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Two Harvard University Alumni Win Salesforce $1M Hackathon Prize (techcrunch.com)
106 points by b0b0b0b on Nov 22, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 100 comments

One of the comments, kinda what I already expected: "Spoiler: One of those guys used to work for Salesforce! (not kidding, they announced it during the demo). The French guys were followed around during the entire hackathon by a salesforce camera crew (I was sitting right next to them, some of the salesforce people even came over to help them submit to be sure they got it in before the last 5 min was up, kinda knew they were in from day 1). One of the finalist teams didn't make the check-in time, so they extended the check-in by a few hours (saw that one coming too). And last but not least, the healthcare app. Although I liked the app, it was way too polished given the team size, and the time allotted (I mean wow, very professional if it were true), but the fact that they were using lots of logos (with trademark) of some big insurance companies in their demo and video (specifically in the rules, unless of course all those big companies gave written consent in the 3 weeks), kinda figured they were getting a leg up. The bluetooth app, that one I thought had value, and was innovative (albeit not realistic in facial recognition). I would have voted for that one if I could.

You could tell it was just a dog and pony show on the 2nd day. Some people were helped, some werent. Then, when you submitted, all you got was a "sorry, your not chosen" -dear john- canned email... Nothing telling you where you could have improved, nothing saying what your score was, no information at all. Just a simple 'sorry'....

Turned out to be a huge waste of time, energy, and money. Wont be coming back, that's for sure."

People also complaining that their apps didn't get any hits during the evaluation period [1]. If this is true, which it seems like to be, it is pretty shameful business from Salesforce given that people clearly used a decent part of their week in order to participate. I feel bad for Heroku employees who promoted this.

Edit: According to one of the judges [2], they only saw and evaluated the 5 Salesforce selected apps. Also the app gallery only shows the five winners [3]. No matter how the finalists were chosen, this is not how you run a hackathon.

[1]: http://salesforce1million.challengepost.com/forum_topics/264... [2]: https://twitter.com/alexwilliams/status/403723331007832064 [3]: http://salesforce1million.challengepost.com/submissions

that people clearly used a decent part of their week in order to participate

And $499.

Hacker pass was $99 list price and often given out for free.

People gotta group up and sue them

I'm not really surprised. Salesforce held contest a few years ago for some of their Apps and based it completely on Facebook Likes of YouTube video presentations.

Some teams were definitely felt favored. Some were let in well past the entry due-date (giving them more time to submit better presentations). Other products were bogus and nothing more than photoshop mocks. And some companies cheated and purchased thousands of likes over night (they were caught and disqualified).

It was a serious mess. The funniest part was seeing how the companies all had thousands of likes while the actual views of the videos were barely in the hundreds.

I'd like this one. I sell Facebook likes. If you were offering a $1M prize I'd "sell" you a lot of Facebook likes. It would be like if all of England liked me. Which they probably do even if they don't want to admit to it.

I also sell Youtube views, so I could make sure it would be less funny than what you describe.

Popularity contests should be done in person. Harder to cheat if you have to get people to the venue.

Not to mention it cost $500 to enter, meaning negative EV, not as bad as the lotto, but still a losers' gamble.

This part I just don't get it. Why? Salesforce is not a small startup. It can definitely afford a 100k hackathon.

Not startup but still losing tons of money.

i don't know the actual number. They might have a negative net income for a little while due to expense but according to this news, growth is going up. Plus, if you look at Facebook's Tools Engineering position it mentions Salesforce.com so I think the company has a pretty good outlook. Plus, coming, 100k for food and facility is not that much to them when they are giving up 1M.


The Web-Startup Tool Mindest.

I don't know what you paid $500 for. The hackathon was free. Zero. $0. Early on they charged $99 for a developer pass, but they reimbursed me and my team members.

It did not cost $500 to enter.

It was either $99 or Free (there was a free entry promotion for most of the time during the run up to the hackathon).

All entrants had to be a registered attendant of Dreamforce 2013. Are people including that cost too?


> You are, and each of your team members is, a registered attendee of Dreamforce 2013. See the Dreamforce website for event registration information.

How much did that cost? DF14 says it's going to be $799


I think, but I don't know, that DF13 was the same price?

Maybe the 5 is just a key-rollover error from the $99?

I was wrong. Still though, that $99 fee is _per_ person. You'd probably have 2 or 3 people on your team. That's $300 in that case. And if I'm correct, I remember them saying that a 1-person team would have very low chances of winning. Not to mention that the competition is not a 1-day event, it is just a 1-day showing, the winning team put a month of work in addition to what they already had completed as a base. I am not one to take such large gambles when the tables are clearly not in my favor. The whole thing reeks of pre-arranged cronyism.

Very few people registered at even the $99 hacker pass level, which is why they ended up making it free. Nobody who wasn't already going to DF paid the full conference price to participate in the hackathon. Quit with the hysteria.

even if it was free...... how about time?

An entry fee does not make something negative EV. $1,090,000 was added to the prizepool. If it was literally 100% guaranteed that the winner was pre-selected, then it would be -EV if >180 teams entered and all had the same chance of winning a prize. If the event was not rigged, then it is clearly +EV for even medicore participants.

At least you got to compete. All the girls wanting to compete at Launch Hack got rejected. All hacks are rigged. All the ones worth winning anyway.

Serious question—are "hackathons" starting to be known as "hacks"? Have heard it a couple of times now.

I think so. Several hackathons are just call somethingHack. Like LaunchHack.

Unrelated to your comment. Nice to know I got voted down for pointing out sexism. I thought I was on YC not Reddit.

Do you have a link for this? I can't find any information on it.

given the copious amount of US laws regarding giveaways, it's probably illegal too.

did it for fun because of a coupon code, but I feel sorry for anyone who paid the full price of admission. if they were going to rig it anyway, why sell hackathon-only tickets? that's pretty malicious.

I know the developers of the healthcare app personally. They competed properly and within the rules, day and night, in preparation for the demo. They have the professionalism and the "wow" factor that you mentioned. Just because you may think it's too polished to be done in a few days by a few people, does not make it so.

There's proof of these allegations- they apparently demo'd the app at a Salesforce meetup several weeks before the competition started.

See- http://www.meetup.com/Salesforce-com-Integration-Analytics/e...

So maybe, since you have this personal relationship with them, you can get the developers to come here and explain how that happened?

Upshot is not the Healthcare app. They're separate.

This is ridiculous. Really sounds like a bunch of sniveling losers. I participated in the hack, lost don't regret it at all. Well, a little bit because i hate staying up late. next time will plan ahead.And I'm a former salesforce employee and personally know a bunch of the dev relations team. No leg up there. I thought our submission was pretty good, didn't win, oh well. It's almost as if these commenters believed they were promised the million and have been ripped off. I don't think that is the right way to think about this, if your app is so great keep it going make your own million.

I'm not sure how it sounds like sniveling losers... It's like entering a painting competition, spending hours creating a piece of art and the people running the contest saying "Just put it in that closet, we already have our top 5", without even glancing at it". Developer time isn't free, and although I didn't think we would win, at least having someone take a look at what I gave up a weeks worth of nights for would have sufficed.

Also, if the winners were eligible, that would help. I would have never entered a "Best Salesforce startup of 2013" competition with a week's worth of work.


The winners not being eligible is a fairly big deal actually. The negative publicity from this makes it a full on disaster I'd guess.

The accusations that nobody looked at the submissions and the winners were predetermined sound unsubstantiated.. nobody (who's commenting) knows that. Analytics on your videos? Please. I'd love to see the team that has zero video views, they are telling us it was submitted it and didn't watch it once? Our whole team watched ours multiple times, impossible to tell if the judges did any out of the dozens of views. The idea that the apps weren't used and logged into sounds right - with the amount of time they had to judge (a few hours) they would mostly use the video, description, and probably verify the code was uploaded, and winnow it down to five top ones. We fully expected to win or finish without them logging in to our app which required a custom android build. And no matter what, that leaves the majority of contestants loosing.. it's not a conspiracy people, it's math. Not everybody wins...and it could even be some of the best teams lost, thats endemic to every sort of competition.

But we hear from every complainer, "the only possible way I could loose is cheating, I'm so entitled to this, I DESERVE TO WIN THE HACKATHON, WHERE IS MY TROPHY???? I ALWAYS get a trophy!!!". Sore losers? Check.

And, in closing, I'd like to say what nobody on the internet fourims have ever said: I was wrong. Seems like this is a full on shit show, even though I'm quite glad my team participated (and lost). So go on internet - be hysterical about this travesty of justice, you deserve it.

"But we hear from every complainer, "the only possible way I could loose is cheating, I'm so entitled to this, I DESERVE TO WIN THE HACKATHON, WHERE IS MY TROPHY???? I ALWAYS get a trophy!!!". Sore losers? Check."

I don't think I ever said that (hint: I know I never said that, or felt that). In fact, I mention that I didn't think our team would win. I don't know why you're getting so angsty about this, like you personally know the judges, saw the process and think Salesforce is a mom and pop shop with the best intentions.

There are a couple teams that I've seen, and I would have been HAPPY to lose to them. Just simply being out classed is awesome, you get to see just how much better you can get.

that guy doesn't get what people are feeling. People are feeling that this was a closed box. A possibly even pre determined outcome. And out of their efforts they didn't even get to show or talk about what they did - the least you can expect . So we have to shop for a new sponsor to finish it out. I think most people wouldn't even care so much about the prizes. have oracle or Microsoft end the even right with everyone's submissions. Let everyone show what they created

I spoke to many devs. As we are not former salesforce people, we are smart enough to know to subtract the single view or views we made when we watched it. We're also smart enough to put analytical into the apps and be able to read server logs. And that is how we know what happened during review

I had a great time too. But it unfortunately does look they started Upshot (their startup) way before the hackathon was even announced.. pretty messed up: http://www.meetup.com/Salesforce-com-Integration-Analytics/e...

About a week before Dreamforce, Salesforce had a call with their "premiere partners", and were very unsure about their own rules. They ended up saying "You can submit an existing app or product, but you'll only be judged on your contributions for the hackathon", which was a huge red flag of BS. In light of all of the news, I almost feel like they knew the winner at that point and were trying to cover their tracks a little bit.

Wow, that's messed up. My team and I could have tacked on Salesforce to our existing product (like several of the top teams), but we read over the rules several times and made the conscious decision to build everything from scratch so that our entry would count.

Yeah, we knew this was going to happen after hearing that. We should have just aborted, but decided to be hopeful that it would be tastefully handled. I guess that was too much to hope for.

Their strategy at this point if the high ups are stubborn will be to wait out the weekend for activity to die off. People get on with their lives. The thing to do now is to reach out to companies who could sponsor ending this thing right. prize or no prize. i think we organize to find a Microsoft or oracle who could host an evening

I'm starting a fact timeline that we can contribute to. Google spreadsheet probably. maybe it's all the episodes of ms marple my wife watches. Can you say how and when you came across this info? Was it firsthand?

It was firsthand. I'm not entirely sure how many people were invited to the call. They talked about the hackathon (mostly marketing stuff). In the QA afterward they were asked some details about teams (if everyone had to be there, etc), but the question of preventing people from bringing premade apps came up. And the answer given was almost exactly (per my memory) "You may use an existing application, however, you will only be judged on your contributions for the hackathon". It's weird that no one really dug deeper for more clarification, and I'm ashamed for not doing so myself.

Wow. Thank you. Who issued the call from their side? I can't imagine they passed that information to the judges. But even before then it should have been made public and applied to the entries. That would have made the winning app a text field with Google voice that shows an arbitrary link

it's fine to not win. i've won and and i've lost. i just won at Facebook last week. but i expect that what they ask to review, they review. i can't find anyone who said they detected any launches during the review period. i would have expected to find ONE person. don't run a hackathon with strict rules and a long development period and ask for source if you actually are NOT going to run the app. just be honest and ask for a wireframe or a f*ing powerpoint.

these guys are definitely tools. it is not really about winning. its about being fair or not. it is a scam if teams had to pay to contend

So was this just one of those hackathons made to keep internal employees happy? I mean, I'm sure there's plenty of people inside Salesforce who have big dreams and ambition, and would be thinking about starting their own companies. So does Salesforce put on a show just for these people to feel good about themselves? And of course to get the prize money. But why open it to the public then?


Violates: Neither you nor any of your team members are an employee of salesforce.com or its related companies as of September 1, 2013 or during the Hackathon; nor an immediate family member (parent, sibling, spouse, child) of or household member to an employee.

Bluetooth guy won a couple of previous hackathons and was accused of favoritism even then.

Do you know which finalist the check in deadline was extended for ?

The winning team presented their project at a Meetup well before the Hackathon was even announced: http://www.meetup.com/Salesforce-com-Integration-Analytics/e...

Which is totally against the official rules for the Hacktahon, which stated "The application you or your team submits must: have been developed solely as part of this Hackathon" http://res.cloudinary.com/hy4kyit2a/image/upload/Final%201M%...

So there you go.

i killed myself to get my entry in. it was another version of healthcare.love. i wish i knew what they were doing so we could team up. i checked my analytics this morning. i was the only one who viewed the official video. i was the only one who launched the app. i'd love to collect the stats from everyone to see how many apps even got played.

It's quite a farce. One can excuse not launching the app (it would require some setup for each individual app), but not looking even briefly at the video is inexcusable. But I'm guessing they already picked the 5 finalists for PR-value well before the entries were submitted, so they didn't want to spend their party-time at Dreamforce doing something so boring as looking at hackathon entries.

i would excuse it if they didn't make such a big deal that you had to show source and that you should start a month early. when you do that, you OWE people a run. the way they did it, you didn't even get a little screen time to shine for your sweat. this thing needs to get rejudged in the open.

So the winning team:

1) Had a member previously employed by the selection team.

2) Had built their project prior to the hackathon.

3) Was actively helped by the Salesforce team during the hackathon.

4) Was ensured a place by other teams not even having their submissions seen by the judges.

What a fair and balanced outcome! I fully expect everyone to take this event seriously in the future. /s

The only real surprise is that Salesforce wasn't better able to obscure it. Still, they weren't giving out a million dollars for a days work.

i wish it was a days work. they opened the competition oct 25th. so people were developing since then. and they might not have even gotten run.

In addition, Turian is a showman. His finalist presentation was more flamboyant than Benioff's keynote. I felt bad for the guys who presented after Upshot (they had skipped class at UCLA and Purdue to build a cool job candidate app). Watching the show, I felt that it likely that the judges would be swayed by Turian's command of the stage.

Wait, the same Thom Kim, Harvard graduate, who's an architect at salesforce.com?

Yeah! The same Thom Kim who demo'd UPSHOT at Salesforce before the hackathon was even announced. :http://www.meetup.com/Salesforce-com-Integration-Analytics/e...

Awful. Makes me think twice about doing company sponsored hackathon contests. Particularly contests that require a fee to enter.

I think just a little research on the company sponsoring the event would have been good enough for me to know better.

He left the company earlier this year.

Same one!

I was hacking at for 4 days. Here were my observations about the whole event. I echo op's concerns.

Day 1: Monday

Came in early 10am-ish. 2nd floor, Moscone West, Hackathon area set up. There was a table. This is where we checked out team in. Room capacity <50% filled.

Nightclub lighting. Imagine walking into a nightclub and turning on your computer to work. That's what this setup was like for 3 days! Someone briefly turned on the lights on Wednesday. I am thinking this had to do with Marc and Jim Cramer stopping by.

There was a camera crew with really expensive gear filming some people on day one. Not sure what this was all about.

Day 1 Overnight Food truck around midnight. Dead. You'd think more people would stick around overnight to work on their hacks. I'd say there were at most 20 people. 2 dudes were noticeably snoring towards the sponsor tables in the bags. First red flag.

Keynote day. Hacking continues. Hackers are free to watch the keynote on their laptops despite having "keynote" designation on their badges. Security ridiculously tight everywhere.

I started to get a weird vibe about the whole event. I've been to a few other hackathons (angelhack, disrupt, launch, startup weekend, paypal etc). This one seemed less organized and hacker friendly. They had food (think pizza, soda, and ice cream), but as far as wiring (wifi - shoddy, powerstrips - stationary to long desks, lighting - think nightclub-like, flashing blue, green, purple circles, and mainly event production staff present).

Re: Hack submissions. Instructions were to submit hacks to Challenge Post by 6pm Wednesday. Submissions must include link for a video and meet the rules and requirements. No information was communicated about judging, how finalists would be selected etc.

Waste of my time, money and overall bad vibe from Salesforce.

The more i read the comments in the article, the more I'm getting the impression that it was a set up deal in which salesforce wanted to buy off the source/architecture of the project from the ex-employee...

Marc Benioff probably thought that it would be a win win situation if he shamelessly plug in one of his investments on top of naive hackers.

So does he even care?

What a show...

... then, they acquire the project and the ex-employee is back at Salesforce again.

Perfectly plausible deniability, and the money stays in the company!

Gee who did the editing on this article? There are sentences that don't finish!

I've been in a few hackathons .. winning prizes in some (usually schwag or gadgets), and also ran a couple myself.

They don't work nearly as well with more valuable prizes. In my view, a hackathon is best as a starting point ... for teams, projects and ideas. They are much better chances to "network", particularly for hackers/makers, than so called "networking events", which are usually a waste of time.

Hackathons also work great for startups to introduce developers to their technology & culture, and perhaps recruit them.

The worst hackathons are when the intended outcome is that the winning team(s) go on to start a company with the proceeds of the win and/or are accepted into some newish accelerator/incubator.

In the case of Salesforce and it's extreme prize, the controversy could have been predicted .. there was no way they could police a fair competition (and that was unlikely their goal anyway). Their goal was similar to that of a nightclub that doesn't have the desired demographics, so they gave free cover ($99 "hacker" tickets), drinks and raffle tickets to the desired group (programmers in this case).

While the majority of the conference attendees were wandering around, mingling and generally enjoying themselves, every once in a while, they might chance by the "hackathon room" and look upon the poor creatures as they would monkeys in a zoo.

Quite the spectacle, it must have been..

Glad to see HN is keeping the exact title, including the grammatical error.

>> "Healthcare.lov came in second and won $50,000 for its service for people"

Excellent job picking a big market

My Five Finalists Would Have Been

Salesforce did a really smart job of hiding all other entries apart from the winning ones. I have done a few hackathons on Challenge Post earlier and this is the only one where they are not showing all submissions but only the winning submission in the gallery. While that is food for thought, I feel terrible for myself and some of the other awesome apps that folks built for this hackathon.

So, here are the top 5 apps that would have made the finals if I were judging this solely based on the videos I found on YouTube (and I've been doing software development for over 25 years). Just to be unbiased, this does not even include my own submission

* Smart * Chatter Complete * zip.ly * Incoming * Matt Lacey's app (Can't remember the name)

If I were to pick the top two, it would be Matt Lacey's app and Chatter Complete. I can't believe how those folks missed out.

Discussion at - http://boards.developerforce.com/t5/Salesforce-1-Million-Hac...

Somewhat related technology to the winning team: http://delver.io/

They launched in stealth on HN around 12months ago and reached the front page. Since then they've been operating under the radar working on the technology.

Seems like many didn't even get their app reviewed http://salesforce1million.challengepost.com/forum_topics/264...

What does Harvard have to do with any of this?

It seemed kind of stressed in all of press surrounding this. My guess: To give the impression these are college kids doing a neat project.

Some interesting comments about the hackathon below this poorly written article.

We were a participant and I am not worried about winning the 1M hackathon. Our focus was to build a great product and we did from Mon-Wed and submitted before 2pm which was told earlier and got changed to 6pm and we did not sleep for 36 hours. I would prefer if we can have all list posted in a reddit and let us crowdsource this winner not for the prize but for selecting the five best by crowdsourcing the hackathon - Our entry is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I3yhhP2HGk

> with the ability to use voice for making queries. oh come on..

I agree that cash prizes should be eliminated from Hackathons.

I'm not sure about Team Selection, whether to have random, pre-determined, or 'quick pitch' style.

Sometimes Hackathons can be a great experience for the participants. Sometimes, however, the evaluation criteria can ruin. We had one of the only functioning projects, but were docked points for using Twilio instead of AT&T's shitty API. (One of the Sensei's even told us to use Twilio.)

Just to clarify did this happen at the Salesforce hackathon? What project were you working on?

Something nobody is reporting is that the Hackathon actually started October 25, not Monday, so teams were allowed many weeks to get started in advance.

Dezzmo.com participated in the hackathon. Mostly for the $200 heroku credits, networking, fun and because we were able to get free tickets. That being said we never intended to submit the application due to violation of the rules. If we knew what the result would've been, hell, we should've submitted.

Clearly not every submission was even opened according to #dfnolaunch on twitter.

We've seen devs swap in prebaked apps for a $2000 first prize. For a $1M prize, what did we expect...

The Angel Hack in Chile was the same thing earlier on this year, I dunno if there was a lot of money on the table, but still the winners had the app done from long long ago.

I would love to force devs to use git and implement a true hackathon system (Open Source) to run hackathons and avoid cheating.

This should not come as a surprise anymore. Developers need to be more responsible in picking their hackathons - https://medium.com/hackers-and-hacking/593688fa7c09

I kind of don't want them to have my code anymore. Since they didn't even consider it for the competition, I feel like they don't have fair use to have it on their servers.

Anyone familiar with Salesforce's accounting scams should not be surprised by this.

Honesty races to the bottom, 1-800-NO-SOFTWARE

Woah, those guys are in my office!

You work at Salesforce? ;)

Congratulations to Turian!!! :)

Also check customerpath.io, it was created at df13 hackathon.

major congrats to turian and thom!

If you dig deep enough, you'll find that the hackathon was sponsored by Fox News and they kept it Fair and Balanced.

no. I know it wasn't sponsored by them. Not enough alert banners on the screen

I hope this hackathon happens again next year. They were very generous with their grand prize, and anything you built you were able to keep.

The one thing I'd ask them to change is for the prizes to be a little better distributed this year. I'd hate to be those second place winners who perhaps _just barely_ lost to the first place winners but had a $950,000 dropoff.

Perhaps first place $500,000, second place $250,000, third place $100,000 etc.

Their prize structure reflects rewards in winner-take-all scenarios, such as the tech industry. How much money is the second-best CRM system making compared to Salesforce?

A whole lot? I mean, I don't have exact figures but knowing a few I hardly doubt the next competitor has 95% less profit than SalesForce. Tech isn't winner take all in most cases, it's a few take all, like say 4-5...

Almost as much. Only difference is that SAP is actually making a decent profit, while Salesforce is loosing money...


Is salesforce making money? Hint: you won't get right answer listening to Benioff pumping and dumping on CNBC.

the prize structure was simply so that one company could eventually say "1 million dollar hackathon". no other reason. it's more reasonable to even it. every other company does that in the tech hackathons.

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