First an app, now a booming business – Azure powers Imagine Cup alumni to new heights

Image 1  850pxTeam Smile, from Microsoft Imagine Cup 2008, is now a thriving company. From left, Chris King, Devin de Vries and Dave New, founders of WhereIsMyTransport.

Back in 2007, Chris King sat anxiously waiting for an overdue university shuttle. The shuttle arrived so late that he missed an exam.

Transportation frustrations like this led Chris, along with University of Cape Town friends Devin de Vries and Dave New, to establish one of South Africa's most successful transportation startups, WhereIsMyTransport. What started in a Cape Town garage with a few members is now a booming business with 32 employees and a second office in London. Using Microsoft Azure, WhereIsMyTransport has launched two different transportation apps, for which it has won five awards.

WhereIsMyTransport has long utilized an assortment of Microsoft Azure services.

Nick Cuthbert, Software Architect, described this partnership. “It has been quite a journey with both Azure and WhereIsMyTransport evolving together. As our needs have grown more sophisticated in areas like managing cloud services, we’ve been fortunate enough in that a lot of the pain points have been eased by Azure.”

The company started using Azure features like virtual machines and SQL and moved to cloud services and improved automation with Visual Studio Team Services. They also use NoSQL products like table storage and document DB.

In addition to being early adopters of Azure, WhereIsMyTransport was an early member of the Microsoft BizSpark program. Through BizSpark, the company not only gained access to free software and Azure cloud credits but also support from advisors who taught the team how to facilitate growing a startup with introductions to Microsoft’s vast network of contacts. Additionally, Devin recalled that BizSpark was key to reducing the burden of software-license expenses during the company’s formative years.

How did WhereIsMyTransport get where it is today? Eight years of success all started at Imagine Cup 2008.

Image 2  850pxFrom left, Devin de Vries and Chris King present WhereIsMyShuttle at Imagine Cup South Africa in 2007. They won first place and a trip to the 2008 Imagine Cup World Finals held in Paris.

Well before they became WhereIsMyTransport, Devin and Chris formed Team Smile and got to work developing their transport app for Imagine Cup. But they ran into challenges right from the start.

Devin told us that the necessary transport data required to power the app didn’t even exist at the time. "We discovered that not only was there no source for such data available, the transport providers didn’t have digital systems to capture and provide their data," he said.

The team ended up creating an entire Public Transport Management System specifically tailored to the needs of transport providers in cities like Cape Town.

Devin described the beginning phase of the project. "To create our project, I rented our team a house, where we slept on mattresses on the floor under our desks, and basically worked continuously for months. It's so much time thinking and breathing your project."

After eight months, the team emerged from their development cave with an impressive Imagine Cup entry, an app called WhereIsMyShuttle. WhereIsMyShuttle allowed transportation providers to track their vehicles and manage their operations, while also providing a data feed that could power apps for commuters.

WhereIsMyShuttle was a big hit. The team won first place in the Imagine Cup South Africa in 2007 and a trip to the Imagine Cup World Finals in Paris in early 2008. At the World Finals, the team took second place in the Rural Innovation Category as well as an innovation-accelerator award.

Devin credits Imagine Cup with teaching him the "soft skills" necessary to own and operate a business: skills like being able to articulate an idea or business pitch on paper and in person.

After Imagine Cup, the team put its newly found soft skills to work and began a startup company—funded entirely on in-kind support from friends and family as well as the team's own money. The resulting app was almost immediately profitable.

"Imagine Cup, like entrepreneurship, is a blend of crazy dreaming and pragmatic planning and execution," he said.

 Image 3  850pxFindmyway is a transportation app for Windows Phone (pictured), iOS and Android. Based on live data from city transport operators, the app suggests various routes and modes of transportation for commuters.

For the next four years, the team got back to work developing a new app. And in 2012, the startup, established with the new name WhereIsMyTransport, launched Findmyway, an app that helps commuters plan a journey between two destinations using any kind of transportation system.

Azure has been an integral part of WhereIsMyTransport all along the company’s journey. Nick described how he sees Azure and WhereIsMyTransport aligning in the future. “We’ve been focusing on live data processing, big data problems and machine learning. Looking at Azure’s trajectory, it seems that our paths will continue to cross. Azure Data Lake, HDInsights and the other analytics tools will likely make an appearance shortly, and Service fabric is definitely in some of our plans.”

Image 4  850pxThe Transport for Cape Town (TCT) app was Africa’s first official multi-modal app for the city of Cape Town. It was developed by WhereIsMyTransport in 2015, and is available for Windows Phone, iOS, Android and Blackberry devices.

WhereIsMyTransport had a busy year in 2015. It launched the next release of Findmyway and an app for the city of Cape Town’s Transit Authority called the Transport for Cape Town (TCT) app.

That same year, the company also received a £600,000 (almost $1 million) investment from a range of both local and international institutions.

Nick described how Azure has helped the company make the most of that money. “We haven’t had to stretch our budget further by employing IT professionals. We are leveraging Azure to ensure that our developers can focus on building the stuff that really matters. Configuring, deploying and scaling are not chilling words anymore!”

Devin agreed. “It is an extremely well integrated platform, making it easy to iterate and experiment, which is a huge advantage in such a research and development driven company.”

Microsoft wants to help future entrepreneurs like Devin, Chris and Dave to succeed in achieving their dreams. Are you deep into developing your Imagine Cup idea? If so, be sure to check out how Azure can support your project both now and in the future.

Are you thinking about how to turn an idea into a growing startup company like WhereIsMyTransport? Check out the Microsoft BizSpark program, which gives startups three years of free stuff – including software, services, tech support and access to the Microsoft Azure cloud.


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