Microsoft Imagine Cup

This was not a real job, Microsoft didn’t pay me to be a competitor. However, my friends and team-mates dedicated so many hours into this that I consider it part of my professional career.

It was December 2011, and my friend Pato Perez (future partner in Club de Gorras) tell me about competition from Microsoft. He was living in Salta, Argentina and I were in Mar del Plata, Argentina, more than 1100 miles away (1900 km).

Some basic rules about the competition were: to develop some technology using any Microsoft tech stack, product/service/hardware need to have a positive impact on the life of your customers and have a business model for it.

Microsoft Imagine Cup allows teams to have up to four members and it was required to have one, and only one, a mentor that was part of Microsoft community – but not a direct employee.

So we bring two more friends to the team: Guillermo Dieguez it was a friend of Pato and Pedro Mutti was a friend of mine. Our mentor was Guillermo Bellmann, a Microsoft MVP.

We start working on the summer on our project. I was a 16 years old adolescent at that time. Normally, in this kind of competition, you need to know the rules and then come with everything else.

That was exactly what we did. So first we understand what they expect from us, then we started to think about what we can do. So we come with Boddy Music: our idea was to allow people to create music using our software. It was for all kind of people, but with a special focus for those who don’t have upper or lower extremities. So we allow people without hands to play the guitar with their feet, with their eyes, with their necklace or with any other part of your body.

So basically with Boddy Music, you were able to play any instrument with any part of your body. That was our approach to cover the part of making a positive impact on the life of our customers.

Then we had the part of build something using Microsoft’s technology, that was really easy, so we chose to develop the whole stuff using C#, Kinect, Azure, and Metro Design. Microsoft gave us free licenses for all our needs.

Finally, we thought it a good business model. It was going to be oriented to massive customers and enterprises. For the mass, it was going to be a freemium model, where you can use the software with all the features for free, and paid a subscription to get a deeper data and some training materials for particular diseases. For the enterprise level, our ideal customer would be a hospital or muscle rehabilitation clinic, they are going to have full access to the software with the training material, with the static system and with exclusive support for multiple users inside the software, so they can keep tracking the progress of their patients.

So we had the idea, we had a great team. It was time to execution! So we started with the development of the software: research + coding. We didn’t have expertise working with Kinect, so the very first thing was to buy a Kinect for PC.

Playing/coding with the SDK of the Kinect was really fun! We had a great time testing the software and developing. It was not a real job for us, because we had a lot of fun doing it. That was the greatest part of the competition, we were really passionate about what we had been doing.

After a few months of development and designing, we had an MVP, so in theory, we were ready to compete in the first stage. Microsoft invites all the teams with all expenses covered to go to Buenos Aires, Argentina to the first stage of the regional competition of Microsoft Imagine Cup. That was the first team all the teams exposed to the jury. And it was the first time all our team worked together physically, so far we had been working using Skype, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp to communicate between us.

We were the youngest team. competing again people 10 or even 20 years older than us, some of them with a lot of experience in the real world.

In that stage of the competition, half of the teams would be disqualified. Because that was part of the process to go to the next round two months later.

It was March, we were part of the half teams that will go to the next stage of the competition. Normally in Argentina, school classes start in that month. So we had to attend to normal class every day, and normally we connect and work on the project during the afternoon and nights.

We had almost two months until May to go back to Buenos Aires to the final regional stage of the competition, so we needed to improve a lot our product in terms of development, design, business model, prepare some short presentations and practice.

As you now time flies and we were in May, a few days before the competition we met in person one more time in Buenos Aires to ultimate the details of the presentation and practice in person. Also, we tested the software to avoid any error during the presentation if you like to watch live product presentations you might know something always fails – and to avoid that you always need a Plan B.

It was May 3, the big day. We were really nervous and anxious. I can’t clearly remember the order of each team to present. I think we were the 3rd or 4th. One of the twelve teams didn’t assist, so we were eleven teams in total.

The mode of presentation was simple: all the competitors and judges in the same office, all the teams present in front of the other teams, and then the judges take note of every single presentation. After all the competitors present their project and show their advance, the teams have to leave the room for a while so the judges can discuss who will be the winner.

I think we enter Microsoft’s office at 8.30am, and we were in the main room with all the teams until 11am. By around 1pm we were asked to go back to the main room. At this point, we were no longer nervous, I think the fact to present to other people and some judges make us nervous.

Judges start with the 3rd place, then the 2nd place and finally the 1st place. I can’t explain to you the joy and happiness we faced at that moment, the mixing feelings we had that day was unforgettable, an emotional roller coaster. From that day I start to believe that “hard work pays off”, the great combination of talent, ambition, discipline, and constancy allow us to win this competition.

From left to right: David Delgado (IT Director at Microsoft Eastern US, Canada and LATAM), Guillermo Bellmann, Matías Sanchez Moises, Patricio Perez, Minister Lino Barañao, Sandra Yachelini (Director at Microsoft Argentina and Uruguay), Guillermo Dieguez and Pedro Mutti.

After winning the competition, in that same day, a lot of press come to Microsoft’s office to interview us, we had the honor to meet the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovative Production of Argentina: Lino Barañao and Microsoft General Manager in South America: Sandra Yachelini.

The day after we were featured on the cover of some local newspapers, we were on the news on TV and a lot of people start contacting us to interview us, some Universities ask us to speak in some events. It was really great!

A few weeks after, some people from Microsoft call us and tell us that we need to go one more time to Buenos Aires, they can’t tell us the reason but mentioned that was really really important. So they bought us some airplane tickets to the following day to go to Buenos Aires.

We didn’t understand what is going on, we arrived in Buenos Aires super early in the morning, and as a usual, some driver was waiting for us at the airport. After half an hour we arrived at the hotel were some people from Microsoft was waiting for us. Then they told us that we are going to meet them, back then, president of Argentina: Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and former Microsoft COO: Kevin Turner.

From left to right: Guillermo Bellmann, Guillermo Dieguez, Matías Sanchez Moises, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Kevin Turner and Pedro Mutti.

The place of the meeting was the official presidency residence: Quinta de Olivos. It was insane the amount of security that we saw. We had to cross a lot of security checkpoints in order to enter the residence. After some time inside Kevin Turner arrives in a helicopter. And finally, we meet with him and the president. It was a great experience, I was 17 and I met in person a president and the person responsible to help Microsoft and Walmart scale to the next level.

Between May and July of that year, we repeat the process of improving the product. We had great feedback from the judges and from some possible B2B customers. So it was time to make it a much better software.

For the next phase of the competition, in Sydney, Australia, we knew that we had to present at least two times to different judges, this time our presentation should be in English. At that time I was a really bad English speaker, so during our preparation in May and June, we practiced a lot our English to do a better presentation.

Now I can figure out an error we did at that time and was to not see who the other teams, our opponents, would be and what their projects would be about. As you know it’s easy to connect the dots backward.

July finally arrives and it was time to go to Sydney, Australia. One more time we met in Buenos Aires, we spend a night in the city and then start our journey to Sydney. After three planes and 15 hours on the air, we arrived a few hours late to Sydney.

We arrive on July 6, and the competition takes place from July 7 to 10. Three intense days of competition and presenting the project, not only to the judges for 15 minutes – we, and all the teams, had a stand in a convention center where a lot of worldwide press, companies, and people in technology walk by and ask you different questions.

I remember some guy from MTV ask us some questions about the project meanwhile other guy was recording with the camera. We met a lot of interesting people, and the competition got featured in 100s of media.

On July 7 we had to present two times to a different group of international judges, our first presentation was in the morning and the second one was in the afternoon. Between each presentation, we had to be on our stand in the Sydney Convention Center.

The day after, on July 8, 2012, we had to check on a screen if we passed to the next phase or not. Sadly for us, we didn’t make to the next round. In Microsoft Imagine Cup competition you don’t have a rank for your team, except for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd winners. So didn’t make to the 2nd nor 3rd phase of the competition.

Being a competitor of Microsoft Imagine Cup, and be the youngest one, was super important for my career. I was 17 and had such a awesome experience, meeting a lot of people around the globe from 72 countries, being able to talk with the press and other competitors, present my product and see what they have been working on was a blessing for me.

This event was super important in my life as a developer, as an entrepreneur, and as a human being. It wakes me up the desire to travel and know the world. It shows me that what I have been doing my whole life is real and there is a enormous community behind it. But most important it proves that is possible to do what you love and being appreciated by other people.