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Guerilla Marketing 101: Hijacking Hackathons

I spent the weekend at the Baltimore Hackathon (more on that later) and learned a valuable lesson that I would offer up to almost any company whose business consists at least partly of marketing APIs: Hijack a Hackathon.

Tropo was a sponsor of the Baltimore Hackathon and their strategy was simple: They didn’t just show up with T-shirts (although there were plenty of T-shirts), they showed up with a bunch of developers and some sweet random prizes (A Kindle! OMG!). They then announced that the project at the end of the Hackathon that best used their APIs would win the random prizes. Virtually every hacker in the building went from “I want to make something great” to “I want to make something great using Tropo.” If Facebook had shown up with a Macbook Air, they would have had 50 developers cranking away on the Facebook API. Instead, Tropo had talent and dominated the hackathon.

The Tropo engineers were around all weekend ready to help developers hack on their stuff and answer questions. And they liked being a part of a Hackathon, so it was probably a job satisfaction win for Tropo.

It was a stroke of genius. People needed focus and people love prizes. By showing up with sweet prizes in exchange for attention, Tropo gained several advantages:

  1. This whooped “sponsoring” cold: They actually have developers that are not just aware of their API, but they have experience with it. The next time people at the Hackathon have a situation that calls for Tropo-like tools, they will certainly think of Tropo. Further, assuming the product was good, they will be favorably inclined relative to competitors like Twilio.
  2. If they had sponsored their own Hackathon, probably nobody shows up. By hijacking the Baltimore Hackathon, they maximize spreading the mindshare.
  3. They can cherry-pick talent. This was like an extended interview for some people. Tropo engineers got to see a bunch of geeks at work. That could turn into job offers.

The next time I have a product with APIs, I am definitely going to fly around the country hijacking hackathons as part of our marketing strategy.

3 Responses to “Guerilla Marketing 101: Hijacking Hackathons”

  1. Adam Kalsey Says:

    Thanks for the post! In addition to offering prizes and assistance with Tropo, we did sponsor the event.

    Our goal is twofold. One is to get developers using our product, as you noted. The other is to support and nurture developer and entrepreneurial communities around the world. We’re big fans of developers in general (even to the point of making our products 100% free for development usage).

  2. John Trupiano Says:

    What a great observation Brent! I agree, a very shrewd move.

  3. brent Says:

    Of course you are big fans of developers, you are a platform product. I think the 100% free for development usage is a shrewd strategy for driving adoption – the incremental revenue gained from charging for people fooling around is small compared to the value of getting someone to use your platform for an app that actually gained traction.