Hack Days

I realize I never wrote about it: In 2011, I’ve been involved in the organisation of two “hacking” events (hackathons). I will describe them and try to give some feedback about the organisation of such events.

The main goal of theses events was to gather around the spirit of Hack people who can do things (developers, designers, makers…). I’m convinced that the meaning of “hack” is misunderstood, especially in France where it’s always associated with piracy. We tend to forget that many innovations or great companies of today come from little disruptive things hacked in a garage. For these hack days, the idea is that in the end, participants have to demo their hack, no slides are accepted, only prototypes!

Hack Le Camping

(June 24-25 2011)

logo for Hack Le Camping, designed by myself.

This first one came from an idea we had at Le Camping, the parisian startup accelerator were I built Beansight. I took the lead in the organization.

One of the goal was to let the startups from Le Camping open their APIs for the first time to developers.

The event was located at Le Camping, which is usually a place where 12 startups work everyday. So the place was not an issue and could welcome 80 guests.

With the help of others, we gathered two main sponsors. The deal was to let them promote their services before the event and be present on the printed materials, in exchange of €1000 each. This budget covered the food (3 meals) and also allowed us to print t-shirts for every participant. Because we didn’t find a great prize that could fit either a single hacker or a whole team, we decided to simply offer a prize of €500.

A hundred people registered to the event, and in the end around 40 hackers showed up for the event. I did not expect such a large difference, I think it’s due to the fact that the event was free of charge, a lot of people registered and never showed up later.

Participants hacking in Le Camping

The event went very well, the 24 hours were very intense for the participants. We added soon after the kick-off a stand up session for every project to explain what they were working on to the others.
In the end 10 projects were demoed. The overall winner was a team from Moodstocks. They created a fast-paced scavenger hunt mixing real time technologies from Dabla and image recognition: a player selects an object to look for, the first from the others to scan it with his phones takes the lead.

If you want to learn more about the event, here are the schedule of the event, the slides of my intro talk and a list of the hacks.

Hack Day Paris

(November 4-6, 2011)

Hack Day Paris logo, designed by Simon from Joshfire.

Soon after, I met with Skylar and Sylvain and we started discussing about a larger event.

The vision was to organize a large independent hack day in Paris, something that had never been done before. We targeted 150 hackers and wanted to gather a jury of renowned and respectful people. We did not wanted to impose a theme, but preferred to reward the “most brilliant” hack. We wanted people to work on what they liked, to produce something awesome.

We soon decided that tickets would be €10, not to make money from it, but to make sure that people registering were people really willing to come. In the end, around 140 hackers showed up. I think our strategy worked fine.

At first our main concerns were the place and communication. People from the co-working space La Ruche liked the project and its philosophy, so more than a place, they joined the project and helped us organize the event. We never could have done it without them. Communication was done by reaching all our networks (Paris Hackers, the startup ecosystem, schools…)

We gathered around €9 000 from sponsors and entries. This allowed us to provide quality food for everyone all along the 40 hours. We printed badges and rented additional Wifi.

Around a month before the event, a lot of effort had to be put into logistics: we had to make sure every people involved agreed on the schedule and the use of the places. Because many were involved, this was not an easy task at all.

The event went very well, as usual, as an organizer, you spend your time handling little issues here and there, making sure everything runs smoothly for the participants. We did shifts so that at any time during the 40 hours, one of the 3 organizers was awoken.

Demo time, in Le Comptoir Général, a bar next to La Ruche.

We had great feedback concerning the  location: La Ruche is not a regular place for such event, it’s made of little rooms, with outstanding decorations. This had a great impact on the spirit of the event.

Around 40 projects were demoed at the end the sunday afternoon. Here are some remarquable examples: a real time chess game (Ninja Chess), a place to give old things (Freesbee), a musical keyboard using balloons , a wine suggestion service (Wine Combinator)…
Once again, the grand prize was €1500 for the best team. Side prizes were organized by sponsors. The winners are a team who built a music box that links objects to music in the cloud. I will blog about it later.

For more info, visit the official website, have a look to the pictures of the event on the facebook page.

For sure, I will be involed in other hack days in the future. And I hope this article can help the ones of you who want to launch such events, feel free to contact me.