My name is Sean and I’m based in the Code for Philly brigade. In this post I want to share how we put together one of our biggest and most anticipated events of the year and reflect on what we learned. This is a living document, so please check back often and post below if you have questions/comments!
The core idea of a launchpad is for the organizing team to create the space and time for citizens to collaborate and hack together new projects and teams that will last.
The original idea for this type of event comes from college hackathons such as PennApps. Both college hackathons and launchpads share core values such as creativity, teamwork and enjoyment. However, where traditional hackathons are usually brief, intense bursts of energy - launchpads are slow, steady burns. Both have their places in an active, engaged community, but this post will go over some core ideas and best practices specifically for Launchpads from here on out.
The following sections are arranged semi-chronologically. The ordering reflects how early or late in the process the organizing team could focus on those areas. BUT, this is not the be-all-end-all of throwing a launchpad. In all honesty, putting together these types of events is different every time and always ends up reflecting the values & energy of the community. So it’s perfectly okay (and encouraged) for each event to have it’s own flavors and textures. These are the types of events that build communities, so be unique!
- Let’s do this!
Once you have decided to put together a launchpad, the first step should be to gather a team to make it happen. The organizing team is responsible for making sure things happen at the right times, that the events run smoothly and troubleshooting (they support the project teams to the best of their ability, but are not directly responsible for their outcomes!). You will definitely need one person to run management of the whole event, they need to keep the big picture in their head at all times and connect people to resources. This person is the ‘head organizer’ or ‘project manager’ or ‘a bit stressed out’.
It is highly advisable for this person to find a team to start delegating certain responsibilities (even for small launchpads (with < 15 participants)). For example, having someone on the team deal purely with locations logistics, or someone deal purely with marketing is highly advisable. When you play to your team members strengths, really cool stuff starts to come together. The head organizer should communicate with these people and keep them on track (in the big picture) and in the process, relieve themselves of those specific responsibilities.
The exact size of the team should be roughly proportional to the size of your ambitions. That being said, this is not a job for one or two people. Attending events, gathering resources, engaging with the participants, setting up, there is simply a lot to be done. I’d recommend at least a team of 3+, even for small launchpads (< 15 participants). Since a month of these activities is exhausting even for the most dedicated organizer.
Sponsorship is one of the first topics because it should be started very, very early. Reaching agreements with sponsors and making sure that both parties get the outcomes they want takes a bit of time. The goal with sponsorship is to get local businesses (and national businesses!) involved to help fund launchpad resources. You must think about this from the sponsors perspective, they generally sponsor events such as these for public exposure, access to potential talent, marketing materials, and expressing company values.
The best way for sponsorship relationships to happen is through personal connections. Barring that option however, I would recommend putting together two documents: a ‘One-Pager’ explaining what the event entails, why someone would want to support it (in concrete terms!) and an outline of the process a.k.a. what are the steps & timeline expectations for the sponsorship process and event dates. The second document should highlight sponsorship ‘packages’, examples of what sponsors could get in exchange for how much $$$. This doc could be a spreadsheet or a pricing table or something new! (Please reach out if you would like an example of how these docs might look!).
To track the sponsorship progress, I recommend an Excel/Google Sheet/Airtable/etc. You should generate a list of potential sponsors and track down emails for each one. Then start by send them a short introduction and event description. Then, if you get a positive response, follow up with the documents mentioned above. You should also make sure that in the follow up email, you give 1. a clear path of action - “Please let me know to what extent you would like to sponsor our event and I’ll send you our next steps!” (next steps being where to write a check to, gathering logos for t-shirts/swag, etc.) 2. a gentle out - “We understand that not all companies have monetary resources to contribute, if there is some other way you would like to be involved, please let us know!”.
Sponsorship can be frustrating and a big source of worry. The best advice I can offer is to never give up and cast your net wide. Furthermore, if you’re event is small, you really shouldn’t need that many sponsors - the goal of sponsorship is to cover your costs, not make as much as possible.
Choosing a location for your launchpad has a couple of important aspects to consider, namely: access, food, space, power, wifi. Access means two things: you can come early/stay late for setup/breakdown and that all of your participants are able to attend. Food means that you can have food delivered, stored and laid out for your group easily. Space is for people to sit, work and collaborate. Power means that there is enough outlets (you can always bring extension cords!). Wifi means that you have a network that is easy to connect to and won’t be overwhelmed by your number of participants (hotspots are generally a last resort!). Don’t forget that locations can be a part of the sponsorship process - many tech companies have offices that will fulfill all of these needs and more!
By branding, I mostly mean choosing a unique, concise and descriptive name for your event. Additionally, if you have any talented designers in your community, don’t hesitate to enlist their help for event logos / t-shirt design / marketing materials / etc.
The kick-off event is one of the two biggest events of a Launchpad. This event should be publicized well before it happens. I’ve had some good experiences calling this event more of a brainstorming session for what kinds of projects could take place during the Launchpad - this seems to attract non-coders. Feel free to provide snacks and drinks and make it more laid back and social. Perhaps provide lots of sticky notes and markers and paper. Provide some prompts so that people have a starting point to collaborate on.
Throughout the month, some events you could hold include team-formation night, project work nights, social events, etc. The decision is really up to you and what kind of Launchpad you want to have.
The goal of these events is primarily to maintain enthusiasm and commitment. Really, really talk to participants at every single event and gauge how they are feeling, what they’re needs are and how you can help them do good.
A good idea during this time is to involve sponsors and the community and hold workshops of design, programming, project planning, open source, or specific products or technologies.
The closing event is the grand finale of your Launchpad. Have the teams (that are willing) give a short/small presentation on their experience and what they made during the Launchpad. Invite as many people as you can to come watch and get inspired. Definitely invite any media or indie media to come and cover the event too.
We did a thing!
After pulling this off, no matter how successful you think you might be, you deserve a short rest. No one said putting this event together is easy. Furthermore, there are a million things to learn and improve on event after event. Don’t give up! But don’t wait too long, the next couple of steps are crucial for making this event happen on a regular basis.
With your team, write down any major mistakes you made, places for improvement and any hard lessons learned. What we are doing here is sharing our difficulties and writing the first document you should look at if you ever want to make this event happen again. This step might also be called knowledge preservation - you should be recording who, what, where, when. And make it all easily available to the next generation, this will make their job sooooo much easier.
At some point in your event (either signup sheets at the door, or some online ticketing system) you should collect the emails of your participants - this email list will be invaluable for future events and for gathering feedback. You can gather feedback about all sorts of things, from food choices, to location choices to favorite/least favorite things, or whatever aspects of the events you thought were lacking. But don’t forget to leave space for feedback on things you thought went well too - you never know what people will think or say! You can use platforms like Survey Monkey, Google Forms, etc.