I’ve helped organize two local hackathon weekends this year, Garage48 Lagos in May and Startup Weekend Lagos in September. While Garage48 Lagos is described by many as the first real hack event to happen on the local scene, Startup Weekend Lagos did not fall short in quality.
Quality? What’s that? It’s the right mix. A hackathon like Garage48 and Startup Weekend or any such future event has to have just that. So what makes this right mix? Let me explain.
1. Identity: There are many synonyms for the term ‘events’ e.g. conference, un-conference, hackathon, owambe, shows, etc. Unfortunately using these synonyms inter-changeably in this context is a recipe for disaster. It is important therefore that local organizers comprehend an event’s identity in order to help them set priorities and develop the appropriate content for the event.
No, We do not need a DJ and a dance floor for a hackathon
2. Participants: The organizers have to communicate the event’s identity clearly so as to ensure that the right participants register for the event.
A hackathon, like @Garage48 and @SWLagos, is an event where you team up to turn ideas into real tech products over the weekend.
However getting quality participants can be a tough nut to crack— How do you convince someone to bust his weekend for workand as if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s work without pay. Hackathons are fun (working-fun or fun-working), especially if the participants gets to meet other great developers that they admire. A nice way to sell this is to put up a list of attendees early enough.
Lanyrd does this extremely well taking advantage of the social graph.
Also there is the possibility, it could just happen, that the idea you get to work on turns out to be the next big thing everyone’s been looking for- then the pay will come.
3. Sponsors and Investors: Hackathons need sponsors to cover the cost, i.e. good food, space, etc. But what kind of sponsor fits the hackathon mix? It shouldn’t just be about publicity for the sponsors, what would be ideal is that they take a lively interest in the ideas and products as possible investors. Investors could be separate and more specialized, no doubt, but I like sponsors getting more opportunity than just publicity.
4. Business development and support: There is clearly the need for young Nigerian tech entrepreneurs to do something quickly about their lack of business intelligence (see: Why Nigerian StartUps struggle). And many times, one finds a tech startup without a business developer in the team. So I wasn’t surprised that many developers at hackathons focused on technology and overlooked the crucial role that business people play in a team, especially at that early stage.
This is a problem that hackathons need to address by adding more business edge into the weekend mix, and making active plans for providing business support to the teams that want to continue building their product after the event. The question usually by techies is: what’s a business person to do at the weekend?
Subomi Plumptre from the winning team at Startup Weekend Lagos knew exactly what to do. One thing that was obvious was that she had played her role actively from the outset. Find Jimoh’s presentation was top notch — apart from their prototype demo, it had cash-flow spreadsheets, graphs, profit calculations, demography data etc. all analysed and put together over a weekend. As I sat down watching that presentation, I was sold and perhaps for the first time, I understood an oft-repeated phrase- something about selling ice to an Eskimo.
This article was first published on Francis’ blog.
Francis Onwumere is co-founder and president of Prowork, a project management and collaboration solution for business.