Entrepreneurs and startup employees are often struggling with the shortage of time. Long hours of work and extremely tight deadlines take a toll on not just personal well-being of employees but also the long-term health of the business. When so much of time and resources are being spent on triage, there’s almost no time left for innovation and building new products.
This problem especially intensifies during periods of rapid customer growth as was the case with RJ Metrics. They grappled with balancing their short term objective of customer satisfaction and long term goal of innovation. They found themselves losing the status of a proactive innovation set up to the usual reactive mechanism. They knew they had to do something if they wanted to grow in the long term.
That’s when the organization turned to hackathons. They kept aside 24-hour periods every quarter to get the team working on internal projects and break barriers of innovation in every aspect. Hackathons became an integral part of their culture and and the lone disruptor of their “product road map”.
Hackathons facilitate innovation. And hence their popularity has increased and now they are being used as great hiring tools. They are incredible opportunities for programmers to meet and solve complex problems. These events are also known as hackfests or codefests.
However, organizing hackathons would require some amount of prior planning. So, let’s understand what goes into planning of hackathons.
How to go about Hackathons?
Hackathons are meant to add value for both the developers and the organization holding it. They should not turn into poorly organized events creating an unhealthy and competitive atmosphere. They should ignite positivity, strengthen the community it is being organized for, and enable the members to learn something new.
It’s important that hackathon participants are welcomed and guided properly. Hackathon participants are often confused as to where their skills fit in, in terms of the projects that the company has. As a hackathon organizer, you need to guide them through the existing projects to know where they will be able to contribute.
Besides you will need to ensure that equal opportunities are given to participants and enough space and time to perform in their comfort zone.
Before you conceptualize a hackathon, run through the following points -
Articulate your goal, theme, and audience
Make the event absolutely focussed by identifying a goal. It might be for the purpose of hiring new talent or for purely marketing reasons. Whatever be the case, identify a mission statement and align the rest of the details - the theme, speakers, sponsors, how you would promote the event and so on. Whether you wish to hire the next wave of API programmers or spread the word about your brand new tech product, it is necessary to get to know your audience.
Keep a convenient venue and date
This might seem like a subtle detail on the surface but it’s critical. The venue should be easily accessible for people to reach from outstation locations with good transportation facilities. If it’s difficult to reach, try arrange for alternative means of transportation, such as coaches to and fro local transport hubs throughout the event. Provide a full address, and if necessary, additional instructions to all attendees well in advance of the event. Fix a date carefully keeping the community in mind and make sure it does not clash with any other important event.
Cultivate efficient projects for the hackathon
Projects should not be just randomly picked. The should have the following qualities -
- Well-defined - The project given to participants must have a clearly defined problem statement and specific proposed solution.
- Feasible - Administer the goals of the projects considering the limited time that the participants would have. At the end of the event, they should emerge out of the challenge feeling that they have accomplished and learnt new things.
- Led by an expert - Always have a stakeholder or a subject matter expert mentor the project so that he/she can drive the project realistically.
Considering the networking issues, and verify that they work for the kind of capacity you are going to have. The authorities at the venue will always tell you all the things you want to hear, but always remember that your network performance is ever important. You can consider network performance as part of your contract if you are holding a commercial event.
Check all the venue requirements
Before deciding the venue, check all the intricacies. Consider the seating arrangement, power requirements, microphones and the likes. A convention centre will work for a huge organization handling millions of contacts a day while startups and SMB providers can function with a simple, clean space. Also, take care of the server hardware which will be able to attend your attendance pool. Additionally, check for projectors, HDMI cables, adapters, for a high resolution experience for your attendees.
If your event is large enough, you may need sponsors to help you manage the costs. Sponsors can be quite helpful in not just arranging for finances but also for space, food and souvenirs like t-shirts, diaries, calendars and more. However, sponsors expect that they would get some benefit out of their support for the event.
Contemplate what you want to give sponsors in exchange for their support. Besides thanking them during the opening and closing of the event, you can think about giving them a platform to speak about their product or service. You can even give them some space to display their stuff. Either ways, you’ve got to ensure they do not
Lay down your budget for the venue and food expenses so you know how much in sponsorships you need.
Hackathons help you to shape your culture. Whether you are using them for hiring or internally, they change the way you invest your time. You need to ensure that hackathons are organized properly and they are able to do justice to the kind of resources and finances you put into the event. The problems solved in hackathons can lead to impactful changes even if it means implementing a small feature that makes things easier for your customers. We would advise you to seriously consider holding hackathons and carve a whole new path to innovation for yourself.