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Event planning: Guam Hacktoberfest 2018

October 15, 2018

Hacktoberfest is here, and Code Fountain Institute has brought it to Guam!

I meant to write this post before we hosted Guam’s first ever Hacktoberfest event, but alas, here we are, the Monday after it went down. The planning was slightly stressful and it was definitely last minute, but boy, it was worth every single wink of sleep that was lost, all the lunch breaks we sacrificed, the few days off we took from work, gym days skipped (ok, now I’m exaggerating on that last one 😛). I’m writing this post to reflect on the planning and coordination, remind myself in the future of how things should be prepped, and to serve as helpful advice to any of my readers aspiring to host their own event!

First things first: date and venue

Though Chovin and I casually discussed having an event for Hacktoberfest, we didn’t actually commit to the idea until two weeks before the actual event. While we were actually able to hold a very successful (though amateur) event, I would definitely recommend against allotting any less than three weeks to a month to plan. If you have an idea of an event you want to host, COMMIT TO IT as soon as you can, then choose a date and secure a venue as soon as possible. Not only does having a set venue lay the groundwork for the rest of your planning, but it also looks better to potential sponsors and contributors and makes it look like you got your act together.

Just as important: create your agenda and ensure it aligns with the event’s purpose and target audience

We followed a very high-level agenda recommended by DigitalOcean. Though the recommended agenda was very helpful, we didn’t have a defined audience and that conflicted with the sessions we had planned. Why would we have an intro to GitHub if we wanted to rally experienced programmers? If we stuck with advanced programming/PR sessions, would it be accessible to beginners or intimidate them? Guam has a very unique environment where we noticed that many seasoned programmers were not using Git or any sort of version control. The Git/GitHub workshops hopefully were a nice intro that exposed them to these technologies/platforms, but in the future, we will probably look at having breakout sessions that cater more toward specific interests/experience levels, as one attendee suggested.

Ultimately, it would’ve helped a lot more if we had a clear vision of what exactly we wanted to do or what we wanted participants to get out of our event prior to solidifying the agenda. Some helpful questions to ask to help define that vision/purpose:

  • Who are you trying to reach out to?
  • What is their experience level or how much pre-existing knowledge do they have on the subject?
  • How can you cater to a varying level of expertise if trying to be inclusive?
  • What should the target audience take away from the event? Are they learning something? Accomplishing a different goal? Just getting together to have a good time? Networking?
  • Is the timing of the event relevant to anything? i.e. summer break for a student-centered event, October for Hacktoberfest, etc.
  • Is everything on the agenda meaningful to the previous points? Are there any time-fillers? Don’t underestimate giving more time to certain activities.

Market, market, market!

If there’s one thing I dislike, it’s spamming people and begging them to come to an event. Though it’s NOT what I did, it definitely felt like it and I was a little embarrassed. I knew I had to change my mindset so I quickly squashed those thoughts and instead, reoriented my thoughts more along the lines of, “WE ARE HOLDING AN AWESOME EVENT AND WE WANT YOU TO BE APART OF IT ❤️.” I think that really helped express my enthusiasm and excitement, and it got others to absorb those positive vibes!

That sparked more of a drive in me to reach out to more people. We made mini flyers and posted them in coffee shops, at the colleges, spoke to our old teachers, put it on sites like reddit, meetup.com, and craigslist, and of course, social media. We made a spiffy website super quickly using WordPress and bought a domain. We made sure to keep branding consistent across all platforms and media, and I’m sure that also inspired confidence in our sponsors and attendees. I also asked my friends and group chats to share digital flyers we made; these were things we created quickly with tools like Canva and Illustrator. I am so thankful to everyone that shared the event and helped spread the word.

Funding, expenses, and sponsors

When we made the decision to host this event, Chovin and I were 100% prepared to pay for everything out of pocket. We then decided a bit later that hey, people would pay to get together with fellow programmers and learn some new stuff and get cool swag, right? That said, we set a hefty ticket price of $35 (and they had to pay the EventBrite fee, yikes!). We got some negative feedback on it at first and it made us second-guess that decision, but we ultimately stuck to it to keep value to it and to help us offset the cost of the quality we wanted to put into it. Once we sent out a press release, we received offers for sponsorship–something we didn’t even consider being that we had so little time! That just goes to show that there are entities and individuals out there that truly care about your cause, and as long as your heart and purpose is in the right place, you will find help!

Anyway, after the sponsorship offer, we drafted a solicitation letter and sent it only to the Silicon Village group of the Guam Chamber of Commerce. I copied a 5K race solicitation letter I found online, and I think it might have been too generic. It asked for sponsorship donations in monetary levels or in-kind donations, but we omitted the in-kind donation part and solicited only for cash. However, I found another sponsorship letter from Docomo that specified what exactly sponsors would be paying for, which I think is an awesome idea. I am definitely going to try that style next time we need to solicit for help. After we settled on just the responses we received from the Silicon Village guys, a few other companies still offered to donate! What a generous island we live on! 😭😭😭

Because of this (also that we did not want to profit on this at all), we gave away a lot of tickets and made sure to credit our sponsors for it! A lot of the free tickets went to students who probably would find the ticket price a barrier to participating, so I’m extremely grateful to our sponsors that helped us make it more accessible. We ended up OVER-BOOKING the venue, but of course you have to account for the 10% or so that didn’t make it or came late.

As for expenses, we tried to put quality into everything tangible we put out with the time we were given. We had spiffy badges and lanyards put together literally the night before, same with the event program. We commissioned a local artist to create customer Guam Hacktoberfest design for the t-shirts, and we are getting super soft and comfy shirts printed (to be mailed out with the custom designed stickers before October!). I think we could have done more branding, i.e. had a nice banner printed, maybe more goodies given AT the event so the attendees don’t feel like they’re leaving empty-handed, but hey, this was our first event and we’re learning! This is also why having ample time to plan helps.

Don’t forget the aftermath: thank attendees, sponsors, and keep your brand top of mind

The event itself was a bit rough around the edges, but despite that, we met some amazing people and lots of students with great potential. There was also great input and conversation from seasoned IT pros both as our speakers and in our audience 😍 I can’t put into words how excited I am to host our next event, hopefully with more hands-on work that the attendees can look back on and reminisce on how cool it was and how much they learned from it.

I’m still catching up on some work that was slightly neglected (sorry, Docomo 🙏) as well as tying up lose ends from the event, but one incredibly important thing that’s on my to-do list (on Wrike ❤️)  is express how genuinely thankful I am to our sponsors and attendees. We could not have had such an successful event without you all.

Additionally, I think it’s just as important to keep open those connections that were made (whether personally or through your brand) and extend an invitation to join you in future endeavors.

To anyone reading that attended or sponsored Guam’s first Hacktoberfest event, thank you so much and let’s get together to plan and share even more opportunities to help Guam’s programming and open source community grow! ❤️

Happy hacking! ❤️

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1 Comment

  • Reply Jay Castro October 17, 2018 at 1:00 am

    Good job! The island and it’s community is lucky to have you. More to come?

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