How to Organize a Hackathon?

So you want to run your own Hackathon? Great! Hackathons are a good way to meet and exchange ideas with fellow developers and creative team. They provide attendees with a boot camp style of learning and making something in just a few hours or days. They also push people out of their comfort zones so it can be a great method of getting people to work on different projects or with new technologies and programming languages. However, these events take a significant amount of planning and preparation in order to be successful. We’ve run many similar events for developers over the years and here are our tips for organizing your own Hackathon:

Pick An Inspiring Theme

There are plenty of events for developers. Pick an interesting theme for your Hackathon to help your event stand out and improve attendance.

It could be a community event based around a specific language or tool. A corporate event for an API or product. Perhaps an internal event to encourage innovation (Facebook’s Like button was first demoed at their own internal Hackathon). Or maybe one based around some special interest topic, such as a charitable cause or a hot topic. Whatever it is, it’s worth investing the time to come up with a creative spin that sets it apart from the others.

Set Event Goals and Define Success

Having a clear idea of what you want to get out of your event will allow you to focus on what matters. You might define success with the number of attendees, submissions or press mentions but identify your conversion criteria upfront to simplify the planning process.

Work Out Who You Need to Involve

Knowing your goals will help you begin to understand the scale of your event and what you need to focus on. If it’s maximizing the attendees, then you’ll want to go big. Big often means expensive and you may want to get sponsors involved to cover some of the costs if not all. If the Hackathon has a competitive edge, then that means hosting judges on duty. Maximizing submissions? Then you might want to think about offering prizes. Doing it for the coverage? Then start reaching out to your media contacts early.

Hackathons also have a lot of tiny details need to be taken care of and often all at the same time. Since you can only be in one place at once, you’re going to need assistance. You’ll need an MC to keep things organized and the event flowing. Then there are reception people in front of the doors to get attendees registered. To get the most value out of your event, you should consider recording it and taking lots of pictures so perhaps a photographer or at least a friend/colleague or two. You know the ones with the fancy cameras that they carry with them everywhere they go? If you’re doing demos, then you’ll also need people to help with the A/V equipment and be on hand to offer tech support. Make assisting people clear and visible on the day of the event with colored t-shirts.

Choose a Date and Time That Works

You need to pick a date and time that will work for your crowd. Make sure you spare enough time to plan it all and consider the day of the week that will maximize the attendance.

For work-based Hackathons around a product or service, weekday events are OK. You’ll need to provide long enough notice for attendees to get approval for the time out of the office. Also, stick to typical office hours like 9 to 5. For other types of events, weekends are better, especially for longer events. Weekday evenings, straight after work, can work well for shorter events – just remember to keep the drinks flowing.

Before you settle on your date, check out event sites like Eventbrite, Meetup and Lanyrd to rule out clashes with other events. Starting 8-10 weeks in advance is usually about right and remember to at least send out a ‘save the date’ blog post or mail once you’ve picked it.

Find An Awesome Venue

This will probably be your biggest expense but it’s not where you want to try to save money. Location can be a key factor for attendees when deciding whether to come or not. It needs to be a convenient location with easy parking, big enough for all the attendees and have the facilities to support them. That means enough space, WiFi and power. If your event runs overnight, then you’ll also need accommodation for people, blankets, stuff to lie on and maybe showers.

Make it as easy as possible for people to get there. Provide comprehensive directions, maps and transportation details. Don’t forget to spell out what to do once they get there too – signing up at the reception, how to get through the security and more. Print big signs to guide people.

Get the Kit

You’ll need A/V equipment like projectors for simultaneous sessions and microphone for slides and demos of applications. Make sure to test it ahead of time. The first time you set it up shouldn’t be the day of the Hackathon.

It’s often easier for attendees to present on their own hardware. Yet, you need to allow a quick turnaround between presenters. To save some time, have a couple of stations connected to the projector ready. This way, while one team is presenting, the next one can be set up.

If you’re filming the event, and you should, then, you need camera equipment. Unless it’s going to be a regular thing, you may want to hire the equipment or a photographer/videographer who already has it.

Get your swag on. Have a bunch of t-shirts available for giveaways and thank yous. Whatever design you come up with, make sure it doesn’t have a date on it. If it does, that means you can’t re-use any leftovers later on.

Have plenty of spare cables, USB drives, socket adapters and extenders available. Cover all connection types – Thunderbolt, DisplayPort, VGA etc.

Have Killer WiFi

This is super important but like at many hotels, WiFi sucks at a surprising number of event venues. Check this out before deciding on the venue and make sure the venue knows how important this is for you. Better yet, pick a venue where the WiFi has been thoroughly battle-tested by previous dev-related events. Make sure the venue has plenty of power sockets too. You want approximately 1.5 per attendee to cover all the laptops, tablets, phones and personal electronic devices.

Get More Than Enough Food and Drink

Don’t skimp on the food and drink. Nothing sends people home quicker than being hungry or thirsty. Have a large variety – it can’t be all Red Bulls and Oreos. So include soft drinks, tea, coffee, water and juice to your drink menu. Arrange breakfast, lunch and dinner. Have snacks available whenever people want them and include both healthy and junk food options. No matter what you do, don’t run out! If necessary, make trips to the local shops if you’re getting short during the event. You always want to end up with too much than risk having too little.

Communicate About the Event Regularly

Blog regularly before and after the event. Hit up any press contacts and influencers that you know to spread the word on Twitter and other channels. Keep in regular contact with your prospect registrants – once people know about it, you want to make sure it stays on their radar. To help you with this communication, set up a dedicated mailing list. Drip out information like venue confirmation, sponsors, judges and guests. Remember to follow up after the event as this is a good way to keep the mailing list fresh and ready for your next event.

You also want to set up a dedicated web page or site for the event which collects all the key data (date, location etc). For registration, don’t re-invent the wheel, just use Eventbrite, Meetup or similar.

Have Fun

Once it’s all over, remember that it was, in fact, a ton of fun and start prepping for the next one.