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How to Run Hackathons in 2024

Our primary strategy in Novu was to become trending over the Main GitHub Feed. And while it behaves a bit weird sometimes, there’s something that we know – bring a lot of activity in a short period, and you’ll be trending.

In Novu, we had two main Hackathons, “ConnectNovu” and “HackSquad.”

The hypothesis was that if people participated in those Hackathons, we would have enough activity over GitHub to become trending.

For the noobies, a hackathon is a (physical or virtual) competition where people contribute code to you in a manner you decide on and get prizes.

But do these Hackathons get you enough GitHub activity to become trending?

The answer is it depends.

If you tell people to use the cloud version of your product by running pip install or npm install (for example) to write demos for your Hackathons, You get 0 activity in your GitHub; hence, there is no trending.

The main goal is to ensure people clone your repository in the process.

That can be:

  • A project Directory with all the demos.

  • A hackathon about features for your product (code contribution, basically)

  • A requirement to install the project (with git clone) to make demos.

This is one of the main reasons HackSquad made Novu trending for a week.

How to run a successful Hackathon

I have run multiple Hackathon and learned from each, so here are the tips I can provide.

Let’s focus on the most common one: Get demos and contributions to your repository.

  • Ensure you have SDKs for the most common languages people can use in the Hackathon.

  • Decide on prizes – the more valuable the prize, the more contributors it will attract (from digital badges to a Macbook Pro and a vacation in Thailand)

  • Write clear instructions on how to participate on the main page.

I have learned that most people have a fallback: if you tell them to write programs with Novu, they will do a simple demo of using Novu.

I suggest you pick around 100 subjects and let people choose from them rather than letting them choose.

For example, in a Novu physical Hackathon with the brightest people, almost all chose the same subject (because it was the easiest.)

The Hackathon should be two weeks:

  • One week for “pre-registration” – reveal the subject of the Hackathon and the prizes; don’t write instructions and stuff (so people don’t start) – you need to lead gen here; we will discuss it in the next section.

  • One week for the competition – don’t add more than one week; you want people to feel stressed about a good contest; if it’s more, people will even forget to submit projects (the FOMO effect)

Lead-gen the Hackathon

I would usually add a quick GitHub authentication (already at the “pre-registration” phase) and collect people’s emails so I can immediately inform all the people when it starts.

Here’s the trick, and that’s what we have done with HackSquad.

If you make multiple Hackathons, use the previous contesters’ email + new ones.

Exponential growth with incentives

The most significant growth can happen when people bring others, and there are a few tricks.

  1. Share a card on Twitter / Linkedin that you participate in the Hackathon and participate in a giveaway.

  2. Make the competition as teams – give points to people who invite their friends.

  3. Bonuses give people bonuses to complete different tasks. For example, star your repository.

Change your launches – instead of doing weekly launches with a CTA to your GitHub, do it to the Hackathon.

Don’t be afraid of the demographics – Most likely, 90% of your audience will be students from India, but we want two main things:

  • Trend on GitHub

  • Demos / Contributions

The audience does not matter, as they won’t need to purchase your product at any point.

To give you a short example, Novu “HackSquad” had 90% of the students from India, but as a result, we were trending on GitHub for a week and grew from 24k to 31k stars.

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