I Survived Protohack

Pitching to the JudgesMy team and I doing our 90-second pitch!

I’m not going to lie: I’ve always felt intimidated to participate in a Hackathon.

All those smart, savvy, competitive minds battling it out in a cut-throat environment to quickly code up and release a product in 12-hours? I stepped away from being a code-monkey years ago and I certainly don’t fit into a visual designer role – who had time to work with UX person in such a stressful environment? That being said, I felt a sense of admiration of my friends who had pulled of a hackathon, so when I got an heads up about Protohack from @LadiesThatUXNYC, I finally felt that this would be the perfect opportunity to bring out the inner entrepreneur and do a hackathon without the intimidation.

What is a Protohack? The only code-free hackathon for non-technical entrepreneurs. A jam​-​packe​d 12-hour​ ​hackathon … to pitch your idea in front of investors, developers, product people, and more. Walk away with a prototype, pitch, and awesome prizes to take your product to the next level all without writing a single line of code.

Getting the party started! Sort of…

I arrived at 9:30 AM, and was expecting to walk into some sort of ice-breaking event, or at least some sort of way for people to meet each other and share their ideas, but instead everyone was sitting at a table and appeared to have already made teams. Not entirely sure what to do, I grabbed an empty seat. I scanned the room and recognized one girl from a previous LadiesThatUX Meetup, and quickly made my move (I wanted to work with a team, after all!). I was able to join her team, and the day just got better from then on.

Keynote Speaker: 

Bradford on stage

As founder & CEO of  founder of  Brad definitely has an impressive portfolio along with plenty of experiences to talk about.

As a keynote speaker, apart making people who asked him a question yell out their “spirit animal”, he shed light on the deep struggles but also joyous moments of living the start-up life. A few of my favorite quotes include:

  1. I’m going to fucking fail today and I’m going to fail fabulously.
  2. If you do it and fail, it’s better than not doing it at all.
  3. You are not going to be successful unless you really believe that what you will do will change the world and it means something to you.


After lunch was served, it was time to get busy. My team hashed out our idea, started researching for user validation, and pieced together our business model. I focused my energy on getting our wireframes together. Protohack offers each team the opportunity to book a design and pitching mentor for 15 minutes each, so we took advantage of that and got some great tips from designer Nick Spriggs and pitching tips from Stacee Mandeville. Time was slipping through our fingers, and at 7:45, we wrapped up cramming our Google Slideshare deck together and submitted it away. I found it odd that we could still edit the deck once pitches started going since it was a Google Doc, but it didn’t matter to us since we were the third ones to pitch. In any case , once 8 PM struck, the judges were introduced and the ball got rolling!

Judges Table @valishagraves @zschwarz @idealexit @jcness

It’s already been 90-seconds??


Dinner (they had veggie options, including delicious truffle fries)

90-seconds flew by, and nearly all of the teams had trouble keeping their pitch under the time limit . To work on an idea all day and to sum it up successfully in 90-seconds was probably the hardest challenge our team had – but hey, lesson learned! A 30-second warning would have been helpful. Our team used a self-timer, though that may have been more distracting than helpful.

Nonetheless, we ended our presentation with a bang, and proudly walked off the stage to tune into the other presentations. There were definitely some great ones and you could tell which ones had practiced their pitch.

After everyone had pitched their idea, the top 5 highest-scoring teams were asked to return to the stage to endure a 5-minute grill from the judges. I noted that the majority of the finalists had been able to pitch their concept, prototype, and business model within the allotted time.

Top 3 Tips for Future Protohackers

  1. Don’t be shy when you arrive! Until Protohack facilitates the introductions, it’s up to you to be social and find a team you want to work with.
  2. It’s all about the pitch. In the end, if you don’t present your idea well to the judges WITHIN 90 seconds, all that hard work you did during the day won’t shine through.
  3. Learn as much as you can – make sure to catch the breakout sessions and keynote speaker. The competition lasts one day, but the knowledge and tips you learn stay with you much longer.

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