Salesforce Says Hackathon Winner Didn’t Cheat But Declares Tie, Gives Two Finalists $1M Each

Salesforce has responded to cries of foul play in its $1 million hackathon by announcing that while winning team Upshot didn’t cheat, judges weren’t given sufficient information to select a winner so it’s giving $1 million to each of the top two finalists, Upshot and

That means Salesforce had to cough up $1 million extra to fix this PR problem. That’s very expensive damage control. And in the end, awarding a second winner doesn’t really address the main criticisms of the whole fiasco: that the winner built its app before the hackathon, and that not all entrants were fairly considered.

Below is the email that Salesforce’s Adam Seligman just sent to all participants of the controversial Salesforce1 Hackathon at last month’s Dreamforce conference, followed by more analysis.

– Forwarded message ———-
From: “Adam Seligman” <>
Date: Dec 2, 2013 1:22 PM
Subject: Update on the Salesforce1 Hackathon internal review
To: “Adam Seligman” <>, “April Kyle Nassi” <>

I want to thank you personally for participating in the Salesforce1 Hackathon.  We had a great time throwing the event, seeing the hard work from the developer community, and seeing the live final round judging process.  

But we also heard your feedback and I wanted to let you know that we took your concerns seriously.  We conducted a review led by our internal audit team into the hackathon judging process and eligibility of the top finalists.  We just announced our response to your feedback, based on our internal review here:

What we determined was that the winning team met eligibility requirements, and their use of pre-existing code was allowed under the rules.  What we also found was that we did not adequately equip the final round judges to evaluate the entries that contained pre-existing code.  Because we are unable to determine if this would have changed the outcome of the final round of judging, we decided that the appropriate outcome is to declare a tie, and award each of the top two teams, Upshot and, with the grand prize of $1 million.  Both Upshot and built incredible apps on the Salesforce1 Platform and both deserve to be recognized.

We also heard your concerns about the transparency of the judging process.  We should have been more transparent about our process and provided feedback to you.  I just posted a blog ( addressing this issue because we want to be transparent about the issues we heard from you and explain how we made our decisions.

We made some mistakes, and we will be taking your feedback into the next hackathon, which we are planning now.

If you have any questions or feedback, please do not hesitate to contact me.


20131121_160835Nothing is more of an unlikely lightning rod for controversy than a hackathon, and in Salesforce’s case the winner caused a tech media firestorm by both having an ex-Salesforce employee as a founder, and allegedly consisting of a year’s worth of pre-existing code. Salesforce tells us that they are not sure how old Upshot’s code was, but after an internal review, the mobile app the Upshot team submitted was found to be law-abiding.

While one of the hackathon rules was “have been developed solely as part of this Hackathon,” Salesforce’s Chief Legal officer Burke Norton tells us that that stipulation actually meant that “use of preexisting code was okay as long as it didn’t violate any third party rights and comprise the majority of the app.”

According to Salesforce, the original judges (which included TechCrunch’s Alex Williams) were not actually briefed on the more granular pre-existing code policy. If they had been, Norton postulates, the 2nd place winner may have actually won. “We should have better prepared the final round judges around the “Innovation” category,” Norton said, “And made it clear that credit should be given to only the code built for the hackathon.”

Norton would not give us much detail on what happened during the second post-controversy review, but did say both internal and external advisors audited the fairness of the process. Only the five finalists were re-evaluated, and not the rest of the submissions. Lift’s Alicia Liu took the company to task for not running her Testflight and making the decision to eliminate her app based on the video alone. Salesforce’s Adam Seligman confirmed that the judges rebuilt some, but not all of the entries from their source code in order to evaluate them, but did not touch the Testflights.

Despite reports to the contrary, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff was not a part of of the internal audit. Salesforce declined to make a formal apology, and offered little to hackathoners who worked all-nighters but didn’t even have their apps opened. But it seems the company had no qualms throwing money at the problem in hopes of making people forget this Dreamforce nightmare.