I was the lead executive on the Bayview Hackathon Team. We just finished hosting our first event, and it was a blast. The preparation for the hackathon was around 3–4 months, including planning, organizing, advertising and procrastination. In comparison, the actual event was a lot shorter, only 3 days, but without the preparation, we would have failed miserably. The actual event might not be a huge success for a large corporation, but it was a huge success for just a group of 5 students 2 years into high school. We handed out $340 in cash prizes and other prizes valued at over $600. We had over 47 participants from over 6 different countries and more than 9 submissions. I will tell the story of this hackathon from the beginning to the end from an exec’s point of view.
The idea came to another executive and me during one of our history class work periods. We were just working on a project when we both got the idea that we should do something to help give back to the community. We wanted to host a hackathon. He convinced two other friends to get together, and I brought one of my friends along. We five got together and started working. The beginning was quite awkward. Despite going to the same school, we didn’t really know each other well, but still, we managed to make it work. Any good project starts with the idea. We already had an idea for hosting a hackathon, but we are still missing the prompt. We decided to look beyond coding and explored real-world relevant issues at the time. We chose the pandemic. It’s quite an obvious choice, the largest problem everyone was facing at the time was the pandemic. We were all stuck at home, away from jobs and schools, and feared for our lives. The front-line healthcare workers are struggling, even more, so we decided that the prompt is about helping our dedicated healthcare workers.
Once we had our prompt, we started working. We decided on the platform we will host the hackathon, DevPost. We began to type up the hackathon descriptions, requirements, and related details. This step was quick and required little to no effort. We stormed through this process full steam ahead, and then we were hit with an obstacle. We did not have any prices to give out to our winners; we did not have any sponsors; we did not have any workshops or guest speakers; most importantly we didn’t have many participants. This is the hardest part of hosting a hackathon in my opinion. We told anyone we knew about the discord server and posted weekly on our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages. Still, we didn’t get many participants, surprisingly, numerous sponsors reached out to us because they saw our advertisements.
We communicated with many of the sponsors on sponsorship deals. It was a shame that none of the sponsors were willing to sponsor with actual money. It seems that they are more willing to offer free trials of their service. In some sense what they are offering is worth little to nothing to them because it’s just a free trial, and it’s worth even less to the participants because it’s just a bait for them to use a service that they are probably never going to use again. However, if the sponsors are able to provide more than a free trial, such as a recorded workshop or a more comprehensive package for our participants, then it has quite a lot of value. At the end of the day, the mindset the executive team needs to get into is that a sponsorship deal should benefit the participants. If it benefits everyone but the participants, it is a bad deal. This being said, the sponsors we chose must and should be treated with the utmost respect. We try to communicate with them as often as we can and keep the line of connection open. We usually assign one or two executives from the team to work with a specific sponsor. We had quite some success with sponsors for a first-timer. We were able to find many amazing sponsors for our event. We also dedicated part of our presentation to sponsored messages. We also posted sponsored posts to our social media accounts. We were sponsored by leading learner and echo3d
Workshop and guest speaker:
We were able to find 2 guest judges and a speaker for our event. We were also communicating with two workshop hosters. Finding guest judges and workshop hosters is pretty much the same story as finding sponsors. Sometimes the person or organization is good but is just not what you are looking for. Finding them was also hard because don’t expect anyone with high value to reach out to you, you have to actively reach out to them. Especially if it’s your first time hosting an event. We had to reach out to a lot of people before they responded. Don’t feel encouraged that they are not responding to your email, because if you find one, that one is all you will need. Also, try to post on social media and make it clear that you are trying to find guest speakers and workshops. Providing the best experience for the participants are always your top priority so make sure to work hard on finding these. They could turn your hackathon from a mid-level to an instant top-level.
Having a general membership base is very important. If you have around 1000 followers, that will convert to around 50 potential participants. The conversion rate might seem low, but it is extremely easy to grow your follower base. Just take 15 minutes out of your daily life and follow as many people as you can or make a post. Our experience is that you should post around 1 to 2 Instagram and Facebook posts per week, however, you should post a lot more on Twitter. I would suggest posting 1 to 2 times per day but of course, that might not be as viable. If you have an extra budget, definitely utilize the ad feature on these platforms, they help to save a lot of time. Getting the word out is hard, but the effort is well worth it. Make sure to post even more right before the event, as there might be a few stranglers.
How could I forget the mini-events? They are the best part of the hackathon for the presenters. This is when you could connect with the participants when playing games with them. You should host mini-events in between workshops to divide up the time. Mini-events are a fun way to brighten the mood and reduce stress for participants. We played scribble and type racer. You can also join the participants in a game and chat with them. Mini-events are usually around 30 minutes long and try to have a small incentive for the participants.
We hosted our event on DevPost. That’s where the participants can hand in their projects and more, we really love the website. It is easy to use and lays everything out for you. Even if it’s your first time, you should have no problem with it. We have a youtube channel, an Instagram page, a Twitter account and a Facebook page. These are some of the must-haves for an event. We also have a discord server. That is where we communicate with participants, answer specific questions, and post announcements. Growing a discord server is the hardest, but it could be more rewarding than any other site. We hosted our meets through zoom.
7 days before the event:
Everything is ready now, all you need to do is finalize the calendar, make some final adjustments and post your final announcement. Make sure everyone is on board, and everyone on your team understands what they need to do. Also, prepare the zoom meeting links and all the necessary links. Make sure your participants know when everything will happen. This is also when the participants are going to bombard you with questions. Make sure you have at least two people available to answer questions throughout the day. When answering questions about the format of the hackathon, or about the hackathon itself, your answer should be clear and detailed. Also, be consistent with the answers. If they are asking about their project, like if their project is good or not, always be general and positive. Make sure to stay neutral when answering all questions they may have. Remember, in order for your event to work out now and in the future, you must build trust. Also, create the closing ceremony slide show, just leave the slot for the winners blank.
On the opening night:
We had our kickoff on a Friday evening. We hosted it through zoom. We tried to encourage everyone to come, but just in case, we recorded all the presentations and uploaded them to youtube. We had an introduction of the team of the executives, our sponsors, and an overview of the presentation. Then we officially started. We thoroughly explained the prompt and our creativity behind it. We then moved on to our sponsored message. After that, we went to the schedule of the hackathon to reinforce everything. Then we moved on to the rules of the hackathon. The participants will be very creative when asking questions about the rule. They will constantly probe whether something is cheating or not. They will also repeat questions. Be patient and answer all the questions fully. Then we presented the prizes and sent everyone off.
On the first day:
We ran one of the workshops and mini-events. You don’t need your whole team to be present at the event. Depending on how many participants are there, you might want to split up the roles. Always have an admin monitor the chats during the presentation. Have the main presenter that will act as the team leader for that event. They can decide on the spot whether to change certain things.
We had our members submit at the noon. We received about 10 submissions. We then utilized DevPost to judge all the submissions. Each judge logs into their account and judges each of the projects accordingly. Make sure to have a uniform judging standard. Also, make sure that your participants know your judging standard. Give the judge some room to be creative and diverse in their judging. After everything, tally up the score and get ready for the closing ceremony. At the ceremony, you will present the winners. Always build up a positive and active atmosphere. Once you have revealed the winners, make sure to follow up with the winners on the prizes. Usually, you could have the closing ceremony on the day of the event, but if there are a lot of submissions, then it will take longer. Also, remember not everyone is going to submit a project, and some submitted projects are not as good.
After the event:
Time to conclude everything. Post an announcement on your social media and community on the winners, congratulate and thank everyone for their participation. Make a general feedback form for the participants. Send out the prizes to the winners. If they are local, your job is a lot easier, however, if they are international, the story could be trickier. We had a winner from India. There was no way to send them the prizes through the conventional method, however, after relentless effort, we utilized Wise to transfer the prize to them. Once you have all done this, take a break, recharge, and prepare for the next event.
If you are interested
Here is the link to our discord server, you will find everything you need here. We will have another hackathon in two months. The next hackathon will even be better and more enjoyable.
If you wish to find out more, also check out our discord.