That One Time I Organized and Marketed a Hackathon

Hackers settling in after the kickoff

During my time as ooShirts’ marketing manager, I planned and marketed a weekend-long hackathon in San Francisco.

The venue was right near AT&T Park — an eye sore for this Dodgers fan but a cool spot for a weekend full of coding and Red Bulls.

The idea behind the hackathon was a way to market ooShirts’ B2B product, Scalable Press, in a new and exciting way. The Scalable Press (formerly Shirts.io) website and the brand itself literally launched minutes before the hackers arrived at the venue.

Hackers settling in after the kickoff

The event officially kicked off Friday night with a live DJ set, team building events and, of course, API introductions before the official hacking began.

I mc’ed and hosted the event all weekend long. And leading up to the hackathon I planned, marketed and budgeted the entire event. I used Devpost, Eventbrite, Twitter and Instagram to promote the event online.

Out of the bunch, Eventbrite proved to be the strongest driver of signups.

Hackers settling in after the kickoff

As 7pm loomed closer stress mounted. Actually, stress doesn’t even explain what I felt Friday as kickoff slowly approached.

Anything that could have gone wrong, went wrong.

In the beginning, it was chaos wrangling in all the hackers, let alone by myself. After all most of them were under the age of 21 so it was a madhouse out of the gate.

Hackers settling in after the kickoff

I honestly felt like a camp counselor all weekend.

During the hackathon, a group of over 100 hackers used our newly launched Scalable Press API to create viable products.

The deadline for submissions was 10am Sunday morning and after two long nights of no sleep, Red Bulls, and coffee, the teams submitted their projects for review.

Hackers settling in after the kickoff

We ended up having 18 different submissions from each hacking team. Each team was made up of 3–5 people. Each team needed to have a developer(s), a designer, a business minded individual and a creative. It was really awesome to see these teams of people working together.

I scheduled presentations for Sunday late morning following the Sunday 10am deadline.

Hackers settling in after the kickoff

Each team talked about their creation for about five minutes. Teams presented working sites, working apps, and screenshots. Everyone brought their A game.

All of the projects were/are viable business ideas. We were blown away by the final presentations, considering these hackers had never been to or even competed in a hackathon before.

As each team presented their projects I live-tweeted the presentations on the Scalable Press Twitter account. Funny enough, these were the first ever tweets from that handle.

I set aside about 45 minutes for judging. I worked hard to secure judges from some incredible companies — Hitch (later acquired by Lyft), Love with Food, Bayes Impact, and Five.com.

Hackers settling in after the kickoff

As the judges did their thing everyone snacked on goodies and the band Strange Tides sound checked. Myself and the CEO went in with the idea of one grand prize winner but because there were so many great submissions we ended up with five different winners.

We awarded a first place winner, three second place winners, and one “viral” winner.

Hackers settling in after the kickoff

The “viral” winner was made up of high school sophomores and it was great to see the excitement on all of their faces. They won a prize and then they went back to class the following week.

A few of the winners came up to me after and mentioned that they didn’t expect to win and that they just wanted to experience a hackathon and have a fun weekend with their friends. Winning was just a bonus.

Following the awards ceremony, my good friends in Strange Tides played a 30-minute set in one of the coolest lit rooms I’ve ever seen.

Hackers settling in after the kickoff

All in all, the event was tiresome, long, exciting, and for me, a great learning experience.

Now I can say I not only planned/hosted/mc’ed/marketed/budgeted my first hackathon but I can also say I survived it.

Hackers settling in after the kickoff

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — A

I’m Allyssa. I am a hybrid designer who likes to front-end code, who loves marketing ops and marketing automation, growth hacking and content marketing. You can find me on Twitter usually tweeting about sports, music and whatever podcast I’m listening to. If you want to chat over email you can jet over to my website to send me a message.

You can view my portfolio over here or over at Behance.