Perhaps the biggest question for any company — from small startup to big corporate brand — is how do you get ROI from social media?
Correction and Addition
We originally published this article by misstating the date Thuzi released their Windows Azure toolkit for Facebook. It was in June 2010, not this June. Thuzi has since helped publish the Facebook c# sdk which is on github here.
The Chief Technology Officer of Thuzi, a Microsoft BizSpark Featured Startup on Azure, tells us that it is possible to monetize this, and his company’s suite of products is doing that while using the Windows Azure cloud. What follows is one of several interviews we do each month with promising startups that have enlisted in the BizSpark program and are building innovative businesses on the Microsoft stack.
Back in June, Thuzi released the Windows Azure toolkit for Facebook. You can also watch this video of their presentation at MX10 for a deeper dive into what Thuzi does for its clients, like Outback Steakhouse, for which they built the Facebook app on Azure. This video on Channel 9 will also explain developing Facebook apps on .NET.
Thuzi has built several products that work to engage new users and build revenue channels for companies building engagement in social media.
BizSpark: Tell us who you are and your role in the company.
Jim Zimmerman: My name is Jim Zimmerman, and I serve as the Chief Technology Officer at Thuzi. I guess that is a big title, that means I guide our technology direction and select key platforms we leverage to get there. I also am still deeply involved in our technology in so much as I still love to write code and doubt I will ever get away from being a “hands on” person when it comes to innovation.
BizSpark: What is your company’s mission?
Jim Zimmerman: Since we started the company, we have been dedicated to helping our clients actually monetize social media through advanced technology applied around viral concepts and the social graph.
BizSpark: In 140 characters or less, tell us what your company does:
Jim Zimmerman: Thuzi builds engagements for people anywhere they interact. We bring the social graph to the user, whether on the desktop, mobile device or with direct involvement at events.
BizSpark: Tell us about your Azure based solution.
Jim Zimmerman: Currently we have several products involving social media marketing and publishing that run solely in Azure. We have used Azure from our earliest viral Facebook engagement back in 2009. Around that time, we saw several very large competitor’s Facebook campaigns collapse under viral traffic and we knew that we needed a scalable solution. Azure worked for us right away supporting a record breaking viral app that gave away over 500,000 Bloomin’ Onions for Outback Steakhouse with no interruption due to demand. With our publishing platform, we enjoy the fact that our Azure implementation supports hundreds of thousands of Facebook fan pages due to our architecture and the almost unlimited scale we can get with Azure.
BizSpark: How is Azure implemented in your solution?
Jim Zimmerman: Good question, that could involve a really long answer! Actually we have learned so much about running advanced, highly scalable applications in Azure over the years. The nature of what we do, demands nearly constant up time, as well as an ability to rapidly deploy new concepts. Our best practices are constantly being updated to include simpler means of deployment and scalability configurations to really leverage the Azure cloud and resources. We currently use Azure Message Queuing, Table Storage, Blob storage, SQL Azure, Web Roles and Worker roles. Now we are getting ready to finish building our own application infrastructure with Azure’s new IAAS offering to include Node.js, Windows Server 2012, Ubuntu Linux, MongoDB and Git publishing.
BizSpark: How did you get excited about Azure?
Jim Zimmerman: Well, as I mentioned earlier, we knew we needed a scalable solution to support a variety of client and internal concepts. We were very excited about the ease of deployment and ability to swap between staging and production with just one click. We liked Azure so much we (Thuzi) built the Facebook C# SDK and open sourced it so that companies like Microsoft could help other clients use the service for their apps.
BizSpark: What were the Azure features that prompted you to decide to build on Azure?
Jim Zimmerman: With so many of our developers specializing in C# and ASP.NET MVC, it was a very natural fit for us to go with Azure since it was so well supported. We loved the ability to swap between staging and production with no down time and how easy it was to deploy and scale new virtual machines.
BizSpark: What specific value are you getting from BizSpark beyond the technology?
Jim Zimmerman: Our Microsoft relationship has been great over the years. My personal background as a Microsoft MVP has always tied me to other Microsoft programs as well. We have enjoyed the BizSpark program, and also were happy to be included as a BizSpark One company. BizSpark has opened doors within Microsoft, but also created new revenue opportunities for us.
BizSpark: What has been your biggest “aha” moment since founding your company?
Jim Zimmerman: If I had to point to one thing, I would say that in the past when we saw some other multi-million dollar Facebook campaigns break down under a viral explosion, we said we never wanted to put a client in that position, and felt that Azure was the best way to get there. We still feel that way today and continue to prove to our clients that even their biggest promotion will not bring down the application we build for them.
BizSpark: What advice do you have for companies that are thinking about building in the cloud?
Jim Zimmerman: That is a tough one because there is so much we could offer in the way of advice. We have many applications in our solution set, but we have learned that Azure is much more sophisticated than a simple cpu in the sky. So I would say to other companies, dig in, learn about the infrastructure and what it offers, and plan strategically rather than tactically. There are many different ways to solve problems, so don’t always just stick with what you have done in the past. Not every solution needs to just be a web app with a SQL backend. Also have fun again solving new problems by architecting the most scalable solution and remember to load test from the cloud so you don’t bring down your own local network while others are trying to get work done. J
BizSpark: What is the one thing that you would like readers to take away about your Azure app?
Jim Zimmerman: That our success with applications and our platforms is based on years of experience and a commitment to doing things right, in the cloud. Our application infrastructure and best practices continue to evolve with every new feature offered in Azure allowing us to provide incredible performance, scalability and availability.