rome2rio attends Window Azure BizSpark Startup Camp

A few weeks ago we got an email from the BizSpark mailing list alerting us to a Startup Camp happening here in Melbourne. The agenda sounded pretty cool – one day of tech talks all about Azure and developing for the cloud, one day of hardcore coding, and another day of demos and business pitching.

We always wondered what it would take to port www.rome2rio.com to a cloud platform. Our backend is written entirely in C#, so we thought it should be doable in a weekend. The last pitching day also sounded great. We’ve never pitched before and, frankly, need all the practice and feedback that we can get. So, it seemed like an agenda that was tailor made just for us. So we applied to attend…

We rocked up on Friday and met a bunch of awesome folks! The crowd was quite different from the people we bump into at other Melbourne events like Jelly and The Hive. There were a few Microsoft MVPs, a few students, lots of gainfully employed people, and surprisingly, a lot of other startup folks like ourselves. Cool! Graham Elliott gave an excellent crash course on the Azure platform – well paced, lots of coding demos, lots of network issues – all the ingredients for an informative talk.

The second day was all about coding. Most people formed into teams to work on ideas that they come up with that morning. Pavel Chuchuva approached and asked to join us. We quickly brainstormed a project – and agreed he would code up a mobile app for us! We
threw him some rudimentary docs on our web services, some Json parsing code we had lying around, and off he went. In the meantime, we went to work porting the site to Azure.

After a few hours of coding and a bit of fiddling with the deployment package, we had it up and running. Thanks to Steven Nagy for helping us sort out some unusual IIS issues (we had static content disabled in IIS, and needless to say, nothing worked). The BizSpark program also comes with an MSDN subscription that gives us some free compute hours in the real Azure data centres around the world. So we deployed it for real and .. it worked! Cool. We spun up the number of instances and .. boom.. four servers running www.rome2rio.com.

The last day was mostly spent on the pitch. We only had five minutes, so we wanted to keep our slide count down to about one or two. That would leave enough time for our awesome demo and some QA. We did a practice pitch and were told we needed to show some numbers – how much money can we actually make! Oh man – we’re not numbers guys – we’re coders. So, we fired up Excel and pulled out some numbers for the last slide.

Our final presentation went nice and smooth. Michael and myself switched it out a bit – I did the into, Michael spoke to the demo, and I finished with the financials. The judging panel threw some questions at us – including the obvious “what is your mobile strategy”? Well, we had Pavel’s demo! He coded up an awesome iPhone app that shows our itineraries in the typical iPhone list view. Nice and slick!
 

Rome2rio-bizspark-pitch

We were the second group to present. Man, there were some great ideas pitched by the others. The TrendFriendz guys come up with a way to make money with known up-front risk. Like a Casino! They would be mad if they didn’t productize this. Our other favourites were MapDojo and Lunch.Idea, but all seven  other pitches were of a very high standard.
The judges then huddled together and made their decision. Runners up… MapDojo… TrendFriends (man, we were sure they would win)… and winner… rome2rio. YAY!! Apparently our pitch ticked all the boxes – we were quick and to the point, our demo was compelling, and our financials showed heaps of potential.

We won three Windows Phone 7 devices.  Nice – also one for Pavel. We also won a two day training day at The Entourage. But most important, we walked away having met a bunch of really smart and enthusiastic entrepreneurs that gave us confidence in our decision to start rome2rio here in Melbourne.
 

A special thanks to Catherine Eibner for organizing the entire weekend.

 

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