How to Build a Product in 8 hours at Violet Hacks

2018-11-10 · Creativity >> hackathon

Last week I took part in the inaugural Violet Hacks hosted by The Violet Society. Our team won second place! To me, the complementary skills and aligned team mission led to our success. I took away a lot from the experience, and would like to share these 5 tips for future hackathon participants.

1. Scope idea to time frame To ensure fairness, one of the hackathon rules was that the idea had to be brand new. My friends know that I have an endless stream of ideas, ranging from knock-off Shark Tank to moonshot. Given the time constraint, I narrowed the range to those that I can visualize prototyped in 8 hours. As we further evolved the idea, we made sure to focus on only the most impactful attributes (more on that in tip #3.) This scoping paid off! While product attributes (i.e. impact, design, originality) were the main judging criteria, we also won a judge’s favorite because of our technical progress.

2. Rally a like-minded, well-rounded team I pitched a broad physician-patient communication tool. This rallied a few others who also wanted to create a healthcare product, and merged our ideas together. We each brought different expertise, including product management, UI, and data engineering. Moreover, we all had worked in different arenas of healthcare, and were focused on helping our users take charge of their wellness.

3. Focus on the problem, not the solution We spent the better part of the first hour or two defining the problem. Through this exercise, we were able to narrow down to 2 key product attributes. It was tempting to jump into problem-solving mode, but understanding what our collective focus was time well spent.

4. Split the work but check in often: Once we defined the problem, we set out to work on the pitch deck, opting to split the work based on our expertise. But, we made sure to check in every half hour or so to see if we still agreed on the original problem and solution. It was natural for us to “drift” our ideas as we started building, and we had to course-correct a few times to stay aligned.

5. Polish the delivery, not the deck: We spent most of our time working on the product, and ran out of time for practicing the pitch. In retrospect, we should have pencils-down earlier, and streamlined our pitch, since we were only given 4 minutes. This was definitely a hard-earned lesson, and one I’ll be sure to apply for the next hackathon.

These are the top 5 things I’ve learned, but there’s a lot more I’m still simmering on. I would love to know what other Violet Hacks participants would do the same, or differently next time. Let me know @christintweets! Shout out to Team Jenny, Joeun, Sophia, and Yuhong for bringing their A-game to the table!

Originally published at on November 10, 2018.