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Botathon 1.0

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A Resounding Success

Ideation

It started with an idea: If a hackathon can produce awesome mobile and web apps in the timespan of a weekend, then surely we can build some kickass bots in the same timeframe. Since bots have lower production complexity than mobile apps and great bot frameworks exist, maybe the bots hacked together over a weekend would even surpass the apps. So, the Botathon was born.

You can hack a better bot then a mobile or web app over a weekend

Since I’m in the help business, I sought out the dream team to help pull this idea off. The first person I share my crazy ideas with is usually my Cofounder Crystal who says “yes” as a default response and we enlisted luminaries in our tech community – Scotty, Dice and Justin too.

The Idea

Every great story needs some drama and so we ran into some folks from an organization that told us that they loved our idea and would partner with us. They loved it so much they decided to steal the idea, omit all mention of LA on their website and threw their own event…which ended up a giant flop. But this isn’t a story about those guys. It’s a story where the good guys triumph. It’s an LA story.

LA is Unstoppable

We don’t give up in LA. We come back stronger, better and more creative. After a couple months, the lame residue from that failed event faded, like the air in a room after a fart. The opportunity to prove out the Botathon thesis was stronger than ever.

Yet, things were heating up with my startup and I realized we had to hand this event off to a solid executor. So, I popped open Messenger and messaged (meta) Todd Terrazas, founder of Brainitch and the LA Chatbot Meetup. He didn’t flinch and took over the entire event as MC and executor. Daniel Ice (“Dice”) founder of Commerce.io, pitched in on technical execution. We were back in business.

Over 100 participants came out to represent the bot building community in LA

Resounding success considering we only promoted the event on community groups, without any marketing budget or resources. This was also due to Todd’s brilliant plan to include Botathon 1.0 as part of Innovate LA, a two-week long celebration of innovation in Los Angeles.

Community Success Story

Botathon 1.0 brought people together beautifully. A winning hack was built by people who literally met in the room at the kick-off. Together, we proved that…

A rising tide truly does lift all bots

Teams had amazing range of diversity with people from all backgrounds (pretty much any metadata that applies to humans) experience levels, skill sets and neighborhoods came together and build together.

Incredible Collaborative Community

The Hacks

Botathon 1.0 produced a medley of useful, funny, creative bots solving a remarkable range of problems, across many industries . You can see all the hacks in detail on DevPost but here’s a quick overview:

Pathshare high empathy support community accessible via bot 😋

Getmethetrumpoutofhere remember to vote or plot your escape to Canada 🇨🇦

Dog Park bot to plan doggy play date serendipity 🐶

Beemail launch email campaigns conversationally 🐝 (Microsoft Award Winner)

Penabot track how you spend your most valuable asset — time

Death Angel metal-loving first incarnation of a bot personality engine 👹 (Kik Award Winner)

Handshake Bot meet new people at events sans awkwardness 👋

Smart Home Bot talk to your home as you would a friend 🏠 (High Flyer Award Winner)

Penpal Exchange make new friends with fellow shy teens 💌

Digital Asset Monitor smart alerts for cryptocurrency trades 💰

Magoo inspirational media rich travel bot 🗻(Big Vision Award Winner)

Scoop store your extra stuff via bot 📦

The Stacks

Node, Ruby and Python. I’d have to say a bit more representation from Python + Flask overall. Microsoft Bot Framework (a crowd fave)

Slack, Kik and Messenger all well represented. IBM Watson and Microsoft Julius (a crowd fave) Twilio, Google Maps, Facebook, Flicker and even Edmunds cars APIs were among the many bot builders hooked into to power their bots.

On the cloud computing side Heroku, Microsoft Azure (a crowd fave) and AWS represented. Then, of course, we had some hackers using “straight off my dev machine” – often, the most popular early infrastructure.

Minimalist CUI allowed hackers to spend more time stitching together APIs for user serendipity

A lot of the delight with bots is what the bot does on the back end to make the user happy without the user having to explicitly tell the bot to do so. We saw amazing examples of this principle at work in every hack submitted.

Many Sensors Hooked to an Arduino Board Help Smart Homebot See the Light

The Yaks

Humor was a giant factor in Botathon 1.0. Maybe it’s because LA is both a tech and creative hub. We did after all hold Botathon 1.0 in LA’s Arts District. So, we were to expect an extra sprinkling of creative juju.

Personality is to conversational UI what animations are to apps

There were so many funny and creative bots or bot features in the hacks. I’m not sure we would have seen this much creativity in any other community.

Get Me The Trump Out Of Here

Bots asked what car you drive to give you a funny response and a new technology to infuse humorous personalities into bots like voice packs in navigation apps was created too. One bot even used facial recognition technology to rid the world of selfies on its way to being useful to its humans.

The Winners

Without hyperbole, everyone was truly a winner. Most presenters gave a special shout out to the Botathon 1.0 community as they helped each other

Additionally, on the technical side:

We were blown away by how fully functional every single bot was

Prizes were as follows:

High Flyer Award for the most bankable hack. Winning team received a Quadcopter Drone and consultation from Amplify.la

Smart Homebot Chat with your Home

Big Vision Award for the most imaginative hack. Winning team received an Oculus Rift and consultation from Norwest Venture Partners.

Magoo Inspirational Travel Bot

Top prizes sought to balance practicality with imagination

It was important to create two “top prizes” that highlighted each of the axes along which investors place big bets. It seemed especially fitting in the relative infancy of the bot movement. This was to reflect the spirit of venturing into the unknown together, widely and deeply.

Tech sponsors not only provided prizes but they were personally on call mentoring the teams throughout the event, with sleeves rolled up. Two tech sponsor awards were also presented.

Best Kik Bot award. Winners received Amex gift cards.

Death Angel the Metal Loving Tourguide

Microsoft Bot Framework integration award. Winners received Bluetooth speakers.

Beemail Blast Emails via Bots

The Impact

Over $2k was raised for LA’s Best, a non-profit that provides after-school enrichment to LA school students. I can’t think of a better impact a tech event can make than empower the next generation of technologists.

Friendships and bonds were formed that will endure long after the event.

Innovation was celebrated. Teams pushed the boundaries of what chatbots currently do, broke down and created new paradigms for how and when humans interact with bots.

Most importantly…

LA was raised up as the preeminent community where the most interesting bots are born

And an awesome time was had by all who participated.

A New Tradition

And so a new tradition has been established in the LA tech community and the broader global tech community already buzzing with interest in AI, Bots and CUI. With Botathon 1.0 behind us, we turn our gaze to the horizon towards Botathon 2.0. Perhaps there will even be a 1.5 point release as bots are we easier to update than apps 🙂 What will next year’s bots do? How will the tools evolve to support the wildest imaginations? I can’t wait to find out.

I was so proud to participate representing Sensay and the broader LA tech community.

Gratitude to to our MC, Todd, Dice from Commerce.io, Anthony from Microsoft and Dan and Ivar from Kik for tech mentorship, all the sponsors, Hub LA and Innovate LA, Jason and Dr. Julie for judging and especially to the participants who made the event shine so brightly. Until next year, you beautiful bot builders!

magnoliaBotathon 1.0

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