Category Archives: Features

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

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BASES Q&A: ANDREA SY AND BRANDON GARCIA

With the end of fall quarter nearing, the Branding Team sat down with Co-Presidents of BASES Andrea and Brandon to talk about their time at BASES and their upcoming goals for the year.

Tell us a little about your time at BASES.

Andrea Sy (AS): I joined BASES my freshman through the Freshman Battalion program, became VP of Social Entrepreneurship the next year, switched to VP of Business Development my junior year, and am currently Co-President. When I first joined BASES, I really appreciated the opportunity to talk to and develop relationships with amazing upperclassmen who were so willing to share advice from their personal experience with entrepreneurship to their favorite hangouts on campus.

My time as VP of Social-E and BD helped sharpen my focus and clarify what several passions of time. I realized that I loved building teams and working with people. One of my key focuses as VP was working with people and figuring out the best way to motivate and inspire people. On the other hand, BASES also gave me access to a lot of start-ups in different fields—talking to them helped shape my interest in tech industry. I realized I was interested in data science and want to leverage existing technology to help developing nations. As an international student from the Philippines, it’s amazing to see the power of innovation in the Silicon Valley. I hope to be able to bring that to the Philippines as well.

Brandon Garcia (BG): I joined BASES at the end of my freshman year and was an officer on the Product Showcase team, previously one of the three teams comprising BASES Challenge, before moving to the VP position in my junior year. These roles really opened up my eyes to the tech industry and exploded my network in the Valley. I met some truly inspiring individuals—directly and indirectly through BASES—that solidified my interest and desire to get involved in the entrepreneurship space.

The leadership opportunity is truly one that is unparalleled on campus. It presents a nearly risk-free environment for learning everything from recruiting and building a team to managing enormous budgets to executing under pressure from the clock, large audiences and elite members of worldwide entrepreneurial community.

Being so immersed in this organization has helped me realize that I one day want to continue providing entrepreneurship education and support to young innovators in the future. I hope to one day return to my hometown, Miami, FL, and help grow the very young, immature startup ecosystem.

Why did you want to run for BASES co-president?

AS: When we were thinking about BASES co-president, we thought about our experience with BASES; what parts we loved about BASES; how our experience in BASES transformed us not just as individuals, but also as professionals; how we can bring BASES to the level to not just bring the same experience but see what else is new and happening in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

BG: There are very few people who are given the chance to lead an organization as complex, developed, and large as the BASES Team. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to learn from each and every BASES member and affiliate.

When Andrea and I were thinking about running, we thought about how much BASES had already given us and how it continues to teach us about ourselves each and every day. We’re excited to give back to the group and help our members and the surrounding community get even more out of the organization than we do!

What is your vision for BASES next year?

BG: BASES’s mission is to empower student entrepreneurs, starting with our members and extending to the Stanford community and beyond. Every single one of our teams helps cultivate a host of necessary skills for becoming a successful entrepreneur.
This year, however, we’re putting a strong emphasis on streamlining our organization and providing infrastructure for professionally developing our members.

AS: [In terms of campus outreach,] we want to talk to the student body—what do they want to see in terms of entrepreneurship, instead of figuring out what events students want to be involved in. It’s great that there are a lot of companies in the Bay Area, but not everything is in line with student interests.

What are some issue you faced in the past?

AS: Alex and John [the past presidents] built a strong team and a strong foundation with streamlining the organization, and we want to continue with that.

BG: One of the issues we faced had been lack of documentation and transparency. All of our teams’ operations are visible to the entire organization through access to meeting minutes, planning documents, financials, and contact lists.

What about professionally developing the BASES members?

AS: We wanted to make sure we could provide the highest quality resources for our members. We also made sure we had the most dedicated qualified people in our team, cutting the size of BASES from 100 to 70 or 80 members.

BG: Another issue [we faced in the past was] that BASES members are less of entrepreneurs and more of event planners. This year, we’re highly focused on the professional development of our members. We seek to give each officer a high responsibility role where they can truly own and innovate an aspect of BASES. Additionally, we’ve put together a year long professional development program that will teach our members about identifying a customer need, accurately defining the problem, composing a viable solution, and iterating prototypes to create a customer driven product. The program will kick off with our BASES Bus Startup Tour and feature VCs, entrepreneurs and product experts as workshop leaders during each of our sessions.

What are you most excited about in BASES this fall?

BG: Our professional development program. We’ve worked with lots of different entrepreneurs and investors this summer to put together a year long program that will help our members understand and develop the skills they need to identify a problem or need in the market and build a customer-driven solutions. We’ll be kicking off our program with BASES Bus. We’ll be taking a bus full of our members around the Bay as we attend talks and workshops at Twitter, Rothenberg Ventures, and HealthTap.

AS: Frosh Battalion. I’m really excited to get new lifeblood into BASES. These freshmen are going to be the future of BASES, the VPs, presidents—I started off in Frosh Battalion as well. It’s going to be fun sharing entrepreneurial know-how to freshmen, since they’re always so eager and happy to learn everything.

BASES Bus Tour: A Recap

Last Friday, a group of BASES members boarded Professional Development’s new program, BASES Bus for an all-day excursion to Twitter, Rothenberg Ventures, RocketFuel and HealthTap.

“The goals were to empower BASES members as entrepreneurs, to exchange ideas, ask questions and build long-term relationships with the companies,” Professional Development Officer of Operations Irving Hsu, said.

At each company, BASES toured the buildings, hitting spots like Twitter’s rooftop garden deck, and Rocket Fuel’s Ground Control room, which displays real-time statistics on large screens.

Each tour featured or ended with a talk about an aspect of entrepreneurship from the eyes of BASES alumni, now executives at the firms. From Twitter’s intrapreneurship culture to HealthTap’s growing vision for health information, the talks aimed to motivate and inspire.

When asked about his time with BASES last Friday, former BASES VP of Business Development and current Rothenberg Ventures Partner Brandon Farwell said, “BASES continues to adhere to its entrepreneur-first mission. By providing a conduit for relationship building, BASES proudly linked Stanford entrepreneurs with the appropriate knowledge network: CEOs, VCs and legal counsel.”

Farwell said about Rothenberg Ventures, “We are a start-up. We are entrepreneurs, and we understand and sympathize with their gripes and stresses. I loved chatting with BASES about how our approaches to venture capital and working with entrepreneurs are vastly different than the established world.”

After a full day, the bus dropped off BASES with new contacts, insight, company swag and—of course—a selfie.

BASES Finale 2014 – Photo Gallery

Last Tuesday was our annual BASES Finale – the culmination event of the BASES Challenge competition.  The event kicked off with public pitches from E-Challenge and Social-E finalists where all the teams had a chance to show off what they’ve been working on.  Sponsors, judges and spectators from all over Silicon Valley came to participate in the event. See below for the list of winners along with some photos courtesy of Akiharu Maki Photography.

E-Challenge: 
1st Place Winner: Allertope 
2nd Place Winner: Madorra 
3rd Place Winner: Peeps 
Crowd-Favorite: Peeps

Social-E:
1st Place Winner: Beeline 
2nd Place Winner: Elevado 
3rd Place Winner: Pocketlab 
Crowd-Favorite: eleVado

Product Showcase:
1st Place Winner: Switchmate 
2nd Place Winner: Rabbit Prototyping 
3rd Place Winner: Napwell 
Crowd-Favorite: Stroll Health

ETL with Leah Busque, CEO of TaskRabbit

“A great idea is not an invention, it’s a discovery. Creativity is the commitment we make to the process of asking questions, finding patterns, and testing concepts.” -Leah Busque

Our ETL speaker this week was Leah Busque, founder and CEO of Taskrabbit.  She began her talk with a story of an idea, and how that idea transformed into a company that has found work for over 30,000 people.

Busque loved her job as a software engineer at IBM, but felt as though she was missing out on something. She knew that she had other skills she needed to explore, and especially recognized this need each year when she participated in a conference called Lotusphere. The conference is unique because engineers actually talk to the customers in something called “meet the developers lab.” She loved being able to meet a customer in real world, fix a problem for them, and then send them on their way. One night, she was going to dinner with her husband, Kevin (her high school sweetheart and fellow engineer—they would spend Fridaynights building computers together!), and realized that they were out of dog food. It then occurred to Leah that there should be someway to connect people who want to find work with people who need errands done: the couple then discussed the idea over dinner. Leah knew the product should exist and that she had the skills to build it, but she wanted to figure out how to make it happen. She first looked up names that hadn’t already been taken by other websites, and settled for “runmyerrand.com” (customers later chose the name Taskrabbit through a vote). In June of that year, she quit her job at IBM. She cashed out her pension and worked for 10 weeks straight, trying to code and develop a prototype.

Busque then gave us three lessons that proved most useful to her through her journey with Taskrabbit. The first lesson was to tell everyone you meet about your idea. The fear that people will steal your idea should not get in the way of you sharing it—after all, said Busque, you usually are not the first person to have an idea, and the success of your product all comes down to execution. She spoke to the incredible value that can be gained in sharing an idea with many people, early on in the process. For example, Busque casually mentioned runmyerrand.com to some strangers that she was having dinner with. A woman replyed, saying “my buddy Scott would find this really interesting.” Busque then emailed this “scott,” to discover that he was Scott Griffith, CEO of zipcar. Scott became an early mentor of hers, introduced her to investors, and even offered her desk space at the zipcar office.

The second piece of advice that Busque shared with us was to cultivate an atmosphere of mentorship and collaboration. She participated in “Facebook Fund,” and the mentorship that came out of it accelerated both the growth of herself as an entrepreneur and the growth of her company. She discussed her determination to have Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour WorkWeek as an advisor. After plane flights, pitching, and hassling his assistant, she finally was able to have him as a mentor. He gave helpful advice and contacted his investor friends, who led a million dollar seed round.

The final thought she left us with was to love what you do. She gave some examples of why her company was significant to her, which included a story about a mother in San Francisco who’s son was going through chemotherapy in Boston. She did not have the money to fly and see him, so she found someone through Taskrabbit who could visit her son every day for a week to talk to him, bring him whatever he needed, and then call her afterwards to tell her how her son was. The person who did these tasks was actually another mom, and these two mothers built a relationship together. This story reminded Busque that her company had the ability to help people redefine who your neighbors are, and provide them with others who they can rely on.

Busque’s success attests to the value of being open—definitely something that fellow entrepreneurs can learn from. She spoke to the importance of being open to feedback, new ideas, new plans, or new people. Busque is a beautiful example of someone who was passionate about an idea and worked to make it happen. Her success story is one that growing entrepreneurs can learn from and use to make their own tiny ideas into products that are consequential and life-changing.

BASES Alumni Spotlight: Adam Marchick

This week we had the chance to sit down and talk with one of our BASES alumni – Adam Marchick. He has had a rich career, starting his own company Kahuna, and serves as a great inspiration to the rest of BASES. See the full interview below!

Can we have a quick introduction?

I was born and raised in Palo Alto and graduated Stanford as a CS major in 2002. During school I was a part of BASES, where my team was in charge or running the E-Challenge and Social E-Challenge program. After college, I joined Oracle as a programmer, then worked at a VC, attended Stanford Graduate School of Business, worked in Bangalore, India, running a sales team, then worked in the product/growth team at Facebook. I also started a non-profit called Glow Foundation, which supports financial literacy for over 15,000 kids.

Thereafter I started Kahuna, a mobile marketing automation company that helps increase revenue. Mobile applications are taking over the world, and as a result web companies are getting disrupted by mobile applications. It was interesting to see that companies had 30 people focused on sending emails but none of them really focused on push messages. When you get messages you like, you expect a 30% expect rate compared to 1-2% response rate with random marketing. The idea is to send one good message rather than 10 generic messages.

How did BASES help you get into the world of start-ups?

 I started off as a freshman in the E-challenge team. We had a great mentor, Othman Loraki, who guided us along the way. Through him, I learned how great getting mentored was. Within 3 months, I was sitting and watching people pitch to VCs and also hearing how VCs evaluate companies. It was an opportunity to help me dream bigger. Later, I entered E-Challenge because it was an unbelievably low-risk way of getting a ton of experience. We pitched to Sequioa, but didn’t get any funding because they already invested in a company who was in the same space. It’s a small world – 12 years and five companies later, Kahuna is funded by Sequoia!

Did your view of the startup culture and Silicon Valley change as you moved from joining a startup, working at various companies as an engineer, working as a venture capitalist and finally landing at Kahuna?

My view totally changed. In terms of thinking of VCs, when I was a developer at Oracle, I thought all VCs were the same. When I started working at a VC firm, however, I realized venture capital is actually an industry, rather than one firm.

It was also interesting to see how every company was different, fundamentally in terms of each of its culture. For example, Oracle is a sales driven culture while Facebook is an engineer driven culture – they operate very differently. So when creating Kahuna, I strive to have a balanced company, valuing both sales and engineering.

Advice?

 A lot of the advice I would give stems from what I saw in BASES. First thing: the biggest determinant of success is believing in a person when he/she takes responsibility and says “I’ll do it”. When you find someone for whom when they say it will get done, you have 100% confidence it will happen, you have an A+ team member.   What’s most important is perseverance, follow through, and driving towards completion.

If you are thinking of starting a company, focus on a problem that you are passionate about, and get conviction – i.e. be proud of your 30 second pitch.  Your conviction, your understanding and your passion will come through when recruiting people and good people will come through the good work. So you need to stick through and fuel your idea.

Lastly, you don’t have to wait for your career. If you see something, take initiative and follow through.

 

LAUNCH: Kickstart your dreams, start up your life

Leading up to BASES Challenge Finale 2014 (https://www.facebook.com/events/700565376648466/) is week 3 of our campaign: Launch!

When it’s time to launch, you want to make an entrance that’s as impressive as your company. The BASES Challenge is your chance to do this. In front of an experienced panel of judges, entrepreneurs can compete for the best business plans in E-Challenge and Social E-Challenge and the best product demos in Product Showcase. Extensive feedback from the panel gives all competitors something valuable to walk away with.

launchgoodgood