Neal Chopra
Neal Chopra
March 22, 2024

Turning a hackathon project into a startup

A hackathon is essentially just the early days of a startup—and if you approach it with the right mindset, it can be the launchpad for turning your innovative idea into a world-changing business.

Turning a hackathon project into a startup

Why am I telling you this?

Last summer, I hosted the largest education-themed youth hackathon in 2023—DualHacks. 

Over 500 participants from 30 countries came together over three days to build a solution to an educational problem. The hackathon featured over $200,000 in prizes from high-level corporate sponsors like Amazon and GitHub, as well as judges from Google and other top firms. 

As one of the judges, I explored over 65 projects that spanned from an app that uses AI to elevate language learning through custom prompts and video exercises, to a Chrome extension that controls speech speed and provides live transcripts for better lecture comprehension.

Some of the awesome projects from DualHacks!

The biggest thing I learned from looking through these projects is that almost every project created in these three days could be turned into a full startup.

Hackathons = The early days of a startup

Which made me wonder—why aren’t more people treating the early days of their startup like a hackathon?

Think about it—during a hackathon, you're laser-focused on building a minimum viable product (MVP) and validating your idea as quickly as possible. You don't have time to get bogged down in the details or second-guess yourself. You just have to build, test, and iterate.

And that's exactly what you should be doing in the early days of your startup. Instead of trying to create the perfect product right out of the gate, focus on getting something—anything—into the hands of your users as quickly as possible. See what resonates, what doesn't, and use that feedback to guide your next steps.

At Codin, we took this approach when we first started building our platform. We knew we wanted to create a tool that made it easier for developers to collaborate and share code snippets, but we didn't have all the answers. So, we did what any scrappy startup would do—we hacked together an MVP in just five days.

Was it pretty? No. Was it perfect? Far from it. But it allowed us to test our assumptions, get feedback from real users, and start iterating on our product. And that's what ultimately led us to the platform we have today.

The not-so-good looking MVP home screen.

The truth is, some of the most successful companies in the world were born out of hackathons. Twitter, for example, started as a side project during a company-wide hackathon at Odeo. And Zapier, the popular automation tool, was built in just 48 hours during a Startup Weekend event.

So, if you're working on a startup idea, my advice is this: treat it like a hackathon. Give yourself a tight deadline, focus on building an MVP, and don't be afraid to put something imperfect out into the world. You might be surprised at how much you can learn and accomplish in just a few days.

Turn your project into a startup (the actual advice you're here for)

And if you're not sure how to continue on with your project after the hackathon ends, here are a few tips:

  1. Keep the momentum going. Schedule regular check-ins with your team, set goals, and hold each other accountable.
  2. Seek out feedback from mentors, advisors, and potential customers. Use their insights to refine your product and your pitch. If you won the hackathon, talk with the judges and ask them why they chose your product! You’ll learn so much just from a 10-15 minute conversation. And if they like your idea enough, you might even be able to get them on board as an advisor!
  3. Start thinking about your go-to-market strategy. How will you acquire customers? What's your pricing model? What's your unique value proposition?
  4. Don't be afraid to pivot. If something isn't working, be willing to change course and try something new. 
  5. Focus on building a strong team. Surround yourself with people who share your vision and complement your skills. A great team can make all the difference when it comes to turning your hackathon project into a successful startup.
  6. Take advantage of startup resources and programs. There are tons of accelerators, incubators, and mentorship programs out there designed to help early-stage startups succeed. Do your research and find the ones that are the best fit for your team and your product.
  7. Don't neglect the business side of things. While it's important to focus on building a great product, you also need to think about the financial and legal aspects of running a startup. Make sure you have a solid business plan, a clear understanding of your burn rate, and the necessary legal documents in place.
  8. Celebrate your wins along the way. Building a startup is a long and challenging journey, so it's important to take time to recognize and celebrate your successes, no matter how small they may seem.

Remember, building a successful startup is a marathon, not a sprint. But by treating the early days like a hackathon, you'll be able to move quickly, validate your ideas, and set yourself up for long-term success.

Hopefully this helped you in some way. The team at Codin is going to be hosting a hackathon in the summer, so stay tuned!

Neal Chopra

Neal Chopra

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