Welcome to Part 3 of our series on corporate hackathons. In Part 2 we tackled planning and success criteria. In this post we’ll do a deep-dive into the nitty-gritty of budgeting.
Here is the template – keep reading for instructions.
Hackathon, eh? So … how much will it cost?
Wasn’t that easy? Of course the real answer is … it depends. Since “it depends” is the world’s most unhelpful answer we’ll try to give you some tools.
The ultimate hackathon budgeting template
Most hackathons have pretty predictable costs. We break them down into the following categories:
- Supplies & Equipment
- Participant Travel
We created a hackathon budgeting template with some typical costs for each of these categories. They add up to our magic answer of of $36,476.89.
The template is self-explanatory but here is some guidance for customizing your event.
Unless you’re using a space owned by your organization, we recommend you pay for a venue. You may be able to find a “free” venue, but in our experience, free venues have hidden costs in the form of hassles. When you pay – even a little – the dynamic changes and they treat you like a customer, not a friend.
See our venue checklist in Part 2.
You and your team will want to spend your time helping participants generate awesome products – not picking up pizza boxes. The venue should have liaisons available for normal event management. Make sure the venue fee includes any liaison or cleaning crew fees. Cleaning crews should come once after every meal, 3-5 bathroom refreshes per day, and do post-event cleaning.
It isn’t common – but bad things do happen at hackathons.
Over the years we’ve encountered severe weather … natural disasters … thefts … fires … party crashers with curious intentions … sexual harassment incidents … fist fights between participants (yes, really) … and even street riots due to local political unrest.
Hope for the best – but have a team and a plan for the worst. If the venue does not provide security, consider hiring some extra help – especially if your event runs overnight.
Supplies and Equipment
Most professional venues will be able to support your A/V needs. If not you can borrow what you need from friends or local community organizations. A few other tips:
- If you have parallel events (e.g. a workshop) get additional A/V equipment and run them in a separate place so you don’t interrupt participants.
- Bring extra HDMI and VGA adapters. They can disappear when presenters forget to unplug them from laptops.
- 3 wireless microphones are ideal. You’ll have backups and extras to use during judging and demos.
Quality T-shirts cost about $9/each when you order 100. Don’t go cheap on T-shirts – you want people wearing them like billboards to other events, not donating them to Goodwill. Make sure there are women’s shirts in your order – it is a simple step to demonstrate your commitment to diversity.
If you have extra T-shirts invite participants to take them home as gifts for their significant others who have had to spend a night or two alone.
The best prizes are relevant to the theme. For instance, the top prize at CoolerHack (a hardware hackathon) was a 3D printer and the top prize at HoloHack (a smart cities mixed-reality hackathon) was a Microsoft Hololens. Have enough prizes for at least 3 winning teams and 2 runner ups. Most hackathons spend > $5k for prizes. If you spend < $3k you will be noticeably under-market.
Although cash prizes can be okay, we don’t recommend them. The latest tech gadgets like GoPros, drones, 3D printers, game consoles and virtual reality headsets tend to be more motivating and exciting than cash.
Here is your shopping list on Amazon.
Particularly necessary for a hardware hackathon.
We survey registrants a week in advance and ask them what they need. Then place an order on Mouser.com, Adafruit or Amazon for arduinos, wires, switches, sensors, etc. Tell participants what will be on site and what they need to bring. Most hackathons ask participants to bring their own monitors and cables.
Additional Wifi Hotspots
Nothing will bring your event to a crawl like slow internet.
Get the venue to commit to an SLA of 50 MBs. If they cannot you may need to get a few pre-paid hotspots from Verizon or AT&T.
Urge the participants to prepare their development environment before the event. Saturday morning isn’t the time to try and install a 10GB Xcode package.
“Real” hackers eat nothing but cold pizza and Mountain Dew, right?
Alas, no. At least not the people you want to meet (or recruit) at your event. They are considering offers from companies like Google and Facebook who have chefs on site.
We find that the perceived event quality is correlated with the quality of the food. Although most hackathons spend $7/meal, we suggest $15/meal. Quality food will keep participants from leaving for healthier options (and get them to return the next day).
Ask for dietary preferences on the registration page and remember that dietary preferences vary based on religious holidays and geography. We always order at least 20% vegetarian meals and 2 additional vegan plates.
Avoid if possible: chain pizza, bagels with boring plain cream cheese (unless you’re in NYC), salad bars, build-your-own burgers (sound good but never look good), cereal with milk, sub sandwiches.
The budget template has ideas for each meal.
Spend your budget on food and skip the Super Bowl commercials – promo shouldn’t be a big budget item.
Unless your in-house creative team is dying for a new project, just create your own logo. We’ve had good luck with Tailor Brands.
Consider hiring a local community superconnector to help spread the word. Look for someone who runs a popular Meetup, for instance.
We’ll cover promotion in detail in Part 4 of this series.
Hire a pro. Seeing lots of smart people with smiles will be great for PR, getting internal advocates and promoting future events.
Here is an example video from CoolerHack.
Here is an example story from a participant at HoloHack.
Some hackathons cover (or partially cover) travel expenses for participants coming in from out of town. If you choose to offer this, a good guideline is to reimburse up to $200 per person. In our experience, roughly 10% of participants will take advantage of it.
You have many options for keeping costs down. We’re worked with $100,000 budgets and we’ve worked with $0 budgets. Play with your options on the spreadsheet, but be sure to keep your goals in mind and remember that you’re competing with other events for talent.
Also published on Medium.