AWS Startups Blog

How Timehop developed the world class ad platform, Nimbus, with support from AWS

We recently sat down with the Timehop and Nimbus CEO, Matt Raoul, as well as two talented team members, David Leviev, VP of Programmatic Product Development, and Mark Laczynski, Senior Cloud Architect, to discuss the obstacles the company has faced using third-party ad serving platforms that led to the in-house creation of Nimbus. They shared their challenges and revealed how they leveraged AWS solutions to optimize the development of Nimbus within Timehop, and not only improved the quality of ad servicing to their users, but also increased overall ad revenue.

From memories to monetization

Founded in February 2011 in a marathon Foursquare Hackathon, Timehop is an app whose primary goal is to help people connect with each other around the past. Timehop takes your digital memories, social media posts, and all your photos, packages them up into a new form of scrapbook, and serves them back to you as a daily trip down memory lane.

The idea behind it and the impeccable user experience quickly made Timehop go big. However, the rise in popularity came with its own set of obstacles. As the number of app users grew, so did the requirement for increased data storage, and processing power. The team also needed to find ways to grow the monetization model and make it more efficient. While Timehop collectively agreed that users shouldn’t be spending their dollars on their own memories, it was decided that integrating in-app ads was preferable to implementing a subscription model. But, it could not come at the expense of the user experience when viewing memories. Third-party solutions saw initial growth in ad revenue, but issues impacting the user experience, like ads taking over the user screens and unexpectedly playing sound, quickly became deal-breakers.

It became clear that the best way to significantly grow revenue without interfering with the in-app experience was to create their own in-house ad auction platform, Nimbus.

Enter Nimbus

Utilizing their experience on the AWS platform from the initial creation of Timehop, the development team turned to AWS to create the Nimbus ad platform that serves programmatic ads, gives ad blocking control, and maximizes the companies’ CPM.

“By leveraging AWS, Timehop was able to pivot its business and generate a new revenue stream by productizing Nimbus very quickly” – David Leviev

In eliminating third-party vendors from the transactions and allowing Timehop to conduct their own auctions, Nimbus proved to be a risk worth taking. After slowly rolling out the Nimbus platform to the full user base, results proved it to be more efficient, profitable, and most importantly, did not negatively impact the user experience.

The ability to connect directly to demand sources meant that the incredibly fast header-bidding auctions were no longer a pipe dream. This disruptive concept has led to higher CPM and better data transparency for Timehop.

Integrating an impression tracking system was another step forward for Timehop’s Nimbus, making real-time reporting available to publisher’s monetization teams. Letting Nimbus power the programmatic ads on Timehop resulted in operational stability and a sustained increase in profitability.

The massive success of Nimbus within the ecosphere of Timehop inspired the team to launch Nimbus as a software-as-a-service (SaaS), mobile ad-auction platform. It meant being able to help other publishers generate higher revenues with the same attention on the quality of the user’s experience.

Increasing growth with AWS Glue

Providing the tools to forecast and support Timehop and Nimbus’s infrastructure, AWS played a significant role in the company’s foundation. AWS Glue and Amazon Athena are two of the services that were most instrumental in optimizing Nimbus’ overall cost and upscaling its value.

“By implementing file conversion Glue jobs, Nimbus saw improved Athena query performance from 15 to 30 minutes down to 20 seconds, while providing a significant reduction in Athena costs and consistent and predictable costs with AWS Glue” – Mark Laczynski

Assisting with a data repository, billing, and scaling newly acquired clients, AWS provided a new level of flexibility that helped Timehop and Nimbus comprehend its value and accelerate the company’s growth.

Nimbus’ decision to build an in-house platform to meet its needs was a big leap of faith which thankfully, with a little help from AWS, turned out to be 100% worthwhile.