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The 3 Key Ingredients to Making a Great Product

 Alec Garcia is on the left, I am on the right. Team fliiip.

Alec Garcia is on the left, I am on the right. Team fliiip.

I got pretty far in the 2014 Salesforce Million Dollar Hackathon with my software engineer partner, Alec Garcia. 4th place in the Heroku Category overall. Out of 800+ participants, it felt good.  Also, we won $20,000. What did I learn?

I've gone to a few hackathons in San Francisco. The first one I went to was in March 2014, to the BeMyApp Connected Device Hackathon. This is where I learned my first lesson about making a great product:

1. Make It Beautiful

Beauty is subjective. So let me give my definition: something simple that you don't think about how it's made; it just works.

This could mean UI/UX, code, execution. Your product must be beautiful. You don't want people to notice the seam lines. You don't want people to think about how it's made as they use it. I learned this during that first hackathon. I was apart of team NoJack. I worked as an industrial designer on that team. They had already figured out their product: a bicycle alarm. It was my job to make a concept for the case. One of the last things I did for them was this page:

 Rejected. Inspiration: Shark.

Rejected. Inspiration: Shark.

During the 2-3 days of the hackathon, I drew like crazy but all my ideas were pretty much rejected except for one of the first drawings I had. The NoJack guys loved this sketch so much and it was just a warm up. I felt like I could do better and I did 200+ concepts but I never did as well as that first sketch:

I should've stopped on that first drawing. It's simple, it's from the future, it's beautiful. We won 2nd Place overall. 

2. Make Something You Would Use

I learned this lesson at the Spartan Race Hackathon @ AT&T park. I was the product designer on the team this time and I had 2 software engineers with me. We had to create a fitness app. I am terrible about keeping a schedule on working out so this was particularly hard. As a team, we eventually came up with the idea of just tracking your workouts and giving you badges.As a product designer, I took that and ran with it:

 Olympus.

Olympus.

We track information on your Jawbone UP24. Running, working out, etc., gets you badges in your city.You can go along the path of Hermes, Zeus, Poseidon. I wanted to make working out fun for ME.

I could see myself using it so I loved working on this idea. We came in 3rd overall. 

3. Solve a Damn Problem

Finally, the biggest thing I learned was during the Salesforce Hackathon. Leading up to that point, I researched a lot of successful entrepreneurs and a great resource is Kevin Rose's Foundation series.

There was a string that connected all of them: solving a problem.

That insight changed my life and at this hackathon, I would be the leader. I created a product to solve a problem: I wanted to easily find lunch.

 This was a lot harder than you think.

This was a lot harder than you think.

But I had to go deeper. What was the actual problem? Why should this exist? How would this shake the world up? 

It took a while but I came up with this: I'm trying to solve The Paradox of Choice. The hardest thing about having so much choice in the world is that it actually causes paralysis. And YOU are product of a series of small choices. I wanted to help you make better choices.

By trying to solve this hard problem, we won $20,000. I know this works now.

Closing Thoughts

Make it beautiful, make something you would use, and solve a problem. Those are the ingredients to a great product but there is one more key that I believe will make a product truly incredible: make something no one else has seen.

I have yet to hit that level and that's why I'm an entrepreneur.