5 reasons why hackathons are great when you are new in Silicon Valley

April 18, 2012

This article appeared first as a guest post on The BeMyApp blog.

About a year ago I decided to move from Amsterdam, The Netherlands to Silicon Valley. I had tried to start my previous tech company HelloInbox in Amsterdam and that was hard. Nobody was doing startups, there were no investors that were willing to take risk so I and my co-founders were on our own. After having spent a week here I already knew I had to move to Silicon Valley if I wanted to succeed. Everywhere I went I ran into entrepreneurs starting new companies, everybody was really open about how and what, and totally willing to help out. I heard about numerous early stage investors that understand startups, know the chance of succeeding is much smaller than failing, and still are more than willing to invest in you.

So there I was, had moved over to San Francisco to pursue my dream of building a kick ass company. I needed to start networking, and became pretty good at finding the great events to go to. Besides that, I went through the program of  the incubator Founder Institute. Incubators/accelerators are great because they teach you a lot, but also introduce you to local seasoned entrepreneurs that will help you and give advise on how to start your business.

So getting in contact with fellow entrepreneurs is not that hard. However, I also needed to get in touch with fellow developers to build my team. Engineers are a little more difficult to get in touch with, they don’t like chit chat that much. Hackathons are great for that. There are just developers, very few business people that want to sell you their stuff. These are my 5 reasons why I like to go to hackathons:

  1. meet fellow hackers. As an entrepreneur but also as just an employee, you need to know people in your field. You will definitely learn from your fellow hackers, designers and idea people. Maybe you will hire them, they you, or learn about a great job opportunity. Three days working 12-15 hours with lots of Red Bull and beer will make sure you get to know them pretty well.
  2. learn to build something in only a few days and get results. Sometimes spending more time on something does not improve the product. Being forced to build something tangible in only a couple of days forces you to focus on the most important features. You will be surprised how far you can get.
  3. work on different projects than your current project. Maybe you have already poured months into your current project, with many more to come. Stepping away from it and try something else will clear your mind and let you see what other possibilities are out there.
  4. try out cool new technologies. You get try out new stuff like Ruby on Rails, Backbone, ARC or API’s like Twilio’s or Foursquare’s that you haven’t used before. It is a great learning experiment, no previous software that it has to work with and no boss telling you to hurry up when you are diving into something new.
  5. have fun! Ha, yes real hackers enjoy working on code in their free time and so do I. Hackathons create a relaxed atmosphere (in particular after midnight and some beers) in which your work feels like a hobby again.

So what kind of hackathons do I like? I like the more structured ones like BeMyApp. As proof, I already attended 2 and will do so again this weekend (February 24th 2012). I need a goal and a bit of pressure to create something, so having a panel that will judge your work at the end of the day will certainly take care of that.

Now hackathons will seldom create great software that you can build on for years and are not meant for that, as Dave Winer should have known. You might end up with a good idea, a first prototype and a great team and think in the high of the event that you will be a 100 million dollar company in a year. OK, GroupMe is a known exception, but more often you have had a great time and met some great people that you really got to know.

See you at the next BeMyApp event! No doubt it will even be better than the previous one featured in this Wired article.


Dirk de Kok


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