Hackathons: How to Get the Results and the ROI You Want

Hackathons have become the single most-recognized developer marketing activity over the past 12-18 months. Every weekend in Silicon Valley sees at least a half-dozen being held, while they’re commonplace in plenty of other cities around the world too.

The attraction is pretty clear: a company with an API, SDK or another developer tool gets a room, a bunch of pizza and cokes, and rounds up a bunch of developers for a day or two, and boom -- they’ve got a big group of users and apps at the end.

But it’s not quite that simple.

Hackathons have several strengths:
• They can be very cost- and time-effective
• They can satisfy many objectives: from outreach to developer feedback to prototyping
• They are result-driven with tangible output and results

But these strengths aren’t automatic. The proliferation of events makes it more difficult to grab developers’ attention -- especially that of the right kind of developers -- and offer something unique and attractive.

We find that many companies launch into hackathons without explicitly considering their goals, and then designing their events to achieve them. For instance, hackathons that are focused on promotion need to be set up very different from hackathons that are intended to generate finished apps.

Identifying clear objectives is the first step in positioning your hackathon and creating a strategy for it; but there are a lot of other items to consider:
• Your budget and costs
• Targeted ROI and cost per finished app or outcome
• Who is your target audience and attendees? Why should they come?
• Creating followthrough - ensuring that your engagement with the developers doesn’t end with the event
• Location, venue and vendors

There is no reason to leap into hackathons blindly.