When you're confident what you have is the best in the market, you want to prove it as early as possible. Product demos can be useful to a point, but as customers look for something that can work for their unique, complex environment, they want to try software for themselves rather than hear about it or watch someone else use it.
Both supply and demand are now both huge in the software industry – many companies offer niche solutions to help with all aspects of digital business. This means there are now expectations for tools that do exactly what customers expect, rather than a willingness from the customer to bend demands around a product. There are many competitors to consider and compare, so you should look for ways to show your value and USPs as soon as possible.
The age of the makeathon
For years we have run ‘Test Drives’ at WhereScape, so companies we meet can see how our automation software works by building a data warehouse for themselves, in under two hours with our supervision. This format is now more widely known as a makeathon – a guided group learning exercise where guests work as a team to complete a common project.
A makeathon lets your audience get their hands on the software from the very start, giving them a quick crash course in how to use it by following real-life scenarios. Participation leaves a laster-longing impression and requires more focus and mental investment. How many events do we go to now where it is considered normal to check a phone or even open a laptop whilst half-listening to a lecture or keynote?
The makeathon format is particularly useful if you want to show or learn about software in a hands-on environment and a short space of time – around two hours if you do it right. You can even use them as a proof of concept, saving time for all involved while allowing maximum exposure to the technology for a group of any size. However, for maximum engagement, try to get audiences combining your software with their own creativity to show how they it can facilitate them in moving closer to their speed of thought.
Introducing the hackathon
Following guidelines at a makeathon requires concentration and promotes learning and a sense of community, but building new things requires creativity and awakens a whole other side of the brain. If we want events to create a lasting impression, whether of our company or our products, engagement and investment are two key end results to promote.
To reflect the culture shift towards agility – breaking things and moving fast – it’s time to take more risks. We moved our events on from one predefined project following a set path to a hackathon, with smaller teams working on initiative and being more experimental. Teams of two can split away from the group as they see fit and follow their own paths towards the same common goal.
A hackathon allows guests to run loose on your software, trying new things and testing its limits. You’re asking them to develop a bespoke solution with their own ideas and/or utilizing the skills of others, collaborating effectively to a strict time scale to win great prizes.
Our Hackathon actually starts with the short, guided learning component of a makeathon, as we feel that group learning and building element as the best way to familiarise guests with the software and give them the basic skills they will need for the next section. Then after a break, the competition begins!
Ten reasons why guests attend hackathons
- Test whether software does what it claims to
- Prove talent by learning and building in a short timeframe
- Learn soft skills from blending cultures and comfort zones
- Learn skills for free from subject experts
- Have a change from daily working life
- Compete for prizes
- Practice collaboration with new people
- Showing willingness to learn for CV
- Practice working under pressure
This is not only an event for your audience to see for themselves what the software can do, learn new skills and win prizes, but for you to get feedback from those with little prior experience and no preconceptions of your software. First impressions are very powerful, and gathering as many as possible teaches you a lot about something that you know so well, that it’s difficult to view it objectively any more.
So we must shift the emphasis from telling customers what they need, to allowing them to test products for themselves under their own criteria. Only they can decide whether it can change their working lives, and we must be prepared for feedback and suggestion.
Ten reasons why you should run a hackathon
- Hackers see how your product could change their working life
- Let the software do the talking
- Invite more technical guests to try your software
- Get fresh feedback and learn new things about your own products
- Take your company and staff out of their comfort zones
- Discover new talent
- Spread the word about your product field
- Gain advocates of your technology that may influence others
- Attract new companies through Hackathon format
- Run a cost-effective marketing event
Rob Mellor, VP & GM EMEA, WhereScape