Dev. Evangelism 101: How to Sponsor a Hackathon — Webinar Report

Recently, Brynn Claypool and Rob Spectre joined me to talk about how to sponsor hackathons. Since Brynn is a former director of PennApps and Rob manages the developer community at Twilio, I got to see both sides of the coin.

As we discovered in the first Dev101 webinar, the number and size of hackathons has grown massively. And as the demand for hackathons has grown, so has the supply of sponsors supporting them. In 2014, about 200 unique companies were sponsoring hackathons powered by ChallengePost every month.

Sponsoring a hackathon is a two-way street and the only good outcome is a collaborative one. Sponsors don’t want to feel like checkbooks, and organizers don’t want to ‘sell’ their hackers.

Here are some of my takeaways from the session:

Rob shared some great models to show how Twilio approaches engagement using their developer evangelists at hackathons — and most importantly — making those interactions are memorable and meaningful. I was particularly struck by Rob’s analogy to how memorable great teachers are for the role they play in our personal development. My great development mentor was Ben Jackson — I’ll always remember the breakthroughs in my coding he helped me achieve.

The major lesson I took from Rob’s talk is that sponsors should optimize for connections. You didn’t write a check for the privilege of giving away a drone. You became a sponsor so you could meet and learn about the hackers. When planning your hackathon sponsorship design for meaningful connections between your evangelists and hackers.

Brynn provided some solid tactics and considerations for prospective sponsors. Remember, you’re coming into the organizers house!

Here are the 5 things you have to follow from her talk…

  • It’s ok to negotiate with organizers over what will work best for you in the sponsorship package. If you know something that has worked well for your company at other hackathons, talk to the organizers about it. Also, ask the organizers for ideas, they have likely attended (any maybe even run) multiple events.
  • Be friendly and professional. Assuming you sponsor the event, you’re going to be working very closely with the organizers. Establishing a friendly relationship is going to make the event much more productive and enjoyable!
  • While you should have fun at the hackathon — remember this is a professional event. Send employees who will represent your company well. Always assume that alcohol (either drinking on site — or being onsite after consuming alcohol) is not ok. This is especially true for college events.
  • If your goal is product adoption, make sure you send mentors who can help people use it and that you have good documentation. Make your mentors easy to identify and contact at the event.
  • Cool gives aways can work well too! Try and think of something that will be useful. I still have an AT&T blanket they gave me at a hackathon 3 years ago!

I hope you found the session as valuable as I did. On May 1st we’ll be covering metrics for developer evangelism programs, don’t miss it!

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