whether the product is user-friendly or brings value to your audience. Google Analytics is a great tool to measure and monitor the performance of a landing page.

Step 4: The evaluation phase

The evaluation phase uses the findings from step three to make a decision on whether or not to invest further or abandon the project. Revenue (or time and cost savings in the case of internally oriented products) is certainly a telling sign. However, end-user feedback is also integral in the decision-making process. The team may find, for instance, that what seems to be a failed project could be saved by a simple alteration that improves user experience and boosts poor revenue.

Meanwhile, Faateh advises companies to “be prepared for the outcome!”. If the MVP hackathon project is successful, companies must then provision resources to continue the project.

Is Success Guaranteed with MVP Hackathons?

Employing the MVP hackathon strategy doesn’t mean that projects will become multi-billion dollar success stories. Yet the process itself does let companies succeed in quickly launching and testing products and services. That has made the MVP hackathon the go-to strategy for a number of companies. These companies want to avoid long internal processes and unnecessary costs, get results quickly, and use reliable information to make balanced decisions on whether they should continue or abandon a project.

One such company is Lafarge Holcim, where Jeremie Rombaut, Growth & Innovation Head, uses the MVP hackathon method. He says the success factors in using this method are:

  • “(H)aving the frontline creating… as that’s where there’s the most interaction happening with customers,” and,
  • “Sponsoring needs to come from the top.”

In Summary...

The MVP hackathon is a carefully structured and results-oriented strategy that takes hackathons to the next level.

Who should use the MVP hackathon approach?

  • Companies looking to launch a product efficiently, saving time and costs without compromising quality.
  • Companies wanting to use a more agile approach to product launch as opposed to traditional methods, which can take time due to long approval processes.

Key aspects:

  • It’s a four-step process carried out over 90 days during which companies, transform an idea for a product or service into a functional MVP and market-test it in order to make an investment decision.
  • Investment decisions are based on two equally important aspects: generated revenue and end-user feedback.
  • The MVP hackathon dramatically reduces costs and time-to-market compared with traditional R&D methods.

Main tips for successfully using the strategy:

  • Choose stakeholders carefully — motivation and commitment are key!
  • Be prepared for the outcome. Provision enough resources to meet the needs of a successful project.

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