Hackathon Planning

7 Tips to Make Your Next Virtual Hackathon a Success

Find out how to organize your event and stand out to developers.

Long gone are the days when hackathons required crowded rooms of developers pulling all-nighters in the race to finish their projects. Today, the virtual hackathon is a powerful tool to drive innovation and solve real-world challenges.

But, like any virtual event, success depends on careful planning and standing out in a remote environment. As a hackathon organizer, you play a crucial role in creating an engaging and productive event. In this post, we’ll share seven tips to help you navigate running a virtual hackathon and ensure your next event is a resounding success.

#1 Determine what success looks like to you

Before setting dates or dreaming about the amazing workshops you could host, take the time to clearly define why you’re hosting this hackathon. To answer the big “why,” write a mission statement for the event or clear goals that align with your long-term initiatives. To help get you started try answering these questions:

  • What does a successful hackathon look like for you?
  • What would failure look like for you?
  • What qualitative aspects of a hackathon align with your organization’s mission?
  • What quantitative aspects of a hackathon align with your organization’s goals and performance metrics?
  • What do you hope to do after the hackathon with the information received?

Having well-defined goals and understanding how the hackathon can positively impact the rest of your organization will help you tailor the hackathon's structure and activities.

#2 Make your hackathons beginner friendly

When it comes to hackathons, the goal is usually to get “more” of something. To get more participants and project submissions, you’ll want to cast a wide net with your developer initiatives and help make sure no one gets left out. Everything from the hackathon timeline, branding, resources, and your main project requirement can be made to empower beginners to join and help them be more successful in your hackathon. A few specific ways to do this are:

  • Keep the hackathon's main requirement and theme simple. Each additional topic requires additional learning time and commitment from the developer—increasing the likelihood of them dropping off
  • Provide ample technical resources such as example project code and chat support
  • Provide other resources to help participants get started such as relevant project ideas and problem statements

Try not to limit your hackathon to a single group or type of developers. Assisting beginner developers can also help more advanced developers build faster and better projects as well.

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#3 Set a realistic timeline

A well-organized hackathon should provide participants with a seamless experience. To do this, establish a detailed timeline with deadlines to keep everything organized.

It’s recommended to give yourself at least four weeks to plan an online hackathon before publishing it. This time is needed to ensure you define your goals, hackathon details, and to build out all the required assets. It also gives you time to connect with marketing, legal, design, and any other stakeholders.

Part of the pre-event work involves creating a dedicated web page with all the essential information, including the overview, rules, resources, and guidance for participants.

Once your hackathon is live, give participants six to eight weeks to find out about the hackathon, register for it, and build a project. Be sure to set clear submission deadlines and communicate them effectively from the beginning.

#4 Budgeting and setting prizes developers want

Budgeting is a key factor when planning a virtual hackathon. The good news is that careful planning can ensure a successful hackathon—without overspending. Allocate funds for technical infrastructure (such as the online platform used to host the event), marketing, and prizes. A great way to increase your budget is to seek sponsorships from companies or organizations that align with your event's theme.

Prizes can be one of the most expensive factors when running a virtual hackathon. While it’s important to offer rewards that will excite developers and motivate them to participate, the prizes don’t always have to be pure cash. Along with cash prizes, hackathon organizers might offer tech gadgets, internship opportunities, or other professional development opportunities like a one-on-one meeting with an executive.

Increase interest even more by diversifying the prize structure to reward more developers and reconnect back to various aspects of your hackathon goals. Examples of this might be to add prize categories for the most innovative project, best execution, or the most impactful project.

Download this guide to learn how to Calculate the Total Cost of Running an Online Hackathon.

#5 Write informative and concise hackathon descriptions

Keep developers in mind from start to finish. Grab their interest by clearly outlining what participants will get out of the hackathon (and not just the prizes). Emphasize the technical aspects of the hackathon, what participants will learn, opportunities that are available to them, and any other benefits you’re providing.

Developers are busy, so quickly get to your point and stick to it. Give them specifics and outline everything they need to finish the task you’re requiring of them.

#6 Use the right marketing tactics to reach developers

To maximize the reach and participation of your virtual hackathon, focus your marketing efforts on developers. Utilize social media platforms, programming forums, and tech communities to spread the word.

Developers are a unique target segment that might be difficult to reach with traditional marketing. Consider tactics like collaborating with influential tech personalities to endorse your hackathon to generate buzz. Other examples include sponsoring a post within a popular developer newsletter or developer collaboration/learning platform. No matter where you promote your hackathon, be sure to highlight the unique aspects of why a developer should join, such as exciting challenges, renowned mentors, or potential career opportunities.

#7 Save time by using a hackathon provider

There’s a lot of work involved in planning and managing virtual hackathons. While you can always choose to manage your hackathons in-house, there are options to save you time and resources by outsourcing the work.

Virtual hackathon providers like Devpost makes it easy to set up and manage your event. You can choose to be as hands-on (or hands-off) as you’d like with the different levels of services provided. The platform gives you the ability to create a dedicated web page for your hackathon with all the essential details participants need. It also automates the registration process to streamline participant sign-ups.

However, the biggest time-saver for organizers is the ability to rely on a team of experienced hackathon project managers. Our team can provide expertise and take care of managing the event day-to-day. We’ll also help you with marketing the hackathon by connecting you to a developer community of over 3 million users.

Key takeaways for making your virtual hackathon a success

Organizing a successful virtual hackathon requires careful planning, effective marketing, and a commitment to providing an engaging and rewarding experience for developers. By setting clear goals, attracting the right audience, and creating an inclusive environment, you can ensure that your hackathon stands out and becomes a memorable event for all involved.

Remember, a well-organized hackathon not only benefits the participants but also builds a positive reputation for your future events and your organization as a whole. Good luck with your next virtual hackathon!