Featured BizSpark Startup on Azure – SpotlessCity

Interview with Nosheen Chaudhry, Chief Information Officer and co-founder of SpotlessCity.

Web site: www.spotlesscity.com/.

Tell us who you are and your role in the company:

I am Chief Information Officer and co-founder of SpotlessCity. I have over eight years of experience in both project management and marketing, and have worked with organizations ranging in size from startups to Fortune 100 companies. While in business school, I co-founded a software quality assurance outsourcing company that was awarded Best Startup in Asia Pacific at the APICTA awards in Indonesia, November 2008.

What is your company’s mission?

To make city life more livable by offering convenient and innovative web-based solutions for everyday needs.

In 140 characters or less, tell us what your company does:

SpotlessCity partners with local dry cleaners to allow customers to schedule their dry cleaning & laundry pickup and delivery online.

Tell us about your Azure based solution.

SpotlessCity seeks to modernize the dry cleaning & laundry industry by creating and operating a website that (a) helps local dry cleaners & laundromats connect with their customers in a brand new way and (b) lets residents finally handle all of their dry cleaning & laundry needs with the same ease and convenience with which they order meals, buy groceries or rent movies — online.

The site contains a comprehensive directory of dry cleaning locations, including contact information, hours, services provided, and prices. Customers have the ability to schedule the pickup and delivery of their dry cleaning and laundry from their choice of member dry cleaning locations directly through the website and receive email confirmation shortly thereafter. Payments are made securely online via credit card, with the card being charged upon the completion of the cleaning. SpotlessCity.com allows busy customers to have their clothing picked up, cleaned and delivered by a dry cleaner they trust, with the added luxury of never having to step into a store or even pick up the phone.

At the back end of SpotlessCity.com is a unique mapping and scheduling engine developed in Visual C#, using the .Net Framework, which encompasses the following:

-          A geo-mapping process that defines detailed delivery zones for each dry cleaner down to the street block.

-          An algorithm that translates the unique operations of each dry cleaner into a customer-friendly scheduling engine (i.e. capturing the process behind each service for each day of the week, down to the minute) – thereby enhancing user experience by allowing customers to schedule the delivery of their items as soon as they're ready.

-          Business Intelligence processes which capture meaningful data and generate custom reports that allow us to customize our marketing and operational strategies based on real-time empirical data.

In addition to the customer-facing site, we also have a separate, secure site from which dry cleaners can manage their accounts - and of course manage all of their customer orders.

How is Azure implemented in your solution?

SpotlessCity.com was built in ASP .Net 4.0, and runs entirely off Azure – both in terms of application hosting and data storage.  A few months ago we launched the pilot phase of our company, as a learning period where we would study the market and the industry, then use our findings to execute a full-scale launch.

For the pilot phase, we limited our requirements and so our architecture is fairly simple. We have a multi-tenant Azure web role, which runs for both customers and dry cleaners. We are also using a SQL Azure relational database for customer, vendor, and order information.

Our full-scale launch is more complex, and will take advantage of even more of Azure’s advanced features. We’ll be adding in worker processes, transitioning all of our content to the blob storage, and apply the caching for database data and session state.

How did you get excited about Azure?

I remember hearing about Azure some time before we started development. As we researched further into cloud computing, we became convinced that this is the way to go. Being a startup with limited budget, it was still important to shop around. It was when I realized that not only would our costs be based on our actual consumption, but also how easy it would be scale with growth that I knew Azure would deliver everything we needed – and more. There was no looking back after that.

What were the Azure features that prompted you to decide to build on Azure?

There are so many things to love about Azure. Its 99.95% SLAs are important to any ecommerce solution – and our customers place their orders around the clock, even well past midnight. Azure allows us to scale our usage with our growth – which means, as a startup with a limited budget, we can streamline our costs and maximize our cash flow. We can also easily manage our staging environment; minimize our downtime during regular releases, and easily rollback deployment. The Azure datacenters are designed with solid security, redundancy, and disaster recovery strategies. With all of these features, Azure became our obvious choice.

What specific value are you getting from BizSpark beyond the technology?

BizSpark is an engaging program, and every day we’re learning about more and more benefits that we can avail. In addition to the thousands of dollars we’ve saved in software and hosting costs, through BizSpark we have had the opportunity to attend local events that have presented very useful networking opportunities. We also have a contact at Microsoft who is working closely with us and providing valuable help in planning for our next phase, introducing us to the right people, as well as promoting SpotlessCity at local events.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment since founding your company?

We always knew SpotlessCity would be convenient for customers, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that dry cleaners were eager to sign up with us as well. As small businesses, they often have fantastic ideas for innovation, but don’t have the resources to build a site with all of the advanced features that ours does. We found that dry cleaners were hungry for a way to connect with their customers online – and signing up with us was a great way to achieve it.

What advice do you have for companies that are thinking about building in the cloud?

Plan ahead. Decide early, and then design your architecture around cloud computing. While it may require some additional development work, the benefits will definitely outweigh the costs in the long run. Azure will scale as you do, and help you maximize your cash flow. I can’t think of a reason not to.

What is the one thing that you would like readers to take away about your Azure app?

SpotlessCity is growing constantly! We’re adding new dry cleaners in new delivery zones every day. Our mission is to make city life more livable, one load of laundry at a time.

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