Hackathons don't win you customers

Oddly I rarely talk about Developer Relations, but I feel like changing that today.

I feel really uncomfortable when I hear people suggest Hackathons are a part of building a sustainable, scalable developer ecosystem.

They are not.

I have run hackathons. Some better than others. I have learnt a lot about them.

Businesses and Platform creators:

  • If you are thinking of running a hackathon to win potential new customers you are doing it wrong.
  • If you are wanting someone to start a business by using your platform at your hackathon you are doing it wrong.
  • If you are running hackathons to raise brand awareness you are doing it wrong.
  • If you are offering winners $SOMERANDOMLARGENUMBER you are doing it wrong.
  • If your product team (PMs through to Eng) are not at the hackathon you are doing it wrong.

Hackathons can be a thing of beauty, they can produce completely unexpected demos, but that is not your goal. You should be using it as a learning exercise for you, your team and fixing your product. It is the developer version of a beta test, not a marketing tool.

Learn from the developers using your platform. Ask yourselves the following questions:

  • Do your demos work? are developers using the demos to build on top of them?
  • Does your documentation work? can developers start by diving into the docs and following the guides step by step?
  • Does your platform work? Is your API intuitive? Are developers getting stuck on certain parts?
  • Is there value to your platform? Is it possible for people to build sustainable integrations on your platform?

You can answer all these questions at a Hackathon. That is what you should be concentrating on.

One little point, rather than just rewarding teams who produce a lot, reward filing bugs and issues on all parts of your product, the apis, the documentation, the demos and the value as well.