By Genify on 13/03/2023, 21:22:19
Some events in life occur when we least expect them: in early August this year, while one of our co-founders was scrolling through his LinkedIn feed, he stumbled across a post by “FinTech Galaxy” urging fintech start-ups across the world to participate in their 7-day hackathons. For those not familiar with “hackathons”, you can think of them as challenges posted by (typically) large institutions who are looking for innovative ideas to internal problems that are offered by external entities — typically start-ups.
Fintech Galaxy listed 4 hackathons on their platform & Genify immediately pounced on the opportunity to participate in the “Yalla Fintech 2020” event during the week of August 31 — September 6:
Of these 4 hackathons, the 2 most appealing ones to us were the following:
1. MINT’s “Digital Lending & Credit Scoring for Non-Clients” Hackathon with the goal of coming up with a technology-based product that allows the “unbanked” in Egypt to potentially gain access to credit financing
2. Banque Saudi Fransi’s “Personal Finance Management” hackathon on how to leverage digital tools (social media, artificial intelligence, big data, etc.) to enhance Saudi-based individuals’ savings rate
Fast forward to 9.30 PM EEST on the 6th of September, Genify was nominated as winner in both hackathons:
The hackathon wins opened up doors to us as partnerships with EGBank, Banque Saudi Fransi, Oracle, and Fintech Galaxy. The end goal? To develop our products & deploy them in their respective markets (Egypt & Saudi Arabia) by the start of 2021. More on this in a later blog 😉
Winning these hackathons was all the more satisfying for us because of some of the challenges we had to overcome in order to do so. In fact, we had to face challenges that were logistical (team spread across 4 different time zones), positional (first time exploring the Egyptian & Saudi markets while being abroad) and strategic (the team had to narrow down the broad problem statements listed by the hackathons in order to better understand what solutions to offer) in nature.
At the same time, we knew that we had all the right ingredients to succeed: expertise in machine learning with some of our members coming straight from top AI hubs, deep roots in management consulting with strict adherence to its tested-and-proven collaboration methodology, high seniority of technology team (6+ years of experience for some of our developers), and finally overlap between our suggested hackathon solutions and our existing product suite. All that was missing was a coherent recipe to get the best out of these ingredients.
To this extent, the purpose of this blog is to answer 1 question that we have received frequently in the past few days: What was this recipe that enabled your team to participate in and win these 2 hackathons?
There are so many factors that come into play whenever a winner needs to be selected in a hackathon (or any other competition for that matter). We all know that one of the biggest factors is “luck”; however, to minimize our dependency on this, our team decided to strictly adopt 7 fundamental principles before, during, and after the hackathon.
These principles are as follow:
1- Prepare yourself as you would before any major competition
In order to succeed in any event (competition, pitch-off, etc.), a lot of preparatory work needs to put in by any participant that is aiming to win. We, at Genify, like to define our “prep work” as all work performed ahead of a major event with the purpose of building internal confidence on all aspects (business model, technology, etc.). For instance, before the hackathon, we conducted 2 calls with a Saudi-based consultant and an Egyptian banker to better understand the market trends in both these Arab nations. In another instance of “prep work”, we researched the background of the judges, mentors, and organizers of the event just to familiarize ourselves with the people whom we were going to deal with throughout the events.
2- Stick to a clear schedule & secure all of your team’s buy-in
An internal pact was made between the 5 team members in order to tackle the whole “time zone” issue. We all committed to dedicate the full 7 days for these 2 hackathons & to have 3 calls — morning, mid-day & early night check-ins — for constant updates on our progress throughout. This ensured that the team was in sync at all times!
3- Leverage external support to the extent possible
One of the greatest features of these hackathons was that we got paired up with highly capable mentors, and we made sure to leverage their expertise throughout the week. We consistently discussed our ideas and technology stack with them both, and we even pitched our final decks to them 1 day before the actual “demo” day.
4- Remain agile & be prepared to iterate multiple times
While our pre-hackathon prep work was robust and thoroughly researched, the products that we originally suggested were far from their final versions! Feedback from mentors, unexpected insights from research (e.g. the higher popularity of Twitter and Snapchat amongst Saudis vs. our focus on Facebook as a main platform for KSA nationals), and advice from hackathon participants/guests pushed us to consistently re-think what we were offering until the final versions were strong enough to meet the panels “feasibility” & “creativity” criteria. In fact, approximately 72 hours into the BSF hackathon, we had to scrap an entire social media-based prototype in favor of another platform!
5- Focus on the quality of your output not on the quantity
While this principle might sound a bit cliché, it was a key differentiating factor with regards to the quality of our output for the MINT hackathon. 7 days were not enough for us to deliver what we initially aimed to present on demo day, so we decided to focus on 2 pieces (a final presentation, and a “Typeform” front-end web application) instead of 3 (omission of planned back-end prototype).
6- Double down on your strengths to convince your audience
Reducing the number of outputs put the onus on us to showcase our technical capabilities during the hackathons. Our suggested technology stack and our prototypes had to be extremely robust otherwise we stood no chance of winning! We doubled down on our technological capabilities (e.g. Figma demo for BSF hackathon, alternative credit scoring model for MINT hackathon, etc.), and once we delivered on our promises, we were able to convince the panel that we are not only capable of delivering within a limited timeframe but we are also capable of achieving the grand vision that we set forth for our products in the long-term.
7- Understand your target audience’s mindset
When preparing for demo day, we had to understand who the judges in the panel were and what they were looking for from the participants. For example, for Banque Saudi Fransi’s hackathon, the panel was composed of individuals with illustrious banking careers that were looking to move away from traditional methods and more into “out-of-the-box” financial products. If our suggested solution covered that aspect, then we knew that we were in for a good ride! 😉
These are the key principles we followed. There are plenty of other tips and tricks that we also leveraged during the 7 hackathon days, but we ultimately believe that what we listed above put us on the right track and took us to the finish line.
We truly think that the solutions we suggested will impact the MENA region’s fintech space in the upcoming years: we expect to tackle the “financial inclusion” issue in Egypt through alternative data points that the unbanked population can choose to share (or not!), and we also believe that social media activity will be linked to banking activity in KSA , thus boosting this nation’s overall savings rate!
Finally, we would like to thank all of the great institutions that were behind this successful event:
1- Fintech Galaxy (organizers): https://www.linkedin.com/company/fintechgalaxy
2- Banque Saudi Fransi: https://www.linkedin.com/company/banque-saudi-fransi/
On this note, we bid you farewell, and you can expect to hear more from us soon!