November 21 by Alex Gammelgard
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“So thanks to all of you who got 1-2 hours of sleep . . . who braved the rain . . . who made bean bag moats to seal off your little private area to sleep . . . who hauled giant monitors around all week . . . Welcome to the end, to the finals of the Million Dollar Hackathon.”
This was the message I was greeted with when I arrived in the Developer Zone on this sunny Thursday afternoon. While I had been busy blogging Dreamforce 2013, and the rest of the Apttus team was busy manning our booths, 5 Apttus engineers had been camped out on the second floor of Moscone West, hacking away.
I ran into two members of the Green Team at the final application demo presentations (Apttus just missed out on the finals this year) and got the low-down on how the team did.
How did you guys get involved with the Hackathon?
We actually got an email 3 weeks before the show about the event and all got really excited. We knew we wanted to build something, but it was so last minute we weren’t sure we’d be able to participate. But after we asked everyone in development, we were able to get a team of 5 together to start brainstorming. We had about 5-6 ideas in the air, and the Sunday night before the show, we agreed on an idea.
What were some of the ideas you considered? What did you ultimately build?
We had one idea for an application that would let people do callouts to external APIs to automate the process of underwriting a potential deal. Every industry uses this, so there was tons of business value. We had another idea for a travel buddy application that would manag your itinerary information, but since there are tons of services out there, we didn’t think it was as innovative.
Ultimately, we decided on an idea our CMO had suggested for a location-based promotional service built on The Apttus Intelligent Cloud. The idea is, as you’re out and about, you could get an idea of promotions near you that make sense based on your interests. Not only that, but all the data would feed into a back end for analysis by store owners, so they can see what deals are being capitalized on. With this application, we would actually be able to give the salespeople an idea of where their clients are, so they can make people that walk by their store customers.
So you had the idea, you had the team. What was your strategy for success?
These past three days are all a blur. We started on Monday at 9am, and weren’t done until Wednesday at 6pm, which was when we had to submit. And then of course, we joined the rest of the Apttus team at Chevys, to check out the Apttus Green Zone and celebrate with some drinks. So I would say we are pretty tired.
How did you divide up the work?
So we all have our strengths—all 5 of us. After we came up with the idea, and drew out the app, we started delegating based on tasks. From there, it was easy to decide who would be best for what. We tried to make sure that the workload was balanced for each teammate. Two of us took on the front-end design the Java script, CSS, and HTML. One of us was on data and analysis, we had someone on payments, and one of us focused on the API.
So you spent the night at Dreamforce Monday through Wednesday?
Not exactly. Two of us went the full 3 days, but some had other obligations (like children.) But everyone who went home stayed up the whole time, so they were in it just as much . . the average amount of sleep for the 3 days was about 2 hours a night. Diego got about 2 hours of sleep the whole two days!
How did you stay up for essentially 3 days?
It was hard, but there was a lot of work to do to complete the app. Plus, everybody from Apttus was super super supportive. Sometime the interns would just bring us food, it was really nice. Our CMO even stepped in the 3rd day to provide us with a professional logo and graphics, and to help us refine the marketing effort at the last minute.
Why do you think you didn’t make it to the finals? Any take-aways for next year?
I think our problem was that we shopped for too big of an idea, instead of an idea that was doable within a 3 day period. We just didn’t scale it for the time period we had to develop.
Coming down to the end of it, we ran into a snag that forced us to migrate all of our work about 2 hours before submission, and because of this, we were scrambling, and didn’t get a chance to get our presentation together. I think that was our downfall.
If Salesforce has a hack-a-thon next year, will you participate?
I think most of us would definitely do it again, it was a great experience. If Salesforce does this again, however, it would be nice if they did a little bit more to provide some feedback to people that don’t win. If someone from Salesforce reads this, we hope they’ll contact us to provide a review, we’d love to know how the application and idea was received in the eyes of our peers.