Hot Startups on AWS – April 2016 – Robinhood, Dubsmash, Sharethrough
Continuing with our focus on hot AWS-powered startups (see Hot Startups on AWS – March 2016 for more info), this month I would like to tell you about:
- Robinhood – Free stock trading to democratize access to financial markets.
- Dubsmash – Bringing joy to communication through video.
- Sharethrough – An all-in-one native advertising platform.
The founders of Robinhood graduated from Stanford and then moved to New York to build trading platforms for some of the largest financial institutions in the world. After seeing that these institutions charged investors up to $10 to place trades that cost almost nothing, they moved back to California with the goal of democratizing access to the markets and empowering personal investors.
Starting with the idea that a technology-driven brokerage could operate with significantly less overhead than a traditional firm, they built a self-serve service that allows customers to sign up in less than 4 minutes. To date, their customers have transacted over 3 billion dollars while saving over $100 million dollars in commissions.
After a lot of positive pre-launch publicity, Robinhood debuted with a waiting list of nearly a million people. Needless to say, they had to pay attention to scale from the very beginning. Using 18 distinct AWS services, a beginning team of just two DevOps people built the entire system. They use AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) to regulate access to services and to data, simplifying their all-important compliance efforts. The Robinhood data science team uses Amazon Redshift to help identify possible instances of fraud and money laundering. Next on the list is international expansion, with plans to make use of multiple AWS Regions.
The founders of Dubsmash had previously worked together to create several video-powered applications. As the cameras in smartphones continued to improve, they saw an opportunity to create a platform that would empower people to express themselves visually. Starting simple, they built their first prototype in a couple of hours. The functionality was minimal: play a sound, select a sound, record a video, and share. The initial response was positive and they set out to build the actual product.
The resulting product, Dubsmash, allows users to combine video with popular sound bites and to share the videos online – with a focus on modern messaging apps. The founders began working on the app in the summer of 2014 and launched the first version the following November. Within a week it reached the top spot in the German App Store. As often happens, early Dubsmash users have put the app to use in intriguing and unanticipated ways. For example, Eric Bruce uses Dubsmash to create entertaining videos of him and his young son Jack to share with Priscilla (Eric’s wife / Jack’s mother) (read Watch A Father and His Baby Son Adorably Master Dubsmash to learn more).
Dubsmash uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) for video storage, with content served up through Amazon CloudFront. They have successfully scaled up from their MVP and now handle requests from millions of users. To learn more about their journey, read their blog post, How to Serve Millions of Mobile Clients with a Single Core Server.
Way back in 2008, a pair of Stanford graduate students were studying the concept of virality and wanted to create ads that would deserve your attention rather than simply stealing it. They created Sharethrough, an all-in-one native advertising platform for publishers, app developers, and advertisers. Today the company employs more than 170 people and serves over 3 billion native ad impressions per month.
Sharethrough includes a mobile-first content-driven platform designed to engage users with quality content that is integrated into the sites where it resides. This allows publishers to run premium ads and to maintain a high-quality user experience. They recently launched an AI-powered guide that helps to maximize the effectiveness of ad headlines.
Sharethrough’s infrastructure is hosted on AWS, where they make use of over a dozen high-bandwidth services including Kinesis and Dynamo, for the scale of the technical challenges they face. Relying on AWS allows them to focus on their infrastructure-as-code approach, utilizing tools like Packer and Terraform for provisioning, configuration and deployment. Read their blog post (Ops-ing with Packer and Terraform) to learn more.