January 30, 2019

Why early-stage startups should sponsor hackathons

Zeenia Framroze

Head of Sales & Biz Dev

Long hours. Swag monsters. Hours of pitching and helping students debug their code. For a lot of small companies and their engineers, hackathons can be a tiring way to spend the weekend. Surprisingly, we at Smartcar found that sponsoring and attending student hackathons is not only fun, but fundamental to how we think about our developer community. We started attending hackathons last year, saw how well it worked for us, and committed to a lot more of them for 2019. We’d love to share why we — a small, early-stage startup — are focusing on this heavy-duty initiative.

Smartcar recently attended Womxn/Hacks at UC Santa Barbara (cover image) and TAMUHacks at Texas A&M University (above).

Product feedback

Startups and especially engineering teams are often laser-focused on the product they’re building, optimizing features in the most fine-tuned way possible. Attending a hackathon where nobody knows you and your product is a good way to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. What problem are you trying to solve? How do potential users approach your product? How would they use it? Hackathons are a great way to get large amounts of in-person feedback on these topics.

And that’s not the whole story: hackathons are an especially tough environment to pitch in, given the competition ( — Google and Microsoft will be sitting just steps away from your booth — ) and the hectic nature of hackathons. If your startup falls prey to the trap of “build it and they will come,” then attending hackathons will be just the reality check your team needs. Can you convince young, talented developers that your product will bring them value? Then you’re on a good path to success.

Bugs and beta testing

This point is fairly self-explanatory. Hackathons are great for catching errors in your code and testing new features. We’ve had hackers point out many little errors in our code, from finding that the code snippet in our docs was out-of-date, to errors in our READMEs. The best part? Your audience is pretty forgiving, especially if you push out a fix in time for submission!

More than just finding small bugs and errors, hackathons can also be useful for testing new features that you’re planning to take live soon. Is our new JavaScript SDK in high demand? Do folks run our demo app, or do they go straight to the Getting Started Guide? How do beginners use our docs, as opposed to more experienced programmers? Hackathons are controlled environments that allow you to track how your product is being used. Making use of that opportunity can go a long way.

Building a developer community

Hackathons — even student hackathons — are full of real developers, building creative, innovative, and useful projects. Students are more curious and visionary than any other developers. We’ve seen them build the most creative apps on our API — from an app that lets parents track how fast their children are driving, to an app that lets users measure their car’s impact on the environment.

But it’s more than just seeing students learn and build creative products. Building relationships with those talented young people today means building relationships with the tech industry’s engineers and CTOs in the future. It’s as simple as that.


Hackathon attendees are talented developers, and are often searching for internships and their first full-time jobs. If your team does a good job at interacting with those people, and at representing your startup in an engaging way, you will soon automatically have motivated internship applicants and — even if it takes a few months or even years — accomplished full-time candidates lining up at your office door!

All in all, hackathons have been a great way for us to build Smartcar’s product and developer community. If you are organizing a hackathon this year and you’ve read all the way until the end of this post, please don’t hesitate to reach out and see if we can attend!

Smartcar enables developers to locate and unlock cars with an API. Want to take our product for a spin? Check out our docs and get started with our demo app! Have any questions or feedback? Shoot us an email! 🚀

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