Who should I reach out to?
Identifying who to reach out to is the first step in developing any effective promotional strategy. When developing your strategy remember to focus on quality connections over quantity. An event with 30 of the right people is preferable to an event of 150 of the wrong people. Startup Weekend can be anywhere from 25-125 participants, but the sweet spot is right around 80 participants. Who are the “right people?” The goal should be a healthy balance of each ticket type:
- ⅓ Developers
- ⅓ Designers
- ⅓ Business/Non-technical
Having a balanced attendee group will bring more diversity and ultimately better teams to your event. All skill sets are needed for a Startup Weekend—and non-technical teammates are often critical in the customer validation work.
In some cases you may want to offer unique discount codes to each of these groups when reaching out. Organizers and Startup Digest Curators will be more willing to promote the event if they feel they are providing value to their followers. The same certainly applies to sponsored discount codes.
The best places to find developers and software engineers are technical user groups. Gather a list of all the developer user groups in your area and send the organizer of each group an email requesting him/her to advertise your Startup Weekend. You can find most local groups through sites such as Meetup.com. Take note that you are asking a favour from another community, a good practice is to return value by providing a discount code or cross promotion. Building a strong relationship with key influencers will help promote and validate your event in their community. Some examples of user groups to target include:
- Ruby On Rails Groups
- Rails Girls
- PHP Groups
- Google Developers Group
- Java User Groups
- .NET Groups
- Android Developer Groups
- iPhone Developer Groups
- iPad Developer Groups
- Cloud Computing
- Web Design / Refresh
- Girls in Tech and Women 2.0:
- Bar Camps, Ignite, Dev Camps
Find out who is in charge of the entrepreneurial programs at local universities. In general, these programs are very supportive of Startup Weekend and can either help you directly or help you find other local supporters. Ask professors from different programs (computer science, design, business, etc.) if you can pitch Startup Weekend to their classes.
A common mistake for student tickets:
Do not Create a free ticket for students While it may seem like a good idea to recruit more students, we’ve found that free tickets usually don’t work. Purchasing a ticket is a good barrier to entry that gets students to take the event seriously and stay for the entire weekend. Discounted tickets however do work well. Your event ticketing site has a discount already built in for students (so no need to create any additional ticket types).
Design is essential to the Startup Weekend experience and success—the best events are made up of at least 25% designers. But the design community is notoriously difficult to attract to Startup Weekend. The design community is often overlooked by promotional efforts which focus on business and technical developers.
In recruiting designers, there are three main approaches. First, the most effective form of marketing is using previous attendee’s experiences—especially designers. It comes out in conversation, not through marketing tactics. Most previous attendees already say great things about SW, but it doesn’t mean they know to be actionable with that excitement.
Perhaps give an incentive which will in turn make it conscious to help drive creative attendance. One idea is to provide a discount ($5 off their next SW ticket for every designer ticket they help sell. Give them a unique sign up code to track).
Second, figure out which designers in your creative community teams would like access to and get them on your mentor or judging panels. If you’re a designer looking for a job wouldn’t you be willing to work with a team for a weekend to get a free audition with a big name during the final pitches?
Third, designers look to firms and organizations like AIGA, that blog and tweet, which makes them thought leaders in the creative world. Identify those in your city and ask for sponsorship, but get creative with how they contribute. The proposition for them is that most firms are doing a lot of web and mobile work but struggle to find technical talent. Startup Weekend has an abundance of technical talent, use it as your currency.
Instead of asking for a monetary sponsorship, give out a unique code with the requirement to tweet and blog about it as an infusion for creatives.
Offer a 3 minute pitch during Friday night to talk about what they are working on, and try their best to intrigue the technical audience.
They have their own group of internal designers, give them all a free ticket for their sponsorship. By having their designers working on teams, they will get to see the all-star developers first hand. This will provide their designers with that infusion of creative energy. Win-win for all!
We’ve found the best overall solution is to make sure you have a designer on your organizing team. They will be much more sensitive to challenges listed and able to provide targeted support. Below are some challenges you may encounter while recruiting designers:
Production work vs. co-founding
While there’s a growing number of designer founders in the startup world demonstrating what it means to be a creative entrepreneur, there is a prevalent perception that designers are merely producers, not co-founders. Startup Weekend provides a doorway to creative freedom to allow designers holistic creation, from visual design to user testing, of their team’s product.
The stigma of free design work
The production stigma can also cause designers to shirk at the possibility of creative extortion through free work. Startup Weekend is a exercise in passion, creativity, and collaboration. It’s an infusion of expressive energy and an environment to meet highly talented people that love to collaborate and bring their creations to life. In the end, everyone is doing free work and should have the expectation that ownership should be discussed post-event.