Five years ago I attended my first Hackathon as a sponsor, it was in London and I represented my company with pride. It did not go well. Not even one team worked with our SDK and we went home empty handed. I did not know a lot then about the Hackathons industry but as time went by and Hackathons kept piling up I learned many things.
First note, there are two reasons why sponsors are sponsoring Hackathons: (1) get attention. show the developers community that other developers are actually using the tech (usually an SDK). It is a marketing opportunity to show it can be done and lure them in. (2) Test and feedback. A Hackathon is a playing ground to try wild ideas and fail. Companies get to work closely with teams on a 48 hours race to achieve a goal and utilize their SDK/API while doing so. they see reactions, get feedback and recommendations. For a software or hardware company, it’s Gold.
So what did I learn from being a sponsor from a small struggling software startup:
- It’s an industry – It’s no longer a few geeks coming together on the weekend or even one company’s initiative. There are actual companies that run only on Hackathon fuel. The biggest one is AngelHack and they work all over the world with the biggest sponsors (Amazon, Paypal, Google, and others)
- It’s happening mostly on weekends – This is because people work throughout the week. So, for the weekend they come to create products with people that they may or may not know. For a person with a family, it can be problematic to be gone for the full weekend (48-72 hours) but that’s the Hack life.
- Themes Suck – Stay away from theme-based hackathons if you can. It’s hard enough coming up with ideas for products, it’s much harder doing so with restrictions such as fashion/healthcare/children/environment-only themes.
- Developers are not suckers but they appreciate attention – Many sponsors come on the first day, give a talk and some details and leave. The next time the teams will see them is at the end of the event, to give an award or a word on stage. Don’t be like that. Team highly appreciate sponsors that stay until late hours at their desk to be available for questions and arrive the next morning. It’s a great assurance that they will not abandon your tech. Also, when you’re the only sponsor there you create connections that get you closer, something that will play to your benefit after the event.
- The big players are taking over – Now that big players know that there’s opportunity in Hackathons, they flock over. With Developer Relations crews with unlimited swag and high prizes that spoil developers, it is difficult to compete as a small startup or company. What you can do is offer your own value, that is not necessarily given by cash – glory speaks tons and gadgets, early access and assistance also work well.
- Go Small – Although there are big hackathon players and they are bombarded by big corporate players, there’s still blue ocean waiting to be taken. There are lots of small hackathon events running in small cities and college towns that would love a sponsor. Find them through Meetup.com or Hackathon.io.
- Don’t let the opportunity go to waste – If you joined a Hackathon as a sponsor, you’ll need to utilize every minute for current and future marketing. Such as:
- profiles on those who are using your tech
- behind the scenes
- list of ideas that never came to life
- content writing
- git hub upload approvals
- developer community interviews
- and so on and so forth
- Keep in touch – Part of building the community and continuing the work is sustaining the relationship. Also, and on a higher note, there’s sometimes a chance of taking the prototype product done in the event to a full-fledged product. It’s a long shot but it happens, and maintaining a relationship with the team following the Hackathon is a great way to make sure of that if there’s a possibility.
Following a few East Coast Hackathons and keeping in touch with the teams we were able to arrange our own “control room” at the GDC 2015 conference, and bring teams to code, network and talk to other developers about coding with our tech. A wonderful photo-op and social media buster.
Bottom line, Hackathons are an amazing way to penetrate the developers’ community. But don’t be fooled, it takes resources – time and money. Make sure the deliveries are worth it.