Final Debriefing at MassHack 2014 Honors James Jones

Workbar Hackathon Boston

We all had a sit-down after MassHack 2014.

As the weekend wore on, it became clear that James Jones of Q Factor, MassHack founder and co-founder of Telix Networks was the main powerhouse behind getting things done at MassHack 2014.

  • When the space would not let some people sleep on site as planned, James literally arranged an Uber and AirBnB for them.  What a hero!
  • Although it was hard to tell what was going on at any given time (an admitted downside), James overcame this by literally walking around and informing us constantly about what was next – the next presenters, food was here, etc.  Maybe it actually worked better that way, because we all had had some quality facetime with him by the end (although the poor guy probably got sick to death of repeating himself!).
  • All kinds of things didn’t work out as planned.  Presenters dropped out or rearranged, judges had obligations elsewhere, and internet wasn’t what we hoped.  Nevertheless, this was overcome by both James’ amazing powers of improvisation coupled with the supercalafragilistic-coolness of the Workbar space we were in, so fun was had by all.

For these reasons, during a debriefing where James solicited reactions, after the initial lovefest was over, it was hard to put forth even constructive criticism.  This was because, it became clear, that James had somehow ended up with a ton of responsibilities, and when some things that needed to happen needed to happen (like finding crash space for those stranded guys), other things that weren’t as important got backburnered.  Those other things included a lot of the topics ironically discussed at the hackathon:  social media, getting information out there, being seen and interacted with by your customer, etc.

So here’s the solution to any criticisms of MassHack 2014:  Let’s all volunteer to help James with MassHack 2015!


“No Teabagging” at MassHack 2014!

Workbar Hackathon Boston

Evidence of hard work!

Workbar Boston Hackathon

More evidence of work…sunflower seeds mean they are serious!

Workbar Boston Hackathon

Hacker fuel!


Workbar Boston Hackathon

Subway leftover salad – 100% vegetarian!

Workbar Boston Hackathon

….and Double Bubble for dessert!


Workbar Boston Hackathon

No teabagging allowed at the Workbar!


Workbar Boston Hackathon

I needed one of these when I worked at the Army! Could hold all our backups!


Workbar Boston Hackathon

Shhhh….Entrepreneur at Work!

Think this was an awesome gallery of some crazy stuff going on in a basement?  Check out DethWench’s Pinterest Board on Octopus Furnaces!

4 Reasons Why DethWench’s App Did Not Win MassHack 2014

Red Crystal

erREFORM helps patients and public health push emergency rooms to medicate pain ethically. Icon from Wikimedia Commons (in the public domain).

The app erREFORM contributed by my company, DethWench Professional Services, the only socially responsible public health consulting organization, did not win for a few reasons that one can discern by looking at the judges’ comments on the project page, as well as some fundamental aspects of both the objective of the app and the current app development environment.

  1. The myth that a working app is better than vaporware at the hackathon stage.  I presented for our team, and I presented vaporware that would be based on kludging together ideas from several other existing apps.  Why is that better than a working app from an investment standpoint?  It suggests a better project management life cycle.  If developers at the hackathon get married to a weekend kludge, and this kluge continues to evolve until you are fully funded, it’s very expensive to rebuild.  To build erREFORM, I’d take a lesson out of what an earlier presenter said about engaging employees and work with whatever developers I get to build out the app in their way, so they can participate in the technological design.
  2. The myth that the hackathon community represents the app customers.  Since most the people participating and all of the people judging were men, there is a misunderstanding of a good portion of the customer base, since women do a lot of purchasing and using of apps.  erREFORM helps patients track their pain relief in the ER using a smartphone app so that these data can be sent to public health professionals who can bitch to Congress about it, like Kaiser Foundation, and hopefully, American Public Health Association.  Since women are higher utilizers of health care, and are often caregivers to people in pain, this may not be on men’s radar.  Also, since most nurses are women and most engineers and rich business people are men, you can see where this great divide is socialcultural, not biological.
  3. The myth of the “business models” in US health care.  I see all kinds of business people who have never worked in US health care, even as business people, make all kinds of rational assumptions that will go nowhere.  First, clinical research has an ROI, and that ROI is from getting in bed with industry, as Big Pharma economically cheers on its academically-tenured minions through milking STTRs and SBIRs.  In US health care, apps are just like drugs.  Having a successful healthcare app has little to do with traditional ideas of adoption, innovation, and leaping across the “valley of death”.  Purdue Pharmaceuticals makes money because oxycontin is addictive and it’s easy to get from the US health care system and abuse.  This is not a business model.  Again, if you include a few women, you might get a nurse among the crowd, and she’ll help you with a US health care app’s ROI.  She’s the one wading through drug, medical device, and now tech reps to get to her patient.
  4. The current awkwardness of coupling apps, especially health care apps, to patient activism.  Even Dr. Cal’s project Patient TalkBack needs some work, in my opinion.  Like with the guys, Dr. Cal’s video doesn’t really show what it’s about.  But when I demo’ed it at the hackathon myself, I tried to point out that it does not give an easy forum to what patients want to say.  Patients want to say, “I waited for 2 extra hours after being brought back before getting pain meds in the ER!”  I know this – I’m a patient, I study patients, and I ask nurses what patients say, since they are the ones who interact with patients more than anyone else.  Right now, with innovators creating health care apps mainly for the stated purpose “saving money for Big Health Care” which patients hate anyway, we app-developers are missing an opportunity to be to US health care delivery what Facebook and Twitter were to the Arab Spring – a platform for activism.

Why should you listen to me? I have experience actually making and testing health care apps. My best friend Bob and I developed a health care app on the Palm Pilot in the early 2000s and published on it in 2007 – check it out here!

3 Unsung Heroes at MassHack 2014

Airwolf 3D Printer

iCreate promotes access to 3D printing from remote places and poor organizations! Photo by Eva Wolf, Wikimedia Commons.

And here are some comments on 3 of my personal favorites that I wish had gotten more play at the hackathon:

  1. Kidscentive simply provides an app for what parents have been doing with children for eons – coming up with chores and tasks, and then rewarding them with money or gifts when they are done.  I could easily see them monetizing this; maybe charging parents $30/year for one kid, $50/year for three kids, etc.  If I had a kid, I’d pay, and that’s unusual for me, which is why I say this actually could be easily monetized.  Elegant and neatly done.  I thought they should have won!
  2. Carenet is another “unsung hero” of the Hackathon.  These guys had, on their team, one of the nicest internal medicine doctors you’ll ever meet, Dr. Cal, in the house. I mentioned his pitch in an earlier post.  Dr. Cal runs Health Innovators and is trying to get the whole health innovation thing going locally here in Boston.  Although the gentleman who presented for them hit the presentation perfectly, the judges were not that impressed.  Basically, the “gold” in Carenet is that it is an online patient portal that queries ALL the providers and facilities for a patient and gets ALL of them to load into the app, not just your providers from Hospital A, or Clinic B, or Clinic C at Hospital A, etc.  That way, 1) patients can edit their data by calling locations and making sure it is updated, and 2) patients can connect these various providers and facilities by way of this app and make them communicate.  Fractured communication between providers due to lack of connection of US health care subsystems is a tremendous “pain point” in US health care, and money is just flying out hospital and clinic windows because of this pain point.  However, because 79% of the people in the US employed in health and social services are women, mostly nurses who are directly dealing with the fallout of this fractured data issue, coupled with the fact that all the developers and the judges at the Hackathon were male, this app ended up “underdeveloped” in my opinion, as well as “underrecognized”. Hey, everyone – you could have made Nancy from Parse a judge!  Think of this for next time.
  3. iCreate – One of the Carenet guys reacted quite violently when I complained that men have too much money, so they waste it developing stupid apps.  iCreate is a counterexample and supports the Carenet guy’s point-of-view.  Here, these guys are thinking like women – what if you have no money, and you want to do 3D printing?  Well, first, you can 3D print the parts to a printer and then build the printer!  Is that Lego on steroids or what???  iCreate, with a non-profit plan, has figured out not only how to crowdsource an effort like this, but to also crowdsource a service to poor bastard’s like me who cannot afford to own a 3D printer much less print from it.   Like we scientists do when we send our poster to a third-party for printing and the poster gets FedEx’ed to the conference hotel, these guys can receive customer requests for printing  online so they can print the objects at a central location, and then send them to customer.  This really could empower economically depressed communities, especially business communities, as they offer education as well.

Curious about the other projects at MassHack 2014?  Check them out here!

4 Winning Ideas Presented at MassHack 2014

Find a roommate with Viemate!

Find a compatible roommate with Viemate! Photo courtesy of Albert Herring/Tulane Public Relations, Wikimedia Commons.

I should have taken notes at this point – but I didn’t.  I’ll tell you what my bleary-eyed, coffeed-up, afternoon-hairdoed-self remembers.

First, a shoutout to Nancy at Parse, who was great to talk to!  Parse is affiliated with Facebook, and they both sponsored the event.  I heard the Parse presentation at the beginning, but did not realize there is a free version of their tools so we could try them!  Had I realized that, I would have used Parse for DethWench’s submission, erREFORM.

I bemoaned the lack of women at this hackathon, and all hackathons I’ve been to so far, and Nancy referred me to Startup Weekend.  I’ll have to check this out.  Thanks!

Here are 4 winning ideas you definitely want to watch:

  1. Viemate – This looks very promising, mainly because the leader of the group really did her homework.  This is a new, improved app to match people up with roommates, and it is definitely needed in Boston, if you listen to the banter on the T.  The purpose is not only to meet monetary and geolocation requirements for housing, but to make sure the roommates get along.  As the presenter implied, musicians can find other potsmokers, med students can find other bookworms, athletes can find other roidheads, etc. so they don’t fight when they move in.  They are almost live – sign up here so you can catch them when they go live!  They did a great demo at their presentation, but they built the interface in a weekend (per the rules), so it is not live yet.
  2. Glide – This app requires you to wear the smartphone strapped to your arm.  I didn’t not know about “standup paddleboarding” – where a person stands and paddles – until I saw this guy present, but he’s way into it.  As with runners, people who do this sport want to exactly troubleshoot their biomechanics, and this software tracks that and allows one to visualize it.  He suggested imaging an expert’s biomechanics, and this could be studied by students.  Judges liked his idea, and I suggested he check out OpenSim, as this reminded me of Army stuff I used to do.
  3. – This was a crowd and judges’ favorite as well, and was compellingly presented by developer Vik Paruchuri.  Through teams you build online (presumably with your friends), you walk/run around Boston or whatever city you are in to claim “turf”.  The idea is to capitalize on the well-researched fact that “buddy pressure” known scientifically as social support gets people to exercise.  Vik joked that he was testing this over Hackathon weekend, and immediately was spurred to exercise when he saw his girlfriend go on her morning run and take Boston Commons back as her “turf”!  So the app works, at least on the testbench!
  4. SpiritGuide – The judges were really hot on this one, but myself, not so much.  What the judges saw was a well-working, well-demonstrated product.  The developers showed an example of a guy shopping online for clothing for his girlfriend.  The person playing customer service person,  also a guy, instead of suggesting a “chat” like they do on the AT&T web site, actually opened a Skype-like face-to-face window, took over the customer’s computer, and used simple tools to navigate and highlight products to help the customer.  SpiritGuide was designed for small businesses – let’s say you happen to be online when a customer is there, you can SpiritGuide them up, say, “Hi, Customer!  Let me help you!” and help them.  The reason why I was not-so-hot on this is because of my fashion design background – I hate heavy-handed customer service, and that’s what this looked like.  Who doesn’t hate being ambushed when walking into Sak’s or the Oval Room in Minneapolis?  Give me H&M any day!  But since all the judges were men, and all the presenters were men, I don’t think they realized this potentially fatal flaw in SpiritGuide.

Of all these, only Viemate is live – go and sign up on their mailing list, even if you don’t have a place to let or are not looking for a place.  Who knows when you will need one?


Give Some Love to!

Workbar Hackathon Boston

Like my new jewelry?

So as I write this, there are seven days to go for’s Kickstarter Campaign.  These guys didn’t compete in the hackathon because they had been working on their idea, but they have a winning idea!  (Go ahead and watch their k-kool video, but don’t expect that to explain it…).  Their new demo video (below) does a way better job. gets its name from the idea of a “time capsule”.

  • So for all my Minneapolis friends, remember living in the Ghetto in the Sky?
  • Or my Tampa friends – living in Suitcase City?
  • Or back in Mountain View in Silicon Valley?
  • The trick is, another person with the app on his/her Android would have to be physically there in order to see what’s in the capsule.  You’d be walking along, and a-ha!  A capsule!  Kind of like an Easter egg.

It has more uses, too.  We talked about “concepts”, as I called it – such as events (hackathons, music festivals), or perhaps themes (a certain artist or singer).  Graffiti came up as a great subject to document in

So go to their Kickstarter page and give them some love, and they’ll give you an alpha version!  Let’s get some capsules going all over the world!

6 Blog Tips from Alex of Atlantic Shore Marketing

Workbar Boston Hackathon

Blogging can be optimized for better exposure. Photo by Matthew Bowden/Wikimedia Commons.

Alex of Atlantic Shore Marketing also presented his blog tips in addition to his SEO hints.  He had so many good ideas, it’s hard to summarize them!  First, he reminded us that “digital marketing” includes all of the following:

  • SEO
  • Conversion optimization
  • Content (blogging)
  • Social media
  • E-mail campaigns

He also quoted some interesting statistics:

  • 81% of US consumers trust the advice of blogs
  • 92% of companies have acquired customers via their blog
  • Business-to-business (B2B) businesses that blog generate 67% more leads
  • Companies that blog receive 434% more indexed pages – meaning search engines are indexing you more often
  • Once you write 21-54 blog posts, your traffic increases 30%!  (But this appears to be an inflection point…)

Okay, here are his blogging tips!

  1. Get into your “buyer persona” or your audience.  Try to figure out what they want to read, not what you want to write!
  2. Blog 2-3 times per week consistently.  Save up posts from earlier in the week to make sure you are consistently posting.  More is better, but 2-3 times per week is the “sweet spot”.
  3. Infographics and pictures get more clicks.
  4. End each blog post with a “call to action” – whether it be click here, or go there, or watch this, etc.
  5. DO Promote yourself on social media networks.  Use hashtags, engage, give props, and ask for a retweet – people will!
  6. But DO NOT be an annoyance on social media networks.  No “self-vomit”, spamming, and beware of overautomation – people can tell when you become like a bot.

Thanks, Alex!  Wait, we need a “call to action” here…go follow Atlantic Shore Marketing on Twitter!  Heck, follow me while you’re at it!