Transparency Matters

A while ago, I tweeted this piece of thought...

This wasn't just a rant towards a specific student or organization. This has been becoming a trend.

Prior to starting Execute Big, we witnessed dozens of student founders starting events, organizations, public-facing projects – yet after a solid year of operation, with 20+ staff all wearing vague titles, the public still has no idea of what they are doing.

If you are a little out of touch from the current education system, here's a glimpse at why this is all happening:

@sdan_io: ...99% of HS nonprofits made in my school are made just for college apps. Some start the week before apps are due so they say they’re changing the world with their week old nonprofit and merge that with anything they've remotely done...
@SarvasvKulpati: yeah I know several people who don't even incorporate and then call themselves founders and CEOs. A group in my school made a project that never worked and went around parading it as a company and even sponsoring (their own) hackathons with it...
@zachlatta: College applications have turned a generation of teenagers into psychopaths.

The same thing happens with hackathons. Over the past week, Execute Big received 2 emails from new hackathons founding in the Bay Area asking for sponsorship (which, I should add, shouldn't happen if these event organizers actually took the effort to read our website footer and find out what we are) – and neither of them presented any detailed cause for starting the online event, other than just "this is a good time for students to build projects" – but why, specifically, a hackathon?

A lot of times, people tend to think "the more, the merrier". Yet the truth comes down to the fact that these low-quality, clout-centric projects are hurting the entire "ecosystem". A sponsor who sponsored my CodeDay back in February talked to us about how they're less incentivized to directly funding on student events, simply because the last time they sponsored an event elsewhere, they had a disappointing event experience.

It's harder for sponsors like them to process which programs to support. So they stopped sponsoring any event.  

How do we stop this from happening? How do we help the public distinguish a productive organization from a lazy one?

The global pandemic has halted our operations, yet it also left me some extra time to think about the big picture. A few weeks ago, I decided to push our old friends at Hack Chicago to completely open-source our event – not only finances, but also logistics, communications, marketing... anything that made the event happen is going public. In a few weeks, we will be launching Hack Chicago Archives – a database of stories, experiences, tips, and resources, not only to show the world what it means to organize a large, impactful hackathon, but also to provide assistance for newer generations of event organizers to run better events.

This is the first step. Later in the year, Execute Big will be going public: finances, partnerships, logistics, operations – everything will be either publicized on GitHub, or shared on a webpage.

In fact, we already published a lot about the progress that we have been making back in February, just this time, we'll be using less language like "79.9% of our Q1 expenses are used to provide travel reimbursements", but more like "we reimbursed a total of $1725.80 over the past 2 months".

We're not alone:

  • Hack Club Bank announced Transparency Mode yesterday, allowing hackathons and organizations to publicize their finances. Hack Pennsylvania, Hack Chicago, and Windy City Hacks have already published their records.
  • Hack Club HQ is also making its finances public, continuing the open-source ledger from a few years ago (official announcement next week).

And it's not just about providing transparency.

We're making a statement: a well-run student organization should not be scared to share what they have been doing with the public. A good season or not, they should always be making progress, and they should be proud of the progress that they are making.

By going transparent, you're challenging those non-profits made for college apps, showing them that unless they start building, start shipping, and start making an impact on their communities, their "clout advantage" will no longer exist.

Let's make more things transparent.