Chatting with Challenge Winners: BeeLine Reader

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BeeLine Reader (Winner of Social-E Challenge 2014)

Have you ever thought of an idea that just might work?

That’s how Nick Lum, founder and CEO of BeelineReader (Winner of Social-E Challenge 2014), came up with a way to guide your eyes while reading. Last week, I was fortunate enough to hear Nick’s story. “I had a great idea, and decided to just try it out,” he told me. By using a color gradient to guide our eyes from the end of one line of text to the beginning of another, Nick built BeelineReader to help us read more in less time.

Initially, while tossing around the idea, experts and researchers were impressed: “Oh, you must have been combining the accessory search paper from 1992 and the other paper…”

“No, I wasn’t aware of the research paper, but please, keep talking… I’d love to hear more.”

Before long, Nick’s vision became more and more real, and he learned from users that his technology was actually really helpful for people with learning disabilities or dyslexia. Although some speculators suggested that BeelineReader could “jack up the price for people who couldn’t live without it,” Nick had another vision in mind.

“My cousin and I are the equity-holders of the company, so we can decide whether we want to be solely profit-seeking or if we want to also consider the social impact of our business model.”

With this mission, Beeline Reader entered the BASES Challenge competition, where the team received lasting insight from mentors and judges. “We learned about socially beneficial enterprises,” Nick recalled “[We] didn’t have to be a nonprofit, but instead, could be a for-profit that’s beneficial — that isn’t just about as many dollars as possible.”

I was surprised to hear that before Challenge, Nick was working as a senior-associate in a corporate law form. “I was at a point in a life in which I might not otherwise do this,” he told me. “After we won BASES, I quit my job.”

Largely contributing to Nick’s decision, BASES Challenge opened many doors for BeelineReader.  “Winning was great, because we had been talking to people at the American Optometric Association (the oldest in the country with 40,000 members), and our contacts were having a little bit of a hard time.” With the credibility of “winning BASES,” the AOA was doubling down, writing articles, and spreading the word. “I talked to the chairman of the committee,” Nick informed me, “and this was the first time they ever had an unanimous vote on a committee in favor of technology.”

Today, BeelineReader is moving forward with tremendous momentum. Nick has even been talking to the Office of Accessible Education (Stanford OAE) at the Charles Schwab Education Center to make his technology available to Stanford students.

When asked about the takeaways of his journey thus far, Nick responded, “It’s really cool to see how you’re trying to solve Problem A but end up also trying to solve Problem B and C.”

As BeeLine Reader teaches us, sometimes, impact isn’t something you can plan.

By Vincent Chen

Women in Entrepreneurship: Q&A with Julia Hartz, Cofounder, Eventbrite

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This year, BASES hosted its inaugural Women in Entrepreneurship Summit (WiE). The event took place on Saturday, April 4 at the Obendorf Event Center at the Graduate School of Business. Delivering the keynote speech was Julia Hartz, Cofounder and President of Eventbrite. During her keynote speech, Hartz shared her story on how she developed as an undergraduate to becoming one of Fortune’s Ten Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs in 2013. Along with describing her experiences, she gave young women entrepreneurs valuable advice on how to be successful in their own careers.

We had the pleasure of following-up with Hartz after the event to hear more about her experience at BASES’ inaugural WiE.

Q: What inspired you to partake in the BASES’ Women In Entrepreneurship Summit this past month, offering your own time as well as your own personal story to drive discussion regarding the current representation of women in the business world?
A: I believe that you can’t be it if you can’t see it.  So much of my inspiration comes from seeing women who are challenging themselves to be great entrepreneurs and live a full life.  I’m inspired to pay it forward in any way I can find to connect with other women who have big dreams.

Q: Many entrepreneurs share their stories widely through a variety of channels and mediums, often to very large audiences. How valuable did you consider the intimate format of the WIE summit, and how did you take advantage of such a personal interaction with entrepreneurial students.
A: I think the summit offers a very unique opportunity for entrepreneurs to meet with each other in a different forum than is commonly used. I like the accessibility this affords and the depth of targeted conversations.

Q: The Summit is designed to offer students a personal and unique opportunity to interact with female leaders in business and to walk away with greater knowledge and confidence of the business world. On your end, were you able to learn and/or notice anything from your interactions with the crowd during the Q&A portion? If so, we’d love to hear about it!
AAbsolutely! I was struck by how insightful the questions were, and I wish we had time for more.  The audience seemed incredibly engaged, which is truly rewarding as a guest.

Q: Lastly, coming away from your experience at the Summit, what is the one final message you would want to give to not only young female entrepreneurs, but also to young entrepreneurs as a whole?
A: Don’t let fear rule your decision to take the leap into entrepreneurship!

Thank you Julia Hartz. We had an incredible inaugural event and look forward to next year’s WiE.

For more opportunities to meet founders and Stanford alumni in technology, please attend our BASES Challenge Finale on Friday, May 8 at the Stanford Arrillaga Alumni Center beginning at 2 PM. For more details on BASES Challenge and Finale, visit our website here. To RSVP, go here. 

Sponsor Spotlight: A Chat With Amy Ritz, Marketing Lead at Accenture

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Accenture embodies the innovative Silicon Valley mindset as one of the world’s largest technology consulting firms, incorporating the newest technologies into its client services. As one of our BASES’s sponsors this year, we are thrilled to give Stanford students more exposure to opportunities at Accenture. With programs ranging from the Accenture Future Technology Leaders Program to internships in finance and software development, Accenture offers a wide array of options for students to learn and grow in their years at Stanford.

To learn more about Accenture’s vision, goals, and relationship with BASES, we had the opportunity to talk with Amy Ritz, Marketing Lead at Accenture.

Q: Why did Accenture want to sponsor BASES?
A: Accenture is a company with a deep investment in innovation. We believe it’s important to become an integral part of the open innovation/entrepreneurial ecosystem at Stanford.  We would like to forge lasting relationships with students who will ultimately launch startups as part of our connection to the startup community.  And of course, we would like to be a company of choice for the high caliber students looking for careers or internships in technology.

Q:  Describe your relationship with BASES over the years. How has BASES made an impact on Accenture?
A: We are only just getting to know the students at BASES, but we couldn’t be more impressed with the professionalism of the organization. We are excited to be a part of the BASES Challenge, hackathons, and other programs. The students are really inspiring, and we look forward to engaging with them.

Q: What is Accenture’s vision?
A: Accenture just released the Accenture Technology Vision 2015, our annual outlook of the technology trends that we believe will have the greatest impact on enterprises over the next three to five years. This year, we identified a 180 degree shift from the “me” economy to the “we” economy as pioneering enterprises are tapping into a broad array of other digital businesses, digital customers, and digital devices at the edge of their networks to create digital “ecosystems”. In doing so, they will shape new markets while also transforming the way we all work and live.

Q: Where do you see Accenture heading in the next few years?
A: Here in Silicon Valley at the Accenture Technology Lab, we’ll continue to remain focused on exploring new and emerging technologies that are relevant for our enterprise clients and applying them in innovative ways to address key business challenges.

We’re also focused on growing our Open Innovation program. The initiative is focused on working with top-tier accelerators, start-ups, venture capitalists, universities and corporate R&D labs, to build and bring to market innovative solutions. We serve as a vital bridge between our Global 2000 clients and this broader community, helping connect them with enterprise-relevant technology innovators while providing our consulting, technology and operations skills to help them meet their business transformation objectives.

Q: Are there any exciting projects Accenture is working on currently? Please elaborate.
A: The Accenture Technology Labs is doing work in a number of exciting areas.  We have four Strategic Innovation Initiatives which focus on long-term, disruptive areas that we believe will transform how businesses operate, engage with customers and grow. The four initiatives are:

  1. Digital Customer: Customers are increasingly using social channels and alternate community forums not only to connect, but to share insights and feedback with each other. We’re focused on how to structure the customer genome – the DNA of what every business should know about their digital customers.
  2. Digital Workforce: Digital technologies including social collaboration, mobile performance support, work-stream analytics, and intelligent decision support continue to mature. We’re working to accelerate the digital work revolution by creating a Digital Workforce Platform that will transform processes to align with the digital business and industrialize the delivery of digital workforce enablement.
  3. Industrial Internet of Things: The Industrial Internet refers to the integration of complex physical machinery with networked sensors and software. We are focused on exploring how this disruptive technology will change business models and how clients can use it to create competitive advantage and sustainable business value
  4. Intelligent Application Delivery:  As organizations push for greater operational agility, there is a sharp shift toward simpler, more modular apps. We’re working to help our clients accelerate day-to-day application development, maintenance and outsourcing activities by incorporating mass automation and imbedding intelligence through machines and support the needs of a digital business through cutting-edge application building and rapid prototyping capabilities.

Thank you Amy for speaking to us about the future vision of Accenture. We are truly excited to cultivate our partnership with Accenture, a company that is evidently forward thinking and innovative, to help Stanford students push the envelope in entrepreneurship.

By Valerie Huynh

Kathryn Gould, Co-founder of Foundation Capital: A New Opportunity When at a Crossroads

Kathryn Gould sat smiling and engaged, ready to respond to the questions posed by Mike Malone, a seasoned tech industry author and journalist. Gould, a well-known Valley entrepreneur and one of the first women venture capitalists is now enjoying semi-retirement at her country ranch home. She is the co-founder of Foundation Capital and started her career working at Oracle. It was there where she learned many of the foundational skills that would prove useful throughout her career such as how to sell. A firm believer in the idea that “chance favors the prepared mind” she was always open to opportunities.

One of these opportunities presented itself after a less than cordial encounter with Oracle founder, Larry Ellison, in which Gould was asked to leave the company. Realizing that unlike in times past, Ellison was serious, she found herself at a difficult crossroads. Rather than taking this as a setback she saw an opportunity to begin her own executive search firm, leveraging the connections she had made working at Oracle for many years. Having successfully placed thousands, she eventually decided to create Foundation Capital so that she could begin to invest in these quality people she so carefully sourced and placed.

Looking back upon her journey thus far Gould reflected upon her investment philosophy. Proudly, she recounts that rather than investing with the idea that maybe one out of every ten companies would be successful, she genuinely believed that every one of her investments was going to be a winner, and many have. It was not an easy task to found a new investment firm and required determination and hard work. Gould firmly believes, “it’s not the calls you take, it’s the calls you make.” It is this attitude that has enabled Gould to carve out an illustrious entrepreneurial career as one of the most respected and prominent women in Silicon Valley.

By Chad Kamisugi

For more information on ETL, visit our website here

Knowing How and When to Adapt: John Collison, Co-Founder of Stripe

“If you’re interested in starting a company, you don’t quite get the full picture” cautioned John Collison, a self-proclaimed start-up history geek. The problem with start-up histories is that the founders tend to “whitewash things a little bit.” With this as a starting point, Collison gave the class a candid history of the founding of Stripe.

Stripe wasn’t Collison’s first company. So how do you pick the right idea to pursue? “To spot opportunities requires you to question to how things work,” said Collison. But even the right idea can seem slow at first. Two years into Stripe’s history, they had just 50 customers. Going out of their way to take care of these early customers, Stripe began to spread by word of mouth.

As feedback flooded in from these new users, Stripe had to decide how to change to accommodate their requests and complaints. Collison explained the importance of knowing how and when to adapt. It isn’t about reaching the final form of your product as quickly as possible. Instead, it’s about following the right path all the way through.

When it came time for questions, there was an obvious one: what is it like to found a company with your brother? Collison described the benefits of working with a team that you already know how to work with. It solves the “meta issues” to collaboration and lets you focus on the task at hand. Clearly, it was a strategy that paid off for Patrick and John.

By Thomas Teisberg

For more info on ETL, please visit our website here

Women in Entrepreneurship Summit: Changing the 13% of Women-Led Startups

By Stephany Yong

I love startups.

Now before you let out a sigh and roll your eyes at just another Stanford student with startup fever, hear me out.

I remember the first time I set foot into StartX my freshman year. It was the third week of winter quarter, and I was set to meet Kyle, the founder of a startup called Pixlee, whom I had met at the BASES career fair the week before. Walking through the floor space to the room where the interview would be held, I took note of the interesting set up, with tables forming clusters of makeshift offices for the startups housed there.

It was unlike any office space I had ever seen – there were nerf gun bullets and swivel office chairs strewn across the floor, whiteboard paint walls with customer acquisition strategies half mapped out in marker. And another glaring thing – I was the only girl in the building that afternoon.

Over the next few months, I dove headfirst and worked there part time on marketing when I wasn’t in class. The experience transformed me and how I viewed myself and my work. I loved how I was making an impact, preparing sales decks, writing blog posts, and consulting with the CEO on my projects (of a 10-person company at the time but still pretty cool). Furthermore, I adopted a fascination with shipping and building things. At Pixlee, three engineers had built a service that delighted hundreds of thousands of people around the world. It inspired me to get more serious about my first computer science class, and ultimately, pursue a degree in computer science.

My first foray (if you can call it that) into entrepreneurship opened up an entirely new world to me. The environment was infectious, marked by cheeto-stained keyboards and standing desks, but more importantly, a scrappy and growth-driven mindset that made me want to improve, be sharper, and learn more about the space by asking good questions. When thrown into an unstructured setting, I was forced to find a way to add value to the team, and now it’s a skill I want to continue to improve over my career. But looking around me at StartX, I noticed how the Valley’s celebrated startup culture only featured a handful of women.

I thought back to all the remarkable women I had met at Stanford – amazing engineers, product gurus, designers, and marketers – I know that they would bring tremendous value to any startup, whether it be one they start or one they join. There are unique problems that can and should be tackled by the other half of the population, who are just as creative, strategic, and determined to solve the world’s consumer, enterprise, health, and energy problems as their male counterparts. And this is where I see the value in the BASES Women in Entrepreneurship Summit.

The summit is going to feature female founders who will lead intimate discussions with at most 15 participants about topics that they think are key discussion points: the things you should know as an entrepreneur, from splitting equity with co-founders to navigating the murky waters of defining your company’s culture and everything in between.

This naturally leads us to ask why we need a womens’ summit to begin with. And I think this statistic speaks for itself: Only 13 percent of VC deals went to women-led startups in 2013 (Pitchbook). I think this minority percentage stems less from an issue of competency or interest, but rather, starting a conversation around the unique challenges women entrepreneurs face. How do you pitch to a group of male investors and navigate any doubts they may have about the industry you are devising a solution for? How do you handle being a strong negotiator without coming across as overly aggressive? How do you build a network in a male-dominated venture capital scene? These are tough questions for anyone to address, let alone asking in front of 100 other people at one of Stanford’s several VC panel discussions and mixers throughout the year. We hope organizing groups of 15 entrepreneurial women in workshops led by female entrepreneurs will create an open and encouraging environment where women can freely ask questions, share their stories, and build meaningful relationships with one another.

I’m so glad that this spring we’re finally bringing together some of the most driven, entrepreneurial women across campus and the Valley to get to know each other and start a discussion about something that means so much to me.

We look forward to reading your applications, and can’t wait to see you in April!


Apply now at here at http://bit.ly/baseswomensummit

A Look Inside TreeHacks: Free Redbull & 124 Projects from Hack-Warriors

Written by Kameron Riley Butler

On the evening of February 28th, the opening ceremony of TreeHacks kicked off as hackers from more than 80 high schools and universities across the nation piled into CEMEX auditorium. The crows gave a warm welcome to keynote speaker Jeff Dean, and after describing his notably impressive work at Google, he left the eager hackers with a valuable inspiration: “Have fun, build something cool, and don’t stop learning, this weekend and beyond.” As the opening ceremony concluded, the hacker herd made its way back to the Arrillaga Alumni Center to embark upon the thirty-six hour endeavor that lay ahead. As the doors closed behind the last few stragglers, day one was upon us.

Day One:

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Photo Caption: The Treehacks community spares no time,diving straight into the hacking

Hackers and tinkerers from Stanford and beyond had claimed their thrones for the next three days and quickly set out to begin their masterpieces. If it was not the massive amounts of computers and hardware that was impressive, it was most definitely the plethora of food available to the 600+ coding crusaders (Seriously, unlimited free RedBull? Kind bars? Donuts? Yes please). Additionally, whether it was a cohort of students straight from The Farm or a last minute coalition of Harvard, Brown, and high school students, every group was seeping with energy and excitement. However, hacking was not the only highlight of this inaugural event. Nearly every hour, one of the 85 sponsors hosted a tech talk or workshop teaching some unmistakably valuable knowledge and tools to propel their ideas forward. It was dangerously easy to get caught up in the awe of the event with everything that the sponsors were offering (API’s, hardware for hacking, swag upon swag), however many teams were making headway by the midnight of the first night.

Day Two:

As the early morning light permeated the windows, it glistened upon the weary and worn. Those who managed to catch an inkling of rest slowly rose from their cocoons and wiped the drool from their cheeks. For the ambitious that sought rejuvenation departed to hike the Dish while the rest returned to their computers to join those most dedicated who had powered straight on through the night. Empty RedBulls rolled across the floor as the hackers climbed back into their seats, pushed away the scraps and wrappers that once contained the essentials of hacker-fuel, and dove back into their brilliant projects. The excitement and energy had sustained itself throughout the night; websites, apps, hardware hacks, and robotic devices were deep in development. As the tinkering continued, endless amounts of food came and went (The hackers were unbelievably well fed and nourished thanks to the amazing Treehacks team). Yoga and mobile workshops throughout the day gave Hackers room to stretch their limbs. As day two came to a close, the anticipation began to build as the remaining hours were ticking away.

Day 3

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Photo caption: The creators of DisTrac display their real-time disease epidemic tracker

The last morning of Treehacks brought a bittersweet feeling. It was a promise of long awaited sleep combined with the bleak disappointment that the event would all be over soon.It was the most important moment of the event as teams frantically made the finishing touches to their creations as the deadline grew nearer. As the clock reached 11:00 am, a synchronized sigh was released throughout the building, and 124 different projects were successfully submitted to be judged. At 12:00 pm, the 124 competing hacks displayed their creations to be seen by hackers and sponsors alike. The variety of projects was overwhelming and frankly, very humbling.

Projects ranged from the artistic to the ambitious: drones controlled by human gestures, 3D holographic visualizers using Microsoft’s Kinect, mood-driven music players, and so many more innovative ideas leveraging cutting edge technology. One team (MetricD) was in the process of creating an app that allowed for “an efficient way for doctors to monitor patient symptoms and recovery after surgery.” With a sleek and easy to use design, MetricD seemed to be a promising advancement in doctor-patient communication. Turn the corner and another team was engineering an interactive game that utilized the Oculus Rift to place the user in an animated world. To sum it up from its creators, it is essentially “Mazerunner meets Minecraft in the world of Oculus.”

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Photo caption: MAKKMat creators demo their smart workout mat that relays workout data directly to the user’s phone

Hacker Perspectives

Participants ranged from first-time hackers to the weekend hack-warriors, both male and female. Experienced hacker Chen Ye of Brown University (and coincidentally the Director of Design for HackatBrown) was very impressed, stating that the event was  “well run, fairly polished, and full of nice and friendly volunteers.” Chen was particularly impressed by the mentorship program offered during the event, regularly referred to as “the Uber of mentorship”. The effective mentor dispatch program made it easy for participants to receive rapid assistance on any topic, and majority of participants felt very well-supported.

Offering another perspective, Angela Kong and her team of female hackers admitted that they now “feel spoiled for future hackathons”. When asked for their opinion regarding the common gender imbalance of hackathon events, Angela and her team responded, “Being a female hacker is not a big deal. We feel very much a part of the TreeHacks community.” The TreeHacks team made a very clear initiative to shift this imbalance, and the diverse inclusivity of TreeHacks was a major step forward.

From the sponsor side, Tim Robinson and Barbara Castro of IBM were equally impressed with how interactive the students were. They were also especially excited to bring their technology to the students of all experience levels. “The event was very positive, and the students had a great energy level. We loved seeing all the sponsors come out, and we could not help notice the great cross section of students represented,” said Robinson.

First time hacker Patrick O’Grady found himself inspired by all of the innovative technology and expressed his desire to return next year. His most useful advice? “The potential of what you can create depends heavily on how sleepy you are.” So if you see someone walking around campus this week seeming a little low on energy, give them a hug to show that you understand.

TreeHacks Last Thoughts 

As the demo exo began to wind down and the top eight hacks were chosen for final judging  (Click here to read more about the top hacks of the event), it was safe to say that TreeHacks had delivered far more than promised. The record breaking event presented an endless variety of experiences for every make and model of hackers, but these experiences cannot be fully expressed in this blog. In order to truly understand the powerful environment of a hackathon, be sure to dive in next year!

Making TreeHacks Your First (And Not Last) Hackathon: The All-You-Can-Read Survival Guide

You’ve entered a strange world.  Everything in it looks familiar (unless you go to school in the Northeast, in which case the palm trees might be a little foreign), but it behaves quite differently. Time seems to pass irregularly, ebbing and flowing at random. Evolution must have pulled some switcheroos, as the people here are decidedly more centered on a few key traits than what you’re used to. Your senses are heightened.  For the moment, though, it’s all fun and games. And if you do it right, it will continue to be.

No, you’re not dreaming, and no, you’re not in some parallel universe.

You are at TreeHacks, your first hackathon.

If you’ve never hacked at a hackathon before, no doubt your first will bring some surprises. Hackathons aren’t exactly par for the course that is a college student’s life. Trying to find somewhere else that will house you, feed you, and give you more swag than you can carry for an entire 36 hours will probably result in a pretty fruitless search (if you’re wondering how exactly that’s possible, it’s all because of our awesome sponsors!  Check them out at http://www.treehacks.com!)  Looking for a place with the same density of computer programming talent and nerdy camaraderie will, in all likelihood, be equally futile.  But it’s all part of the magic.  Hackathons can be an incredible experience – just ask any college student who moonlights as a hackathon hacker, and they’ll launch into a long list of why they love what they do.  In time, you’ll get there too (if you haven’t already!).  We know that the first time around can be a whirlwind, though.  With that in mind, here’s your complete hackathon survival guide.

PREPARATION (or, an oddball packing list)

Luckily, hackathons are pretty easy to prepare for.  There’s the essentials:

  1. Your computer. As it turns out, it’s pretty hard to hack without one of these. And in case I need to say it, desktops are very much not advised.
  2. Whatever you want to plug in to your computer. If you’re a mouse person, bring it! If you’re an external keyboard person, have a ball (preferably a ball that fits in your backpack)! If you’re an external monitor (read: “big screen”) type of person, I might kindly advise restraining yourself. But hey, I’m not a cop.
  3. Whatever else you hack with. Picture yourself going to work on a long project or essay, and you’ll know what you need.
  4. Phone charger, preferably of the USB type. Not only will this help you if you decide to build an app, it’ll come in handy in case access to electrical outlets gets tight.
  5. Any hardware you want to hack on – arduinos and the like are definitely encouraged!

And then there’s the other stuff:

  1. Things having to do with sleep. Personally, I’m a blanket-and-the-floor type of guy, but I’ve also been known to fall asleep on large rocks, logs, and just about every moving vehicle in existence. The bottom line is, have a plan, and make it adaptable. Treat it like camping, if you want. Also, odds are you’ll be sleeping at some interesting times of the day and night, and that other people won’t necessarily be doing the same.  So if you’re one of those people that needs absolute silence and darkness to get some shuteye, bring a mask and some earplugs.
    1.  If you want to know more about hackathon sleeping, read this! 
  2. Clothes. This isn’t Stanford’s fashion week, but it’ll nice to have a change or two, especially right before judging starts.  Also make sure to have some layers and warmth – believe me when I say your body is not used to producing heat at 4 in the morning.
  3. Toiletries.  Just because you’re hacking doesn’t mean you can forget personal hygiene, ya filthy animal.  And even something small like brushing your teeth can make you feel like a new person when you need it most.

That should do it!  One more tip: try to keep your bag on the smaller side.  We promise we won’t try to sardine everyone, but 500 college kids in one place can only mean so much free space.  Bringing less will make your physical footprint a little smaller, and will give you less stuff to keep track of so you can keep your focus on hacking!

ARRIVING AT TREEHACKS (or, more nerds than you’ve ever seen in one place)

However you’re getting to the hackathon, you should do at least two things while en route:

  1. Brainstorm ideas for what to hack on.  If you can’t come up with anything, don’t sweat it – it’s not totally abnormal to only settle on an idea an hour or two in.  But knowing exactly what you’re going after when hacking starts will allow you to dive right in.
  2. SLEEP.  Like, as much as possible.  Depending on how hard you go during the hackathon, trust us, you’re going to need it.
    1. SLEEP.  Seriously.

When you get to Stanford, point yourself towards the Arrillaga Alumni Center.  Don’t just search for “Arrillaga” because, as any Stanford student will tell you, half our buildings are named that.

And now, for the fun part – the hackathon! When you get there, in all likelihood, it’ll be a little bit of a hot mess. Don’t worry, things will calm down as everybody settles in to their hacking.  Find the registration tables, wait in line a little, get checked in and get some swag, and then get ready!  Wander around, pick a table, and start getting set up to hack. People will be milling around, and you should too!  Make some new friends!  Say hi to some old ones!  Go check out the awesome sponsor companies – they’ll be able to give you the lowdown on any API’s they might have for you to hack on, or other cool things that could come in handy later. Worst comes to worst, you’ll probably come out of your sponsor tour with some free swag, and maybe a contact to hit up for an internship after the hackathon ends.

Eventually, make your way to the opening ceremony.  You’ll know it’s time because everybody else will be doing it!

HACKING (or, ironically the part about which I can give you the least amount of helpful advice)

This one’s mostly on you.  You’ve got 36 hours, go for it!  Try to pick a project that’ll be manageable, but challenging. Part of the fun of hackathons is learning something new!  Bonus points for projects that have good divisions of labor. Picking something that requires every piece to be built out in succession won’t make maximum use of the fact that you have a team to work with. Projects that have pieces that can be worked on in parallel are oftentimes better. Either way, find some form of version control and collaboration to use. Personally, I’d recommend github but use whatever you feel best on! And if you get stuck on a problem, take advantage of the mentorship system we’ll have in place to get help from someone who really knows their stuff.

While you’re hacking, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Eat when you need to, sleep when you need to. You’ll be surprised at how much more quickly you’ll solve problems when you’re fully alert and awake. Tracking down a missing semicolon can be just about impossible when you’re tired, and finding flaws in your logic will be miserable. You’ll make much shorter work of both when you’re rested, even if it’s only a short nap.

As far as sleeping (and yes, you’ll have to do it at least once during a 36 hour hackathon): sleeping at a hackathon is an art unto itself.  Suffice to say, make sure you do it.  For more tips, go here!

FINISHING UP (or, more scrambling than a plate of eggs)

It’s the 11th hour (or 35th, as it were), and things are (hopefully) just about finished.  Towards the end of the hackathon, you’ll want to start thinking about judging.  If you’re going for prizes, you’ll want to concentrate on the functionality that you’ll be able to show the judges. Nobody expects your hack to be perfect, but “Look what my app does!” goes a longer way than “It probably could do this, if we hadn’t spent 6 hours getting that div to line up a pixel to the right” (although don’t underestimate the appeal of showing where your app will go, given a little more time).

Old man Murphy can (and probably will) be a bit of a pain. If you’re like most people, the last few hours are where anything and everything will crash, maybe on the merge of various pieces.  For that reason, leave a little extra time for bringing the parts of your project together. And if it happens, don’t worry!  Do your best to sort everything out, but if you can’t, showing the separate pieces of your project to the judges isn’t the worst thing in the world.  This is also where tools like github come in handy.  If a stretch goal code change crashes everything, you can always revert back to your working version relatively painlessly.

Lastly, don’t forget to submit!  Get your hack out there!  Show the world!  Chances are, it’s pretty cool. 🙂  And putting it up on challengepost will leave a permanent trace for you to refer back to on things like resumes.

BREATHING (or, everything else that you haven’t done for the past 5-36 hours)

You should do this. You may not have a lot of time, but take a few seconds to relax. You’re done with your first hack (and almost your first hackathon!).  Be proud!  Whether you came a little short of your initial goals, or your hack turned out to be more than you could have ever dreamed of, rest easy for a few seconds.  Coding for as long as you have is no easy feat!

EXPO (or, thought you were bug free?  Nope.)

Get ready to show your hack off!  By this point, you’re probably going to be tired.  Maybe hungry.  Maybe both.  Keep it together, you’re almost there!  Set up wherever you’re assigned at the tables, and hang out.  When the judges come up to you, just show them what you’ve done.  Believe that what you’ve done is cool, and it’s that much more likely to come off as such.  If your hack freaks out as you’re showing the judge, don’t sweat it, just refresh and go for it again.  I find it best to keep your demo to a specific set of actions that you know will work well.  But hey, if you get the sudden urge to go rogue, I won’t stop you!

CLOSING CEREMONY AND DEMOS (or, how the heck did they do that…?)

Eventually, judging will come to a close.  Top projects will be picked.  If you’re one of them, congratulations!  Keep doing your thing!  If not, sit tight and chill.  Watch the top demos – they’ll be pretty good hacks, and might even inspire you for a future project.

AND FINALLY…HEADING HOME (or, your bed never felt this good)

Bask in the glow that comes with finishing your first hackathon. Sleep!  It may take a day or two to feel normal again, but that’s fine.  Wear your TreeHacks shirt the next day because, hey, your earned it!  And start looking for your next hackathon adventure.

See you at TreeHacks!

MORE RESOURCES:

These are some resources compiled by the TreeHacks team.  By no means do you have to read all or even any of them!

A. READINGS:

B. SETTING THINGS UP:

C. LEARNING THINGS

Even more resources…from text editors to wireframe tools to web hosting

Post by Alex Bertrand

Alon Cohen, Co-Founder of Houzz: Realizing the American Dream

Alon Cohen, an immigrant who came to the U.S. in his thirties, first asked the room, “How many of you were born outside of the United States?” To everyone’s surprise, half of the students in NVIDIA raised their hands. In a room filled with people who identify as immigrants, entrepreneurs, or in some cases, both, Alon’s story was particularly inspiring – a vivid example of the American Dream.

Alon worked at eBay before taking a risk and starting his own company with his wife, Adi Tatarko. It didn’t make much sense to leave a stable job while raising a family, but Alon identified a problem that he wanted to solve. When discussing this transition, he smirked and said, “Of course I had trouble explaining it to my mom.”

Sometimes the most rational decision isn’t the best one.

A few years back, Alon and Adi wanted to remodel their traditional ranch house and were surprised to find that there was no efficient way of doing so. They spent hours at Borders shuffling through dozens of books and magazines to combine ideas and come up with a vision for their home. In the 21stcentury, when everything is streamlined, from online grocery shopping to connecting with someone who lives 10,000 miles away, this was an anomaly. Alon wanted to make the process of home remodeling easier. His motto is to try and “make complicated things simple.”

6 years later, his company Houzz, is disrupting the interior design industry and is one of the hottest startups in the Bay Area. Alon explains that there were many instances when he hit a wall along the way, but he had to keep moving forward. He bootstrapped through every hiccup. Although he knew that raising money and monetizing where important parts of the process, he couldn’t stress the value of the team enough. Alon and Adi personally interview every potential employee who walks through the door in order to decide whether they are the right fit for the company’s culture. His two key pieces of advice: 1) pick the people you work with carefully and 2) no matter how talented you are, work incredibly hard.

Alon’s story shows that there is no secret sauce to starting your own company. Sometimes, you just have to pinpoint a problem, take a leap of faith, and be persistent in trying to solve it. Whether you are oozing with Silicon Valley ideals, or feel like an outsider in this little bubble, you have the ability to make something complicated in this world just a little simpler.

For the full lineup of ETL, visit the website

By Zabreen Khan

The Winner’s Circle (Part 1): Switchmate

SwitchMate (Product Showcase Winner 2014)

“Every time we went to Home Depot, we got kicked out. But, every time we were there, we learnt a ton.”

When Daniel Peng, Co-Founder of SwitchMate, spoke to users about their perceptions of home automation, they responded with very similar answers. “Most people don’t know what it is, and if they did, they didn’t want to call an electrician. Or they were at an apartment, so they couldn’t rewire,” Peng said. The adjectives they chose to describe home automation were often “cumbersome,” “complicated,” and “expensive.”

Born in the Stanford Mechatronics lab, SwitchMate was inspired when Co-Founder Robert Romana “wanted to turn his lights off from bed.”

Along with co-founder and electrical engineer Ashish Dua, the team learned about an industry that could be worth $52 billion by 2020. “We all met in college 6 years ago in the Bay Area,” Daniel said. “At the time, we were working on different projects.”

Throughout their user research stage, they more clearly realized that most people were deterred from home automation because it was not simple enough. With continued feedback, Daniel revealed, “We were able to use a 3D printer and iteratively make prototypes to ship out to our beta testers.”

Before long, the team entered the BASES Challenge with SwitchMate. Their focus: “How are we going to make a demo stand such that when people come by and play around with it, they’ll get it immediately?” Ultimately, Daniel used very few words to to showcase their product: “Hey, are you interested in simplifying your home lighting system?” Afterwards, users who tried it “set the prototype, smack it on, and they understood it immediately.”

The BASES Challenge helped SwitchMate “validate their idea” because “people really liked where it was going.” After the competition, Ashish and Daniel quit their jobs to commit themselves to the team full-time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When asked about the culture of their company, Daniel was quick to respond: “Team dynamic was extremely important. The biggest thing is believing in the mission of the company, such as loving the product and caring a lot about our customers. There are a couple of things that we all definitely agree on.”

With the 1st Place winnings, the team bought a 3D printer to more flexibly iterate over their prototypes. A priority on customers has allowed Switchmate to make great strides towards a common mission. As an entrepreneur, Daniel explained, “We all went through the education system, and while we learned a lot from classes, there’s nothing like just going out there and trying it ourselves. Learning by doing is one of the biggest things for me, and entrepreneurship is an awesome way to do that.”

On the future of SwitchMate, Daniel was quick to answer: “Our vision is to make home automation extremely simple, so people can use it without even having to pick up a screwdriver.”

To learn more about Switchmate, visit their website http://www.myswitchmate.com/

By Vincent Chen

Empowering the next generation of Stanford entrepreneurs and beyond

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