A good friend of mine in the Valley (Hi Kah Hong!) recently shared with us the news that a Singaporean team won the grant prize at the box.net hackathon.
The team is represented by developers based in the Silicon Valley and are affiliated to some familiar organizations and community such as Zopim, Fragnetics, Vsee, as well as a few from the National University of Singapore.
Read on to find out more about the team’s background and the idea which won the hearts of the judges, which includes Danielle Morrill, Cofounder and CEO of Referly, James Yu, Cofounder of Parse, and of course, Aaron Levie, Cofounder and CEO of Box.
Could you share with us about your background?
Benedict Chan works as a Software Development Engineer in the online services arm of Microsoft. He has been in the USA for almost 2 years after graduating in 2009 with the Computer Science Medal in UNSW. In Singapore, he was an early employee at Zopim and a partner at Fragnetics LLP, a company known within SEA for hosting online games such as Battlefield and Steam.
Caleb Chao left Singapore in December 2011 for a Software Engineering position in Google and has been working with the Search Features team for the past 8 months. He graduated as the Valedictorian of the School of Computing at NUS in 2011. Previously, he built the first farming themed social game on Facebook and worked on a start-up dealing with mobile advertising.
Ken is a final year undergraduate majoring in Computer Science from the National University of Singapore. He is currently working as a Mac/iOS developer in VSee, a video collaboration tool for remote teamwork. At the same time, he is also attending entrepreneurship classes in Stanford University. His ultimate goal in life is to build products that make a difference, that make the world a better place.
Carolyn is a student majoring in Computer Science and Applied Mathematics from NUS. She is currently on a 3-month internship working as a web developer for a company in the valley and will be going to Europe soon on exchange at the University of Bath. In Singapore, she worked on and published an interactive menu iPad app for Tenza Izakaya.
James Yong has been working in the server development team of VSee Labs for 6 months since he left Singapore for California in February 2012. He graduated from the School of Computing and has previously been involved in the research field of distributed computing, development of Autumn Dynasty and other freelance projects. His goal is to assist in scaling the use of VSee through various strategic infrastructural improvements.
So what was the product which your team hacked over at the hackathon?
We created OMGHelp, a mobile service to redefine online technical support calls. Support technicians do not have a good view of the customer’s situation and therefore, many calls such as those with Dell or Singtel, end up in a lengthy process of getting the customer to describe the state of the fouling device, the error message, etc. Additionally, the customer often has problems understanding and performing the resolution e.g. “plug the ethernet cable in the WAN port of the router”.
Our solution involves a mobile phone app with live video and audio streaming from the user to the support agent. All the customer has to do is to point at what they need help with, and the support agent can assess the situation with visual feedback in real-time. We also provide the ability for the agent to push images to the user’s device. They can bring up guides and make sketches on the video to visually indicate what the user has to do. This way, problems can be solved without needing to lug the device down to SLS, Funan or the Genius Bar.
Here is the video we produced during our 24 hour Hackathon.
Could you also share more on how the idea was perceived and how did the judges find the idea?
We were very encouraged by the positive feedback received from the judges as well as participants who told us to “go out, build and sell it”. One participant told us (before the results) that we should win. It was great to have Aaron Levie, the Box.net CEO jump from the judges table onto the stage during the presentation demo to get a closer look at the phone app and exclaim how “awesome” it was! One of the sponsors told us we had to “make it big” or “opensource it”. Another sent mail the next day saying that it was “one of the most well thought out, useful, and polished products I’ve ever seen come out of one of these events”, and offered his guidance to take it to the next level.
How are hackathons in the Valley run differently from the ones in Singapore?
None of us have yet to make it to a Hackathon in Singapore (I would love to go in December if there is one). But, I want to share one experience which I will remember from this particular Hackathon:
At 0400 hrs, when we were struggling to start integration and fighting bugs on our frontend, a very youthful looking gentleman showed up at our table and started to ask about our project. At that time, I was desperate and busy dealing with the problems. I vaguely remember asking him what he did, to which he responded he worked for Box. Assuming he was a random Bizdev person, I gave him lukewarm answers as to what we were doing and said we needed to get back to work. Even so, he was surprisingly nice and excited about it, and was one of the first people to tell us how much he liked the idea. Later on, I found out that he was Aaron Levie, the CEO of Box.net, a company valued between 500mil – 1bil. Throughout our time there, he was very supportive. Even after the Hackathon ended, he stayed behind and picked up some trash from our table.
I wonder if Singapore has any Hackathons like that :)
Featured photo credits: Benedict Chan