Why business hackathons?

    Hackathon is not only about pitches, matches, features and free pizzas. This is a serious tool for developing a business, presenting it in a specialized environment, generating new contacts. Moreover, the hackathon itself requires an adult approach to organization. If we treat it as a business tool, then we need to conduct it methodically.

    And this post was born: to tell what a hackathon is “from within”, how the organizers see it, what goals they pursue, how the audience is gradually being brought up and the philosophy of such events is being developed. I’ll explain not even on the fingers, but on the hares and on the example of the series of HackDay hackathons we are conducting.

    Hackathon and hare

    In 2009, one HackDay cost 80 kilo rubles, the budget of the event today is 400 kilo rubles and higher. Expensive. And yet they continue to be held with enviable regularity. What for?

    When a hackathon is launched, and especially a series of hackathons, a company can kill three birds with one stone in a spherical vacuum (the birds are in the decreasing order of statistical probability of their occurrence):

    1. PR hare. Yes, a hackathon will significantly increase brand awareness among a specialized audience. Press and post releases, social networks, blog posts and other delights of Internet promotion - all this necessarily accompanies any hackathon.
    2. HR-hare. Yes, you can find sensible and promising specialists at the hackathon. For example, we are outsourcing the development of technically complex startups, and the hackathon audience is quite suitable for us.
    3. B2B hare. Yes, you can find smart and budding customers at the hackathon. At first, you need to be prepared for the fact that none of the requests will turn into an order, but this is not a cause for gloom: the process of selling technological services is always long and difficult.

    Over the five years of HackDay's existence, we, as hare hunters, have suffered many successes and failures. Now HackDay is a series of "weekend work" events that are held at intervals of one and a half months in different cities. The extreme geographical points are Novosibirsk, Kaliningrad, St. Petersburg and Almaty.

    We went to this format for several years, but at first we could not get into at least one hare.

    Why were the sights shot down?

    1. Our experiments with topics. After the first hackathon in 2009, we received a stream of requests for studio services, which stopped ten days after the end of HackDay. None of them turned into an order, and we decided to go by the district route: we made a Cinema-HackDay. The event was inspiring, but ate a lot of resources and did not give the expected number of responses. And HackDay, planned as a musical, failed miserably. And failed just for the second reason.
    2. Gagging co-organizers. Initially, the local co-organizers were idealists and enthusiasts. These are wonderful human qualities, but they are not enough for methodical work. A large number of co-organizers of the failed musical HackDay did almost nothing of the promise, and the event was canceled a week before the deadline. And HackDay, like any business project, requires consistency and consistency.
    3. Gouging participants. Among the hackathon audience, there are extremely few people who perceive their project as a business and take team building seriously. In all cities, young people with burning eyes come to the site, light up on pitches, and then disappear along with their projects and beautiful names. All these guys are usually very young, and only a few manage to get out.

    The main problem is the understanding that something needs to be done, not backed up by the understanding that the code is not yet a business. We also did not have an understanding that holding a hackathon was not just finding a site and running geeks there. Back in 2009, there were no experts who could tell the guys (especially not in Moscow and St. Petersburg) that business is not only a website on the Internet, but persistent, bitch, work. And then no one could tell us how to make a hackathon profitable, consistently killing all three birds with one stone. And now, when there is experience, we can tell about it ourselves.

    How did we kill the hares?

    1. Changed the model of interaction with co-organizers. Having gained life experience, we began to take business incubators or IT companies and studios that needed public relations services to local organizers. The sponsor-partner model allows you to receive part of the money from sponsors, and part of the costs to shift to the shoulders of partners. Sponsors may be interested in HR opportunities, a range of projects for investment, and the promotion of their products and services. Partners are often government organizations - business incubators, embassies.
    2. Hackathon turned into a brand. Under the HackDay brand, we launched a school with short-term paid courses in programming, marketing, sales, and interface design. Part of the proceeds from this school goes to HackDay.
    3. Paid format. To cut off the idlers, we decided to make the hackathon paid. Surprisingly, the threshold of 500-800 rubles significantly increased the quality of the audience: really those who are motivated to work and create a product come. And in the first year we received a lot of angry letters with indignation and complaints about the high cost. The cost of entering the hackathon does not cover half the cost of a participant’s food, but a decent number of unfortunate businessmen fall off at the time of payment.
    4. Tracking projects. We began to actively monitor projects since 2013. This allowed at least to collect statistics and analyze their own progress. Say, now we know that in 2013, of the hundreds of developed projects, about twenty continue to live and develop; three projects received small angel investments. Considering that over 50 projects have been developed over five years, we already know that the survival rate has become higher.
    5. Mentoring sessions. With the advent of successful projects on the market, it became clear that their experience should be taken and transferred to projects at the idea stage. We began to invite employees and founders of such projects. A mentoring session is a consultation of project authors with experts. Unfortunately, still many do not find communication with mentors useful. Yes, there are unique people who do not need outside help, but there are no more than one for an event. Others will wander for a long time on their own in search of the right solution, and are likely to die after the development of the prototype.
    6. Strict organizational regulations. Now HackDay works according to the clear rules of the organization, which are painted in the official position of 50 sheets. This is the healthy level of bureaucracy that any business process needs. Previously, HackDay was, like the entire market, flexible and creative. Now it is a system that gives certain results.

    These six moves have greatly enhanced the survival of projects. Previously, literally a few survived, but now we can talk about the fact that after the event for half a year, half has been working and living. We do not know how long and how successfully, but compared to what happened several years ago, this is a real breakthrough.

    We went this way before we brought the event to its current level. In order to get the benefits described above from the hackathon, you need to constantly increase the level of organization and projects, otherwise the advantages of the organization will turn into minuses.

    In future articles, we will talk more about the HackDay interior kitchen and its work in conjunction with the studio.

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