3 Hackday Lessons for the Uninitiated

I had the opportunity to attend my first Hackday this past weekend in NYC. Hackday.tv is a 24-hour hackathon showcasing innovation and creativity in the world of video. While my initial motivation for attending  was to promote our new Framesocket API engine, as the days got closer I realized those motivations were more visceral… I simply wanted to experience a hackathon first hand and contribute if and where possible. The end result was an experience that was both inspiring and truly humbling.

The following advice is for any startup or service who might consider attending a hackathon. It’s my hope this will help you get the most out of your experience and avoid a few mistakes along the way.


Photo by: Chris Kurdziel

3 Hackday Lessons for Uninitiated:

1. Inspire
It is the responsibility of the startup (service provider) to inspire attendees as to what’s possible with your API. Show off code if you want, but you’re best served showcasing the net impact of your API on a hack or service and then planting a few seeds for others to follow. In our case the Framesocket brand is new and relatively unknown; hence I decided we should spent a minute reviewing our story followed by an intro to Framesocket’s most valuable features (video slideshow here). If I had to do it all over again, I would just skip right to examples of what’s already been created using Framesocket’s API engine (i.e., WellcomeMat and Pegshot). Save the sales pitch for another day and just show off what’s possible. Lead with action…. INSPIRE.

2. Participate
What’s the best way to inspire people at a hackathon? In retrospect one of the best ways to inspire others is to bring your own development team and create something inspirational. In presenting our API (alongside 12+ other APIs), I was naive to think that attendees would decide to use our service after a simple three minute pitch. You have to be honest with yourself and make a distinction between what you know is possible with your API and the perceived value of your brand. Framesocket is a new kid on the block. With a 24-hour time constraint most teams simply do not have the time to learn and research a new API on the fly. I would also note that many of the developers used APIs and brands that were familiar to them. Instead of hoping developers use your API, find yourself a crew and go after the prize… PARTICIPATE.

3. Engage
Don’t just walk into a hackathon, present your API and bolt. You have to stick around for the entire show. After the API presentations Saturday morning, the attendees broke off into groups and began hacking away. Shortly thereafter it became strikingly obvious to me few, if any, teams were going to use our API. Was I a bit disheartened? Absolutely, but you can’t expect people to go ‘all in’ with a new service. You shrug it off and stick around. I stayed for most of day one and went back the following morning knowing full well we were not likely to see any demos using Framesocket’s API. It was the right decision as I met so many talented folks (a few listed below) some of them are literally building the future of online entertainment. Hackathons are not only about winning prizes and brand exposure. They’re for meeting new people, sharing ideas and learning from your mistakes… ENGAGE.

BONUS ADVICE: Sy Sperling’s “Hair Club for Men” video is never to be used in an API presentation. For some reason I thought the old school 80’s commercial was the perfect metaphor comparing how we’re not only offering Framesocket, but use it to power our own parter integrations. You know the line, “I’m not only the Hairclub president, I’m also a…” Alas…

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Lastly, I want to give a shout out to everyone I met this weekend. A few peeps that immediately come to mind are:

+ Shelby.tv and organizers of the first NYC Hackday: Reece PachecoChris KurdzielDan Spinosa and Myles Recny. This whole crew has a great sense of humor and were quite gracious over the entire weekend. The first year of anything is always the hardest and these guys deserve some credit for taking the initiative and going after it.

+ Enjoyed my Google+ VS Facebook conversation with Amit Jotwani (Mashery), Ankur Oberoi (Tokbox) and Derek Dahmer <== some of the smartest guys in the room.

+ Got a chance to help Jonathan Gottfried (Twilio) with his CrowdTube hack. NOT the hacking part, but a quick mockup of the Nasdaq building in Times Square (see image).

+ Met Joe Lallouz while he was banging out code for the new Shelby.tv Android app. Joe also happens to work at Hashable with one my favorite ladies of tech, Rachel Sklar.

+ Clipik Co-founder Adriano Blanaru. Adriano had a film crew on site to shoot, edit and publish 24 hour hackday video in less than 24 hours.

+ Met VHX Founders Casey Pugh and Jamie Wilkinson and talked a little bit about how framesocket could serve as an alternative to Vimeo for startups who want video traffic on their website. Later I found out Casey started w/ Vimeo. Doh. Awesome.

+ Watched Haris Amin and Rich Cameron present the ridiculously funny Terminator Vision. Great app and even better presentation.

+ Met (albeit briefly) judge Matthew Eckstein and wanted to but never got a chance to say hola to judges Rececca PaolettiSiobhan Quinn and Josh Knowles.

+ Spent some time with the lovely Ashley Cutler (Zencoder) talking encoding, startups, sports and… you guessed it, more encoding. Seems they like to talk about encoding at Zencoder… go figure.

+ Met the guys behind Encoding.com Greggory Heil and Steve Smith. Gregg (Founder) told me a cool story on how he acquired the name Encoding.com from a squatter (kudos to the squatter). Also love that Gregg’s a product guy at heart… VERY important.

+ The General Assembly team was around helping out including Kevin Shiiba (Community Manager @GA) and Adrian Ryan.

+ Last but not least Bonnie Sandy who helped us a find a bug on of all things the Framesocket sign up page! HUGE help. Thanks Bonnie!

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See you @hackdaytv 2012. In the meantime, Behold the Future of TV >

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