AngelHack CEO: “If you go after the expat community, you’ll never be a truly global company”

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A hacker presents her team’s project at Beijing’s first AngelHack hackathon

Last weekend, Silicon Valley-based global hackathon organizer AngelHack wrapped up its second-ever event in mainland China, Apphack Beijing. The number of attendees was nearly double that of AngelHack Shanghai, which took place last November and marked the organizer’s first foray into the Middle Kingdom.

AngelHack founder and CEO Greg Gopman attended the both the gatherings make sure they were up to snuff. Gopman says the ideas were far more imaginative and well-thought out than common stereotypes had led him to believe.

“I didn’t expect Chinese developers to be creative,” he said.

AppHack Beijing team presentations at Tech Temple

AppHack Beijing team presentations at Tech Temple

First prize in Shanghai went to Pooshup, a fun and simple exercise app that went on to win two more prizes at separate events. Blast (no website, yet) took home first prize in Beijing. The app is a photo-centric, location-based social app that’s like a mashup of Twitter and Snapchat.

Local, local, local

One of the biggest challenges for hackathons in China is actually getting developers to show up. Open to anyone and everyone, AppHack Beijing rounded up 150 developers who completed 24 projects, all with a focus on mobile. That’s a better turnout than most hackathons in the city, despite offering less prize money to the winning teams.

Gopman emphasized targeting natives from the local community is key to AngelHack’s success. “If you go after the expat community, you’ll never be a truly global company,” he said. He points out that locals will go where other locals go. If most participants are foreigners, the natives won’t show up.

In order to avoid these pitfalls, AngelHack researched and contacted organizers of previous hackathons in China in order to build relationships with local movers and shakers.

Judges and hackers crowd around for an app demo.

Judges and hackers crowd around for an app demo.

“When you do things right, people come,” says Gopman. Even though AngelHack has become an internationally, recognized organization, much of doing things right means making the right connections, he says, “especially in China.”

AngelHack only employs a handful of people, so it mainly works with local partners to promote and help run the events. He contacted the best-known developer marketing companies, including Tencent (HKG:0700), to spread the word. Beijing Commons, which also organizes the local TedX and Barcamp events, volunteered their human resources before and during the hackathon. Local sponsors are also important to make sure AngelHack doesn’t operate at a loss. Gopman said iClick, an online marketing platform, “opened the doors for us in Beijing.”

AngelHack has a strong following on Facebook, which is blocked in China. Unable to use it as an effective marketing tool, Gopman said recruitment efforts were somewhat hindered. The AngelHack Shanghai Facebook page only had two likes, while Beijing’s only got nine. Hong Kong’s AngelHack event, in contrast, was considerably larger than Beijing’s thanks in part to Facebook.

After the success of the first two AngelHack events in mainland China, Gopman says he’s eager to return and do more. He says AngelHack has mapped out “at least 10 good cities” for 2014, but will still require more local support before his team can proceed to go forth..

AngelHack has hosted more than 100 hackathons in over 35 cities across 25 countries. The organization was founded in 2011 as part of a mission to bring together the global startup community.

(Editing by Josh Horwitz)

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