PayPal named a Moscow team the winner of its inaugural Battle Hack competition, awarding them $100,000 and completing a year-long journey to find the best hackers and innovators developing using its API.
The culmination of this effort also casts a spotlight on the payment processing company’s efforts to win back developers, something that it admits has been neglected for some time.
Ten teams entered the finals of this global challenge, which spanned six countries. PayPal’s Global Director of its Developer Network John Lunn revealed that more than 2,000 people entered the competition, participating in events in London, Berlin, Moscow, Barcelona, Tel Aviv, New York City, Seattle, Washington, DC, Miami, and Austin.
The winners of each regional event were flown to Silicon Valley where they took part in the final challenge held at PayPal’s headquarters. With only 24 hours, each team needed to come up with a hack that solved a problem and utilized the company’s API along with one of the other sponsor services. These included Twilio, Nokia, Windows Azure, and SendGrid.
In the end, only one team emerged victorious — the group from Moscow with their Donate Now application. Their project resulted in the development of native iOS and Android apps along with a beacon that, when powered, broadcasts a signal to its app when the phone is near it. Users can opt to provide donations to that cause or organization, whether be it to help feed the homeless, blood drive, or even raise money for natural disasters.
Here are the other projects the other finalists developed (in order of presentation):
This group created an app called Net-Pay.co designed to help process payrolls for seasonal workers. The idea is that if you’re looking to bring on a group of hourly workers for a specific period of time, being able to pay them without having to deal with payrolls every Friday should be made easier. The mobile app lists each worker and allows administrators to manage how many hours they worked. The system then calculates that based on their specific hourly wage and utilizes PayPal to process the payments to each worker.
With its Get Trucked app, this team aims to offer a new tool for mobile food vendors to find new locations and grow their fanbase. Almost like a Kickstarter for food trucks, this app lets interested consumers put down money to entice vendors to come to their location. Every day, the vendors look to see where demand is and when they select a location, the money put in is committed, meaning that they will be guaranteed a certain amount that day.
Customers receive an email via SendGrid notifying them that the merchant is coming to their location and transactions are managed through Get Trucked’s Microsoft Azure instance. The team says that in the future, it would like to work with PayPal’s Check-In service, although that will depend on how open the API becomes.
In what was perhaps the most utilitarian application of the competition, Jeff Linwood developed a service that allowed anyone to create a disaster relief fundraising platform. Inspired by the disasters in the Philippines and in his hometown of Austin, Linwood created a Web app that allows people to post status updates and organize events to help raise funds.
The disaster relief app allows photos and YouTube videos to be embedded and can be updated through SMS, powered by Twilio. It also utilizes SendGrid to allow people to send communications by email. Each of these capabilities were implemented after considering the fact that in the event of a disaster, survivors won’t have the time to download an app — they just want help.
This team created an app called Skillfully Made that will create new stores anywhere without necessarily having to worry about a physical location. The iOS and Android app utilizes a QR code scanner that displays the product and enables customization to take place in real-time. The item can then be purchased through PayPal.
Akin to what eBay Now offers, this group created By Now, an app that allows users to scan any product and purchase it. The idea is this: you’re going to a store, but it closes right before you get there. You see the item in the window and want to know where else you can buy it. By Now lets you snap a photo, then processes it to determine what it is, how much it costs, and a location.
This group created a service called TapIt that utilizes Near Field Communications. Scanning NFC stickers or low energy bluetooth markings, customers can find information about a particular product and make the purchase right from their mobile device.
With its Kiva-like service, the team from Miami is hoping to democratize the loan process that will allow people to lend funds to others while helping recipients boost their credit scores. Interested lenders use the app to input how much they wish to provide and the terms of the deal. Those that need funds will select from those agreements that match their credit scores. All payments are handled through PayPal so neither the borrower or lender ever need come in contact with each other.
Geared towards helping people stick with their fitness program, this team developed Runpal. With this app, you are paired with a random user and form a monetary-based pact where each commit to a specific running program and the person who fails to keep up with it forfeits their share of the ante. Team Tel Aviv connected with RunKeeper’s health graph, PayPal’s API, and Twilio’s SMS messaging, while also building its native apps on top of Appcelerator’s Titanium platform.
Last, but not least, was the team from Seattle who created an application centered around shopping for clothes using the Xbox Kinect. Users could choose particular articles of clothing and virtually “try them on” while also making customizations. Photos can be taken with the Kinect, which can be shared with friends to help in the selection process. In the end, a QR code is displayed that users can scan using their Windows Phone device to make purchases through PayPal.
At PayPal’s Battle Hack, the winner wasn’t determined based on the business case that a team was trying to solve. Instead it was centered around the code, quality of idea, and overall experience. PayPal brought in industry professionals to help judge the competition: Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson, entrepreneur and social influencer Sarah Austin, SendGrid co-founder Isaac Saldana, Braintree Mobile General Manager Aunkur Arya, Wrapp co-founder Andreas Ehn, PayPal’s Lunn and its president David Marcus.
Team Moscow wasn’t the only one to walk away a winner (although the group did walk away with the biggest prize):
- SendGrid prize (an iPad Air): Austin
- Twilio prize (a GoPro): Austin
- Microsoft Azure prize ($60,000 worth of hosting): Seattle
- Nokia prize (Lumia 1020 phone and accessories): Seattle
The teams from Miami came in third place, while Tel Aviv ranked second.
Improving outreach to developers
We spoke with PayPal’s Marcus following the competition and he says that it was all about finding the best hackers to help innovate on the company’s platform. He has a vision for the company whereby its core product will become the payment operating system for the technology of tomorrow and in doing so, the company needs to continue to grow its ecosystem.
Admittedly, PayPal says that it hasn’t been doing a good job on the developer relations front, but it has been looking to change that. Aside from its PayPalX developer conference, it has hosted numerous hackathons around the world and recently, launched its PayPal Blueprint program for early stage startups.
Contributing to Marcus’s vision is Braintree, a company it acquired for $800 million, which will play a factor in further courting developers to enable more innovation to occur and help grow the service beyond its 140 million active users.
PayPal says that it is already beginning work on the next installment of its Battle Hack competition with more cities participating.
Photo credit: PayPal