Last minute team forms, their demo fails, but they still come out winners
Sierra Jewell of Richmond, CA signed up for the AT&T Developer Summit Hackathon uncertain if she would actually attend. She didn’t have a team, but that didn’t stop her from going to local hackathons in the past. Jewell typically showed up to the events solo and found a team when she got there. The AT&T Developer Summit Hackathon was different: it was in Las Vegas, it was big, and there was a lot more to win. At an event like that, people usually came with their teams already formed.
Still the idea intrigued her. Jewell had met other developers through friends, hackathons, accelerators, and coding mixers. It couldn’t hurt to ask one of them if they would be interested in going to Vegas. She reached out to Lance Coleman, someone she had met at
Black Professionals Network, to gauge his interest. He wanted to go, but he didn’t have a team. What he did have, however, was an idea for an entertainment app; twelve long text messages later explaining the idea, Jewell was sold.
“I thought the idea was dope, but he never said he was actually coming. I followed up with him a few days before the competition, but he still didn’t have a solid answer,” says Sierra Jewell.
After visiting her family in Los Angeles for the holidays, she hopped on a bus to Vegas to attend the event. There, to her surprise, she saw Coleman and two more familiar faces: Bomani Buckhalter (someone she met at music accelerator Zoo Labs) and Joseph Campbell. She knew them from the bay area, but this was their first time attending a hackathon. At the event, they saw another friend and hackathon veteran, Nika Jones. He joined them at their table in the second floor hacking space and Team Bingeez was formed. They appointed Jewell the head of the team, which put them in the running for another prize up for grabs: a woman-led team.
As leader of the team, Jewell knew the most important thing to accomplish was to keep everyone on the same page. So she asked a lot of questions about each person’s strengths, skills, and past experiences. From there they conceptualized an idea that was inspired by something Coleman was currently developing called Playola, an app that pays users to listen to music. “We thought it would be cool to apply that same concept to watching TV,” adds Jewell.
Their app, Bingeez, was something every TV binge watcher could get on board with: getting paid to watch TV. You simply pick a genre, and the TV will play a show that pays you for watching it. The app keeps track of how much you earn while viewing the show. Companies can use the dashboard feature to monitor a campaign, check on promotions, and more. Whatever credit you have at the end of the month gets deducted from your AT&T bill, and the remainder gets added to a Bingeez credit card. For the presentation, the team even created a gold Bingeez card using a credit card machine that Coleman got off the Internet.
The team hacked through the night leaving Coleman’s, Bomani’s, and Campbell’s reserved Air BnB reserved empty. “It was more like a storage unit for their belongings and probably the most they’ve ever spent on a shower,” said Jewell.
Things were going well for the team. The app was working and after the initial round of judging placed in the top 20 teams giving them the opportunity to present their creation to everyone attending the hackathon. Their impromptu road trip to Vegas to attend the hackathon was paying off.
It was time to present in front of hundreds of developers, sponsors, event attendees, and the judges. The team had rehearsed their pitch, focusing on the most important features. They did a test-run of their demo. It was finally their turn to show everyone what they had spent all night building. They approached the stage; confident they had created something cool and interesting and ready to share their story. Then it happened… the demo failed.
That is every developer’s worst nightmare, but they powered through the presentation like champs talking through features and showing what they could in the short three minutes. While the team didn’t end up becoming one of the final three presenters at the AT&T Keynote two days later, they didn’t go home empty handed either. Their app came in third place for the Most Innovative Use of DirectTV APIs winning them $1,500 and it also won the Coding House Challenge.
Though they have no plans to continue to work on Bingeez, doing something on a whim gave them the experience. “I’ve always found hackathons a great opportunity to collaborate, build cool apps, and sharpen my design and front-end skills,” adds Jewell. “It’s also feels good to show up and represent for the ladies and Blacks in tech.”