Compared to even, say, twenty years ago, businesses function very differently now. Don’t you think? Even in India, we have long left behind the traditional ways of hiring, networking and marketing. One of the best methods to achieve any or all of these is to host hackathons. Hackathons have burst onto the scene and have created a lot of hype. From HR managers to Marketing heads and CEOs, everyone seems to love the idea of hackathons. And with good reason!
The truth is hackathons need a lot of work. You need to have a great eye for detail and work hard at every aspect. The agenda needs to be precise and you need to attract the right audience. But despite the tremendous amount of work it requires, companies still go the hackathon way because it can earn rich dividends. If you hit bull’s eye, you can walk away with great hires or a fresh, exciting perspective on your product or the marketing breakthrough you have always hoped for. Here’s how you can host a successful hackathon:
Set The Agenda
You have to be very, very clear about the goals you want to achieve with your hacking event. Internally you need to decide what the agenda is going to be and stick to it. Is it a hiring event? Or are you looking to promote a new product that you’ve launched? Or do you want to spread the word about your company’s arrival in a new market? Once you are clear about the purpose, you need to shift your focus to the problem statement. Your problem statement should reflect the purpose. If you are looking to hire, make sure you share what components the participants will be working on during the event. Our Furlencode Hack, a few months ago, was a resounding success because of the detailed, close-ended and well-thought out problem statement. You can take a look here.
If you are going for a branding exercise, then, you can leave a bit more open-ended and encourage participants to have a bit more fun with your product. For example, when Ola conducted its API Hack, it was looking to spread the word on its exciting integrations. So, the problem statement was to explore the innovativeness of API integrations. You can read all about it here.
Do think about a theme as well. It needs to be something that’s specific to the work that you do. For example: If you are a travel company, you could choose a theme that’s connected to it. Coming up with catchy names for your hack too can draw attention to the event that you are hosting.
It’s High Time
Given the enormous amounts of work that hackathons require, you would have guessed by now that they can’t happen overnight. Even the smallest of hackathons need at least four to five weeks to plan and execute. Also, you will need plenty of time to drum up buzz around the event. There’s no point if you put together a fantastic event that nobody attends, is there? So, make sure you get the word out so that you grab plenty of eyeballs and generate maximum interest.
Here’s a brief timeline you can refer to
Week 4: Set the agenda, the theme and also the brand statement (as mentioned in the section above). Also, choose a date, time, and venue for the event. Don’t forget to allocate a budget a well. Depending on whether it is a hiring event or a branding one your budget will differ (read all about in the budget section below). Ensure you get someone to sign off on the budget.
Week 3 and 2: Kickstart your campaign. Have a separate page on your forum for the challenge and share all the details of the event there. This page should be working at all times through the campaign. If potential participants complain about technical glitches, do get them solved immediately. Simultaneously, start your social media campaigns and spread the word among your database that the campaign in happening. Keep an eye on the registration and the flow coming in. If you find that response is lukewarm, step up the campaigns and try reaching out to as many people as you can.
Week 1: It’s crunch time now! Start calling candidates who have registered and sent them an RSVP mail, asking them to confirm their presence. Also, create excitement about the event among the candidates. Give them a general idea of what is going to happen and if there are any learning resources they need to look at, do share it with them. This is also the time you will shortlist the candidates if you are planning a hiring event. Also, make sure all the facilities and giveaways are ready. And get in touch with the judges and confirm their presence once again.
D-Day: Open the doors to the venue. Make sure to get their early. After all, it would be a bit embarrassing if you get after many hackers come in!
Word It Right
Communication is key when you plan a hack. Your creatives, posters, Facebook posts and Tweets will have to be very clear. You need to share all the important information about the event. The venue, the time, the duration of the hack, what the participants will have to bring along, what will you take care of, what are the prizes – you need to put information on all of this out there. To attract your target audience make sure you specify the skills you are looking for and also let them know about the task that they will have to work on during the event. For example, take a look at the communication for Ama-zing Hack that Amazon is conducting soon. It clearly mentions the kind of talent they are looking for, the purpose of the hiring event, the juicy details of the job profile, what Amazon does, and crucial details of the hack itself. Nothing is left unanswered and all the details are offered upfront – in a crisp and precise manner. This is what you should aim for.
Venue & Infrastructure
These two aspects are very important when you are planning a hackathon. While choosing a venue, make sure you pick one that is spacious and comfortable. After all, you will have a large group of people sharing the space for 24 hours or so. You will have to arrange for comfortable chairs and if it is an overnight hack, make sure you also have a few bean bags/sleeping bags in place. In terms of infrastructure, your Internet connection needs to be great! It needs to be of high-speed and glitch-free. Also, ensure that there is plenty of food and beverages to go around. Your company is not going to come off looking great if people are kept hungry or thirsty. If you run short, a representative from your company needs to be onsite to resolve the issue at the earliest. In fact, we suggest that your company mentors should be on hand throughout to help resolve any issues whether it be technical or otherwise.
This is something that you have to think about while setting the agenda itself. A hackathon need not be a glitzy affair especially if you are hiring. It needs to be conducted in the same professional environment that you would conduct interviews. So, don’t go overboard. Make a detailed list of what are the necessary items you need (food, water, venue, prizes etc) and stick to those. However, if you are planning a branding hack, it helps to loosen up the purse strings. It needs to be an impressive showcase of your company and its products. So, be generous without being extravagant.
For a branding exercise, the prizes are very important. The idea is to grab as many eyeballs as you can. So, don’t skimp on the budget for the grand prize! On the other hand, if it is a hiring event, the prizes need to be kept to the minimal. You want people to come in for the job and not for the prizes. The big prize should be the job itself and nothing should take away attention from that.
Rope In The Judges
After you have set the agenda and crafted the challenge, your immediate task is to set up a panel of judges. Make an extra effort here. If you rope in someone who is widely-known and is regarded as an expert in the field, then, this too is an incentive for developers to walk in. The fact that if they win, they will be recognised by leaders in the industry can be an enticing prospect for many developers. Make a list of potential judges (add a few extra names because not everyone will be available for your event) and start approaching them as soon as you have fixed the date of the event.
Say Thank You!
Once the dust has settled on the successful event, don’t forget the people who made the event successful – the participants. Send every participant a ‘Thank You’ mail. Do acknowledge them for taking time out to participate in the event and for making it such a hit.