We sat down with Josh Anton, CEO of X-Mode, a technology app that has been experiencing rapid growth and rising AWS costs. We asked him about his company, what cloud services he uses, and how he goes about mitigating those costs.
Can you start by telling us about X-Mode and what you guys do?
X-Mode is a location platform that currently maps out 5-10% of the U.S. population on a monthly basis and 1-2% of the U.S. population daily, which is about 3-6 million active daily users | 15M to 20M users monthly. X-Mode collect location based data from applications and platforms used by these consumers, and then develop consumer segments or attribution where our customers basically use the data to determine if their advertising is effective and to develop target profiles. For example, based on the number and types of coffee shops a person has visited, we can assume they are this type of coffee drinker. Or a company like McDonald’s will determine if their advertising is effective if they see that an ad is run in a certain area, and a person visits that restaurant in the next few days. The data has many applications.
How did you get this idea, Josh?
We started off as an app called Drunk Mode, which was founded and built while I was at the University of Virginia studying Marketing and IT. After about a year and half our app grew to about 1.5 million users by leveraging influencer marketing via Trend Pie and student campus rep program at 50+ universities. In September of 2016, we realized that if we developed a location-based technology platform we could monetize and capitalize on the location data we collected from the Drunk Mode app. Along with input from our advisors, we developed a strategy to help out other small apps by aggregating their data, crunching it, and packaging it up in real-time to sell to ad agencies and retailers, acting almost as a data wholesaler and helping these small app plays monetize their data as a secondary source of income.
Who’s cloud services are you using and how does X-Mode work?
We use Amazon Web Services (AWS) for all of our cloud infrastructure and primarily use their EC2, RDS, and Elastic Beanstalk services. Our technology works by collecting and aggregating location data based on when and where people go on a daily basis. it is collected locally by iOS and Android devices, and passed to AWS’s cloud using their API gateway function. The cool thing is that we are able to pinpoint a person’s location within feet of a retail location. The location data is batched and sent to our servers every 12 hours and we package it up and license the data out to our vendors. We are processing around 10 to 12 billion location based records per month, and have some proprietary algorithms which make our processing very fast and we have almost no burn on the phone’s battery. Our customers are sent the data daily and we use services like Lambda, RDS and Elastic Beanstalk to make this as efficient as possible. We are now developing the functionality to better triangulate beacons so that we can pinpoint locations even better, and send location data within the hour, rather than within the day.
Why did you pick AWS?
We chose AWS because when X-Mode joined Fishbowl Labs (a startup accelerator run and sponsored by AOL in Northern Virginia), we were given $15,000 in free AWS credits. The free credits have made me very loyal to Amazon’s service and now the switching costs would be fairly high in terms of effort and dollars to move away from Amazon. So even though it’s expensive, we are here to stay and adopting more of AWS’s advanced services in order to improve our platform performance and take advantage of their technology advances. Another reason we stay with AWS is that we know it is going to be there, we previously used another service called Parse.com that was acquired by Facebook and a few years later, they shut down the service, for us performance and stability (the server service existing 10 years from now) are very important to us.
Are you still using AWS credits?
No, we used those up many months ago. We have gone from spending a few hundred dollars a month to spending $25,000 or more a month. While that is a cost, it’s also a blessing in that X-Mode is rapidly growing and scaling. Outside of the cost of people, this is our biggest monthly expense. ParkMyCloud was an easy choice, given 75% or more of our AWS spend is on EC2 and RDS services, and ParkMyCloud’s ability to ‘park’ each service and their flexible governance model for our remote engineering team. So we are very excited about the savings ParkMyCloud will produce for us, along with some of the new design work we will be doing to make our platform even more efficient.
Are there other ways you are looking to optimize your AWS spend?
We believe that we have to re-architect the system. We have actually done that three times given our rapid platform growth, but it is all about making sure that we are optimizing our import/export process. We are running our servers at maximum capacity to help get information to people, and are continually looking to make our operation more efficient. Along with using ParkMyCloud, we are focusing on general platform optimization to make sure we keep costs down, improve performance and innovate at a rapid pace.
What other tools do you use as part of your DevOps process?
Let’s keep in mind we are startup, but we are getting more and more organized in terms of development cycles and have a solid delivery process. And yes, we use tools like Slack, Jira, BaseCamp, Bitbucket, and Google Drive. Everything is SaaS-based and everything is in the cloud, and we follow an agile development process. On the Sales and Marketing side we are solely a millennial workforce and work in office but our development team is basically stay at home dads distributed around the country, so planning and communication are keys to our success. That’s where Slack and Jira come into play. In terms of processes, we are trying to implement a better QA process so we deliver very vetted code to our end users. We do a lot of development planning and mapping each quarter, so all of this is incredibly important to the growth of the X-Mode platform and to the success of our organization.