5 Things I Learned from Winning a Hackathon

Our hackathon attendees are on a serious roll. This year’s AngelHack winners have all surprised and delighted our judges. We’re asking our winners what they did to win the hackathon, and we’re passing on their knowledge to you, so you can win the hackathon some day!

Last time, we walked you through how Peppermint, our San Francisco winners, won the competition. This time, we sat down with Priya Dandawate, part of our AngelHack Seattle winning team. Priya’s hack is Vera, which will offer personalized hair and beauty styles at different price levels.

So how did Vera stand out amongst the 140 attendees and 30 teams in Seattle? Check out Priya’s key takeaways from winning the competition.

1) Don’t Wait – Seize the Moment

At first, Priya wasn’t going to pitch Vera. But after hearing the keynote speech from Jane Park (CEO of Julep), she was inspired, and pitched Vera as an idea. Clearly, it resonated, as Priya soon had a team, ready to go.

“Two pieces from that speech stood up to me: first, there is no sign from God, you shouldn’t wait for it, seize the moment,” said Priya. “The other one is that there’s no real concept of luck. It’s just preparation, and then you’re at the right place at the right time.”

In other words, you have to go out there and throw your idea against the world.

2) Good Teams Make Good Apps

Ultimately, your product is a reflection of your team. If you have a cohesive, dynamic and invested team, you will create a far more superior product than your competitors. And when it comes down to crunch time, everybody may be sweating, but they’ll keep their cool, keep their calm, and continue to build.

Ultimately, any of the Seattle teams could’ve won first place. But Vera’s entire team was so clearly enthusiastic and invested, with incredibly strong leadership, that they were able to break through the “noise” of all the other teams and blow the judges away.

“I think that’s what made it such a shared victory,” Priya said. “Part of our success was that people felt they were part of a team. With other teams, I realized they weren’t coming together. It didn’t seem like everybody had a voice.”

3) Good Code Is Not Enough

So now that you’ve got a great team in place, how do you influence people you just met a few minutes ago? For Priya – who’s traveled a lot and been placed in uncomfortable situations – it’s all about emotional intelligence.

“I’ve relied on my emotional intelligence to help me navigate through someone’s intent, rather than what they were actually saying. Many times, they’re different from each other,” she said. “If you understand people’s true messages, you can make sure people are aligned.”

Without Priya’s developing those skills, Vera might not have been able to win such an ambitious project. It also ties into the previous takeaway about team cohesiveness, and keeping everyone together – which other teams were missing.

Bottom line: being a good coder is not enough. You must be able to make your team fly in formation. Priya herself told us, very clearly, that “the soft skills are how you deliver on something great.”

4) Little Details Make a Big Difference

Priya was able to stake out some private space for her team to build Vera. While “space” can seem like a minute, even trivial, detail to fret about, she knew it was critical to her team’s dynamic, and helping the team flow better.

“I think space played a key role in us being as successful as we were,” she said. “I know that we really needed to get privacy, as well as an area where we had space. We had so much energy in that room. Much more than the team could’ve displayed in an open environment.”

So don’t neglect the details, no matter how small they seem. They could make the difference between going big, or going home.

5) The Pitch is Everything

Priya’s biggest takeaway? It all comes down to the pitch. “The only thing that the judges will remember the most is your pitch,” she said. “More than the demo, it’s the impression you leave on them.”

So how do you pitch like a pro? By applying basic marketing principles: start by knowing your audience (the judges), and what you need from your audience (declaring you the winner). Then, tailor your message to the audience.

“Go into a room, by yourself, and practice over and over again,” Priya said. “That’s what I did for 1 to 2 hours. It helps you prepare and practice.”

The result? Not only did Vera win, but the judges were floored, saying it was one of the best pitches they’d ever heard.

What’s Next?

As grand prize winners, the Vera team will be inducted into our HACKcelerator program this summer. For 12 weeks, we’ll take them from idea to full-fledged startup, which they’ll get to pitch in front of Silicon Valley investors and media. Vera has the potential to go very far, and we’re thrilled to help them continue to grow and succeed.

“Once I got onto the session, I realized how big this opportunity was. Actual mentorship that can become of this – we could gain some real momentum. And now, HACKcelerator will provide us with the right environment for success,” Priya said. “The whole event inspired me. It was about keeping that energy and building something really beautiful.”

You might have the next winning idea in your head. But you’ll never know unless you put yourself out there. Sign up for an AngelHack event in your city – it could be your shot at glory.