9 Mistakes to avoid when hosting an hackathon

Hosting a virtual hackathon can be one of the most effective ways for your company to drive innovation and source talent. However, there are some common mistakes you should avoid in order to provide a great event.

At TAIKAI’s blog we already covered how to set up a virtual hackathon. Today, we’ll show you what not to do instead.


Table of contents:

1) Not having a marketing plan 🎯
2) Not adhering to a strict virtual hackathon schedule ⌛
3) Lack of a well-aligned team to support participants 🧩
4) Too many challenges 🤨
5) Misguided mentors and judges 🧑‍⚖️
6) Using too many tools 👨🏽‍💻
7) Poor prizes or only rewarding winners 🥺
8) Not getting partners and sponsors 🤝
9) Overlooking the hackathon finale 💥



Mistake #01 - Not having an online hackathon marketing plan 🎯

Even if you have the best tools, your virtual hackathon will most likely fall short if you don't have a marketing plan.

This is due to the fact that you must identify and engage your target audience. Ask yourself: 

  • Who do you want to be a part of the hackathon? 

  • Where will you find the participants? 

  • Do you have a press release, university contacts, or brand ambassadors who can assist you in promoting the hackathon? 

In other words, you must define your audience, whether global, national, or local, and draw strategies to influence your niche. While you're at it, identify and involve stakeholders who might be able to help you disseminate it or sponsor your event.

Even if you anticipate all of this, another mistake is to open inscriptions in a haphazard manner. If you expect 10, 50, or 200 participants on your virtual hackathon, the timeline should be designed according to it. Which leads us to the next mistake.


Mistake #02 – Not adhering to a strict virtual hackathon schedule ⌛

When hackathons first appeared near the end of the 1990s, they were sprint-style events focused on software development to solve real-world programming problems in organizations. In general, it used to be onsite and most of them lasted 48 hours.

Over the years, hackathons have evolved into events for solving problems in all sorts of areas, and not just programming. These events have recently migrated to virtual hackathons - online challenges lasting 24, 48 hours, or even more in some cases.

As a result, especially if the hackathon has a time limit of 48 hours or less, you must strictly adhere to the deadlines. Last-minute changes to the schedule will result in some participants feeling prejudiced, while others might interpret it as poor management.

This mistake can happen for a number of reasons, the most common being: 

  • You want to extend the registration deadline because the participant count is still low.

  • You want to extend the hackathon duration because participants don’t have enough time or resources to develop a solid project.

Both of these mistakes can be avoided if you set realistic expectations and have a marketing plan beforehand.


Do you want to organize a hackathon for your company? Talk with us today, we are here to help you with the process.


Mistake #03 – Lack of a well-aligned team to support participants 🧩

No matter how clear the rules are: people will always have doubts. And that’s totally expected!

As a result, there is no other option but to provide them with ongoing assistance. It will be beneficial for all parties, ensuring a positive atmosphere at your virtual hackathon. 

But what if someone asks a question and the organizers don't know the answers or, worse, gives incorrect information?

To avoid these situations, it’s recommended that organizers receive some sort of training or attend a workshop prior to the hackathon. Structure the training using the double diamond design thinking way: 


Double Diamond Process

 In the case of a virtual hackathon, it means:


  1. Discover the needs 

  2. Define the tasks that each member of the organization's team will be responsible for.

  3. Develop the requirements 

  4. Deliver and repass all information to the team.

Mistake #04 – Too many challenges 🤨

Establishing the target audience will assist you in defining challenges. However, be cautious not to leave this too wide open.

Your challenge(s) should reflect your hackathon theme. If your target audience is blockchain developers, your challenge should probably be about… coding.
That’s self-explanatory, but some hackathon challenges are less obvious than others. If you want to address multiple issues at once, make sure you provide all the necessary resources to participants so they can build a good project.


Mistake #05 – Misguided mentors and judges 🧑‍⚖️

A good hackathon deserves the best mentors and judges possible. Mentors are there to guide teams, so they should come from a variety of backgrounds. Typically, mentors are individuals from the host organization, but you can also partner with co-host companies, universities, or consulting teams to help you.

Keep in mind the importance of having both technical and management mentors. Both can turn lights to the teams. A common mistake on virtual hackathons is selecting mentors that do not correspond to the event’s needs for solutions and problems defined. 

If your hackathon is geared toward developers, for example, it's a good idea to include a respected software or blockchain developer on the list, as well as a project manager who is familiar with this niche and someone from marketing or communication to help teams communicate more effectively.

Having the right judges is just as important as having good mentors. A qualified, fair, trustworthy, and transparent judging panel encourages talents to do their best to complete tasks and proceed more calmly to the final pitch phase.


Mistake #06 – Using too many tools  👨🏽‍💻 

If you want to make your participants crazy, make each part of your hackathon through a different software: one for chatting, another for managing teams, other for rules and instructions, other for presenting the pitch, and so on. 

But if you want to get their focus on the challenge, you should centralize the user experience. 

Choosing a management software tool that allows you to manage the hackathon from A to Z is essential.

TAIKAI’s platform allows you to organize a hackathon in a single place. You can create virtual teams, manage participants, competition content, event timeline, rules, prizes, project submissions, and simple voting stages.

There are several hackathon platforms on the market and choosing one to organize your hackathon is no easy task: it requires time and dedication to research the various solutions, compare features, and analyze each platform to find the one that best meets your goals and expectations.

Thankfully, we’ve conducted a careful review of the major hackathon platforms and created a benchmarking guide, so you have a quick and clear understanding of the features and benefits each one offers.

👉 You can also request a demo and test our platform!

Of course, teams can set up a space for group discussions using video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Teams or Discord. However, once the teams have been formed by the participants, it is their responsibility to keep communicating with one another and sharing documents in order to achieve the goals. 

In any case, keep in mind the benefits of using a platform for your virtual hackathon:

  • Easy accessibility to all virtual hackathon information

  • A place to find teammates 

  • Managing community registrations and communication between organizers, participants and mentors

  • Project evaluation management and user-friendly project submission

👉 10 Reasons to Use a platform for an Online Hackathon Challenge


Mistake #07 – Poor prizes or only rewarding winners 🥺

Everyone likes to win. But when it comes to the world of virtual hackathons, your reward should be as competitive as your participants. 

Some organizers prefer offering products such as tablets or laptops as prizes, which is fine. But it is not particularly creative. 

When joining a virtual hackathon, participants may expect something more: a chance to work on the company or “a plus”. 

Here at TAIKAI, we have an interesting way to reward not only the challenge's winners but also the best-ranked teams and participants on the challenge. 

We do it through KAI Tokens, our own cryptocurrency. Depending on the virtual hackathon rules, our voting system is done via a token incentive. This means that when you’re voting for the best projects, each one of them will get a certain amount of KAI tokens, depending on how good you rate it. Tokens can then be converted in our marketplace.

👉 Learn more: KAI Tokens Rewards on Virtual Hackathons Explained

Offering multiple prizes also has another benefit: it increases the number of registrations for your online hackathon because people believe they will have more chances to win.

Mistake #08 – Not getting partners and sponsors 🤝

Keep in mind that hackathons are open innovation challenges. And open innovation involves in its DNA external stakeholders and people from outside your organization in problem-solving.

So, if you are a small business or a startup promoting a virtual hackathon, you will only impress if other brands are present alongside you.

Look for well-known partners and sponsors in your industry to help your online hackathon grow. Use their brand and encourage them to promote your hackathon via their social media channels. It's a win-win situation for everyone.

Mistake #9 – Overlooking the hackathon finale 💥

The final pitch day, also known as demo day, should be the pinnacle of a virtual hackathon, but it’s often overlooked.

Here’s what you should consider in order to close the hackathon competition with a bang 💥: 

  • Having a dynamic host; 

  • Ensure the teams are ready. Use your mentors to speak with them;

  • Gain credibility by introducing the judges individually;

  • Select someone from the organization to work as a “producer”. It means supervising all the ceremony details, just like a ceremonial would on a wedding day.


In Conclusion: virtual hackathon mistakes to avoid ☑

To sum it all up, in addition to adhering to best practices, it is critical to understand the most common virtual hackathon mistakes.

Finding an all-in-one solution that combines everything you need for a hackathon and participants is a must. You won’t need to migrate from one platform to another.

Also, design a marketing plan, train organizers and mentors, and stick to a strict virtual hackathon schedule.

Finally, do everything possible to ensure a happy ending and acknowledge more than just the winners. Use stimulus rewards, such as KAI tokens, to recognize more than one or two teams.

If you are not convinced, request a TAIKAI Demo. We’re more than happy to help you host an amazing virtual hackathon!

Rodrigo Nogueira
Rodrigo Nogueira
hackathonorganizer
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