Back in September we announced a partnership with the Thiel Fellowship to recognize extraordinary newcomers in the Major League Hacking community.
We had more than 10,000 new hackers join us at MLH events in the Fall 2014 Season and they built some amazing things, but ultimately there was one team that stood out from the rest. This team not only joined hackathon season with a bang, but they also continued working on their project long after the weekend ended. Through their continuing work and support of the community, they have already had a lasting impact on hackers around the world.
Today we are very excited to announce that Cosmos is the Major League Hacking + Thiel 2014 Rookie of the Year!
On the way to MHacks IV, Stefan Aleksic faced a conundrum. He was on a bus, without data service, unclear if he was going to arrive in time for opening ceremonies because he was unable to access the schedule for the hackathon.
When he arrived and met up with his friends Rõhith Varanasi, Shreyas Raman, and Justice Suh they started tinkering with Oculus Rifts and Twilio APIs and brainstorming ideas for the weekend. Like many hackers, they did not have grand world-changing ambitions. They were there to have fun, build some cool technology, and learn a thing or two.
But then Stefan remembered his bus ride to the event and upon describing it to his fellow hackers their project became obvious – they would create a data-less browser! The rest of the hackathon was a blur. They hacked late into the night, exploring the depths of what was possible with Twilio and Android. When Sunday arrived they had a simple prototype of Cosmos – an Android app that let you access websites via Twilio SMS. They won a set of custom action figures from Twilio and went home, ready to sleep for 12 hours to recover from the weekend.
Unbeknownst to them, Cosmos was not ready to be abandoned. It immediately became a media phenomenon. FastCoLabs, Phandroid, GigaOm, Engadget and more picked it up and the app quickly achieved virality. People flocked to it – some out of curiosity and some out of an innate need for this solution to a previously unsolved problem. While mobile phones (both smart and dumb) are extremely prevalent around the world, SMS usage and availability still dwarfs that of mobile data. Cosmos provides an opportunity for people who have restricted data caps or no mobile data at all to browse the web using their SMS plans, which are cheaper and more easily attainable.
They quickly reached a point where the mere server costs of maintaining Cosmos were difficult to keep up with. The online Hackathon Hackers community rallied around them, intent on keeping their project alive. By running a Teespring campaign they managed to pay for a few more months of operating Cosmos.
Today, not long after Stefan and his team explored another data-less browser using radio waves at MHacks V, they are ready to take Cosmos to the next level. Hunter Rosenblume and Benjamin Zweig recently joined the team to help build it into a sustainable product.
The best products solve a real problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re brand new to hackathons or have been participating for decades. It doesn’t matter if you have grand ambitions. Just build something cool, share it with the world, and always stretch the limits of what you think you’re capable of. You can figure out the rest later.
The team will be presenting Cosmos at the next Thiel Summit in San Francisco where mentors from the Summit will help them explore where to take Cosmos next.
Congratulations to Stefan, Rõhith, Shreyas, Justice, Hunter, and Benjamin for being the 2014 Major League Hacking + Thiel Fellowship Rookies of the Year. We know that you will continue to en-awesome the hackathon community!