Salesforce's $1 million Hackathon Prize Highlights Crowdsourcing's Value in App Development

Posted by jartese on Nov 11, 2013 3:51:14 PM

“The Most Innovative Company” for the last two years is dabbling with the crowd and creating buzz with a Challenge competition for code lovers.  Hackathons are everywhere these days and function as a mini startup incubator for engineers to hash out new product ideas in off-work hours.  For this particular hackathon, Salesforce is basically launching a $1 million+ Challenge to develop the next big mobile app on the Salesforce Platform. Developers must be on site at Dreamforce to participate in the hackathon and can gain access with a $99 dollar “hacker pass” that also gives them access to the keynote.

Kevin O'Brien, Enterprise Solution Architect at CloudLock, was interviewed by Top Tech News and had the following to say regarding the event:

“The focus on mobility especially is a strong indicator of how the ‘social enterprise’ message of 2012 has evolved, as well as a clue to where and how Salesforce will be connecting end users with their data. What is most significant about how Salesforce is approaching this hackathon is that it exists at this scale: they are clearly making a play for the app space, and see a tremendous upside in it that far outstrips the cost of the event, prize, or Developer Zone.”

Salesforce is heavily invested in mobile, so why a hackathon?

  • The power of $1 million prize is much greater than $1 million – Salesforce clearly sees the ROI on this investment is much greater than the $1 million+ dollars being invested in to this app.  Salesforce sees that if they developed this in-house the resources such as salaries, the length of time, testing, unexpected issues would quickly add up.  They also see the reach of talent and ideas is greater than if they just simply hired $1 million worth of developers.
  • Salesforce gets to pick from the collective abilities of the world not just their in-house developers – The power of the crowd is much more than cheap labor or only paying for what you need. Salesforce is betting that by attracting top talent from around the world with a significant and life changing prize, they will reach talent and an eventual product they may have not been able to with traditional methods.  Crowdsourcing’s strength is to bring together diverse background with unique talents.  This diversity is in education, experience, upbringing, methodology, influences, experiences, culture and unique individual creativity.
  • Prize and Challenge Competitions increase output – Competition. We have all heard the importance of competition in innovation; it is why we tend to (for the most part) not allow monopolies in our economy.  A prize competition like this increases the sense of urgency for solving a problem.  You are giving someone a deadline, a goal, a prize and putting them up against their peers.  Hackathons are unique because the duration of the competition is much shorter than traditional prize challenges.  Developers will have days or less to come up with a product not months.  This encourages creativity and forces participants to bring the most creative, not just something that works well.
  • Forced Collaboration – While participants can start early, the breadth of the assignment and the short duration of the event encourages them to work in teams.  Not only will there be 20,000 participants, but those participants will form groups and take advantage of each other’s unique abilities.  It also allows for complimentary skillsets to work together to efficiently build an app.  Teaming in a crowdsourced environment like this exponentially increases the value of the diverse pool of talent that will be at the event.  It is a weird paradox, collaboration within a competition; however with 20,000 people competing, increasing your chances of splitting $1 million is better than the idea of winning nothing at all. A competition of this scale may not feasibly be won by a single participant, and participants may be increasingly willing to sacrifice pride in order to achieve an innovative outcome.  Just take the recent DTRA Algorithm Challenge.  Three participants teamed up from two parts of the world, the result was a more efficient way to detect biological material from DNA.  The results form that challenge could impact far more than DTRA’s original intended uses making the $1 million award seem like a smart investment.

We will see the results of the hackathon in the next few weeks.  If succesful, it appears Salesforce has set yet another precedent in its long and innovative existance by making crowdsourcing an important part of developing the best software.

Authored by Joe Artese, Business Analyst

Topics: Innovation Insights, Challenges

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