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June 12, 2013

Mike Hines

It’s easy to see how hackathons can spawn creative teams and fantastic ideas, but I’ve also seen great ideas die because bad pitches sink good hacks.

In a Hackathon event like AngelHack, developers, designers and entrepreneurs gather on a Saturday morning to mingle and meet like-minded folks, form teams, and decide on a cool project to work on. These teams will then spend all night building the project they design. Sunday afternoon, it’s pencils down time, and the teams get between 3 and 5 minutes to present what they’ve done to a panel of judges, who in the case of AngelHack, will decide who to send to the Bay Area to meet with venture capitalists for potential funding.

To be sure, hackathons are won with great hacks. Liam Boogar, hackathon judge and the brains behind rudebaguette.com, says “For me, people win hackathons with awesome hacks, not thoroughly thought out business models. A business model is a means to justify the long-term growth of an amazing product - without the amazing product, the business model is useless.”

Point well made. No business or presentation wizardry will save your team if you have a worthless hack, but a great hack that understands the business end will beat a great hack that doesn’t. 

Questions You Need to Answer:

The good news is that communicating the business side is as easy as addressing these 5 questions:

  1. Who is going to use your app and what is their need?
  2. How does your hack address that need? (this is where you demo your awesome hack)
  3. How does the user acquire the solution? (if the monetization approach is clever, demo it here)
  4. Is your hack unique? How is it unique?
  5. Can the hack be scaled to be a viable business?

Most teams miss one or more of the points above, and a few teams miss all of them. So even if you copy/paste this list to a document, write the answers underneath, and then read that doc to the judges, you’ll be doing better than most. (Seriously, don’t worry if you’re not a great public speaker. At one event, a team whose speaker read the entire presentation from his laptop still progressed to the finals because it was a good hack and the judges understood the business.)

Building the Demo:

Once you have answers to the 5 questions above, it’s time to build the presentation and demo. This does not have to be complicated, and it shouldn’t take long. Here is some guidance from AngelHack judges:

PowerPoint or not? Some teams use a slide deck, some don’t. I’ve seen valuable and impactful presentations done both ways.  Just make sure you demo what you have built. I was on a judging panel where the team showed only slides. Great business model, but the hack was completely missing. That did not turn out well!

Demo the hard part. Most solutions have easy parts and hard parts. Rendering a simple list on the screen isn’t a hard part. Getting the correct data to render often is. If you try to hand-wave your way around the hard problems, you’re in trouble. Don’t show loading screens or other trivial stuff. Liza Kindred, AngelHack Judge and founder of Third Wave Fashion, says via Twitter: “We don't want to watch you log in! Have it ready to go, your three minutes are too short!”

Tell a story. If you can, weave the points above into a story.   Here is how one team used a story to weave in a lot of points in short time:

One speaker told a story about how his grandmother couldn’t respond to text messages even though she wanted to stay in touch more often (Question 1, time: 15 seconds). He showed the hack, demonstrating how their project removed the barriers that prevent the elderly from using technology (Question 2, time: 2 minutes). The speaker described the ways that grandma might come to own their product (Question 3, time: 20 seconds). 

The only part of their message they didn’t weave into a story was their product’s differentiating factors and how they scale to be a viable business. Whether or not the judges agreed that this was the right solution for helping grandma doesn’t matter. We all remembered the story. We talked about the story. Stories work.

If you can’t tell a story.  Some projects or some teams just don’t work with stories. That’s okay. You’ll just need the discipline to avoid detail overload when outlining your points. Good hacks can get great scores even without a story.

Discuss what you built over the weekend. Rebecca Lovell, CEO at Vittana.org, says: “We want to know what you were actually able to accomplish over the weekend. If it's an existing company and you built a Kindle app, tell us. If you just thought of the whole idea this weekend, we'll be duly impressed with whatever you were able to hack over such a short period of time.  Above all: be transparent with the status of your product development and achievements.”

Presentation Time Management Tips

As long as you end up covering all of your points, you’ll have a good demo. These tips are designed to help you make sure you can get your message across in what seems like no time at all.

  • Practice your presentation. For goodness sake, practice the whole thing, end to end, with demo components. You’ve only got 3-5 minutes to pitch your hack at these events. Many teams fail to complete their presentation due to poor time management. Practicing will help alleviate this.
  • Leave enough time to demo your hack. …and then be sure to demo the hard stuff, not splash pages, loading screens, or login dialogs. I’d suggest leaving no less than half your time to demo the hack. I’ve seen speakers go into so much detail describing how they built the solution that they leave only 30 seconds to show it!  We need to see the great hack if you’re going to win a hackathon.
  • More than your name may not matter. Don’t spend time with introductions longer than your first name unless it’s describing experience directly relevant to the project.
  • Don’t let your knowledge hurt you. When you have a great deal of domain expertise, it’s easy to get caught up in details that may be important, but not necessarily relevant for a short pitch.
  • Be prepared for unmitigated disaster.  At one hackathon, there were some technical problems with the HDMI cable to the room projector, and it flustered some folks so much that they didn’t do as well as they might have otherwise. Be ready to walk a device around to the judges if you have to.
  • Practice your presentation. I’ve seen at least a dozen teams plan how they will do their presentation and call that practicing. It’s not. Rehearsing in your head is not practicing either. Actually finding a place to speak the whole thing quietly to a teammate is practicing. Just 10 to 15 minutes will make a big difference.
  • Have Fun! Rebecca at Vittana.org says: “We know you're sleep deprived and hopped up on Red Bull, but make sure to sell it!  Show your passion!”

So, after all is said and done, you need a great hack to win a hackathon. And the great hack that clearly communicates business basics will beat a great hack that doesn’t.

Before Mike Hines was a Technical Evangelist for Amazon, he founded a financial services company and an education software company. Join Mike Hines and Amazon at the Silicon Valley AngelHack in San Jose, CA on June 15 and 16. You can follow Mike on Twitter @MikeFHines

 

May 29, 2013

Peter Heinrich

Login with Amazon is now available to developers to integrate in their mobile apps and websites. The new service lets you take advantage of the same user authentication system used by Amazon.com.  Login with Amazon allows you to securely recognize millions of Amazon customers and provide them with a personalized user experience.  For example, you can greet visitors by their name or display customized offers based on their zip code.

Login with Amazon uses the OAuth 2.0 protocol making it easy for you to integrate it in your app or website. Developers who have previously worked with the OAuth 2.0 protocol will find the terms and concepts straightforward and consistent with other implementations. 

How does Login with Amazon work?

  1. The user visits your website or app and clicks the Login with Amazon button.
  2. The user is presented with a login screen hosted on Amazon.com.
  3. The user enters their Amazon credentials.  First-time users will see a consent screen hosted on Amazon.com to grant your site permission to specific pieces of information.
  4. After the user consents, your app will be able to securely access customer profile data (name, email, zip code) to create a new user account and provide a personalized user experience for them.

Login with Amazon SDKs are available in public beta for Android, Kindle Fire, and iOS. To integrate the service in your app or website, go to login.amazon.com to register a developer account, download the SDKs, and view the Getting Started Guides.

Login with Amazon adds yet another capability for mobile app developers.  Now, developers can use Amazon Web Services (AWS) for its infrastructure (e.g., compute, storage, and database). For those interested in building cloud-backed apps, you can read more about it here.

 

August 23, 2012

Amazon Mobile App Distribution Program

Amazon is now accepting promotional images, and our marketing team is using these images in featured placements to highlight apps to customers. Promotional artwork gives you an opportunity to capture the attention of customers using colorful imagery that reflects the essence of your apps. At Amazon, we are constantly looking for new ways for you to grow your business by connecting you with new customers. We’ll be expanding our use of these images, and we encourage you to submit your promotional image now to take advantage of these new marketing opportunities.

When creating your image, we recommend that you strive for an engaging image that speaks to what your app is all about. Make your image colorful to catch the eye of customers, and choose imagery that promotes the essence of your app and brand. Text on your promotional image should be large, simple, and readable. Do not add the price to the image ($0.99) or any discount call outs (50% off).

Steps to Upload Promotional Imagery

1. Create or use an existing promotional image that is 1024 x 500 pixels.The images file should be in PNG or JPG format. 

DevPortal_Step0
 

2. From the Distribution Portal, navigate to the My Apps tab. Select the app you'd like to edit and navigate to the Images & Multimedia tab for that app. Then, click the Edit button.

Promo_images_1
 

3) Select Upload Image from the Promotional Imagefield. Choose the image you’d like to upload, and then save the image. Images must be 1024 x 500 in PNG or JPG format.

Promo_images_2
 

 

July 17, 2012

Amazon Mobile App Distribution Program

Kindle Fire development resources are now available to our developer community! These resources provide detailed documentation, best practices, an emulator, and sample code to make it easy for you to build great applications for Kindle Fire customers.

Our documentation details how to set up your development environment, create a great customer experience, and optimize and test your apps for Kindle Fire. We also provide a Kindle Fire emulator to help you more easily lay out and test your apps, and sample code that illustrates our best practices for performing specific tasks.

It’s easy to get started building and optimizing your apps for Kindle Fire. Visit the Kindle Fire Development Resources page on the Distribution Portal and start building today!

November 28, 2011

lisamar

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Recently Amazon released Kindle Fire, our newest addition to the Kindle family that showcases a color touch display and provides instant access to the Amazon Appstore for Android and Amazon’s massive selection of digital content, as well as free storage in the Amazon Cloud.

Kindle Fire puts Amazon’s digital powerhouse of content at customers’ fingertips. In addition to the thousands of popular apps and games available in the Amazon Appstore for Android, customers can also choose from over 18 million movies, TV shows, songs, magazines, and books—and all of their Amazon content is automatically stored in the Amazon cloud, free of charge. Web browsing is simple and fast with Amazon Silk and an even better experience because of the Kindle Fire’s vibrant color touchscreen with an extra-wide viewing angle. All this, plus a fast, powerful dual-core processor, and an unbeatable price, make us proud of this newest member of our Kindle family.

Don’t take our word on it though—we’re not the only ones admiring Kindle Fire!

The first easy-to-use, affordable small-screen tablet, the Amazon Kindle Fire is revolutionary...I can't emphasize this "ease of use" thing enough. More than anything else, that's what's been holding non-iPad tablets back. Amazon cracked it. End of story." - PC Mag

"The Kindle Fire is a 7-inch tablet that links seamlessly with Amazon's impressive collection of digital music, video, magazine, and book services in one easy-to-use package. It boasts a great Web browser, and its curated Android app store includes most of the big must-have apps (such as Netflix, Pandora, and Hulu). The Fire has an ultra-affordable price tag, and the screen quality is exceptional for the price." – CNET

How do you get your app onto the Kindle Fire?

Submit it! Simply join the Amazon Appstore Developer Program, if you haven’t already, and submit your app using the Amazon Appstore Developer Portal just as you would if you were submitting to our store for any other supported Android device. All apps will go through regular Amazon Appstore testing, as well as testing for Kindle Fire.

What are the requirements for your app to work on Kindle Fire?

For your app to work on Kindle Fire, it needs to be compatible with the device's specifications. At a high level, it must be optimized for non-Google Mobile Services (GMS), Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread), and a 7" screen with a resolution of 1024 x 600. Your app cannot require a gyroscope, camera, WAN module, Bluetooth, microphone, GPS, or micro-SD to function. In addition, your app must not be a theme or wallpaper that manipulates the user interface of the device. As with any other app submission to the Amazon Appstore for Android, your app will also need to comply with our Content Guidelines. For additional information, please visit our Kindle Fire FAQs.

What if your app was already submitted - will it be considered?

Yes. If you already have an app published in the Amazon Appstore for Android, we will automatically review the app for Kindle Fire compatibility. We're currently in the process of testing our entire catalog of published apps to ensure each app provides a high-quality customer experience on Kindle Fire.

What if you want to test your app(s) prior to submitting?

We strongly recommend you test your app on your own and submit an update if you discover any problems. It is possible to configure a standard Android emulator to simulate the Kindle Fire device platform. You should configure your emulator with the following characteristics:

  • Width: 600px
  • Height: 1024px (the device will reserve 20px of the height to display a soft key menu, yielding a height of 1004px when in full-screen mode)
  • Abstracted LCD Density: 169
  • Target: Android 2.3.4 - API Level 10
  • RAM: 512 MB

If you haven’t already submitted your apps, submit via the Amazon Appstore Developer Portal. Interested in marketing opportunities?  Fill out our marketing request form.

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