Rod da Silva has your child's best interest in mind. WebCurfew is a real-time internet parental control website that effectively provides a light switch for any internet-enabled device in the home. According to da Silva, "Our mission is to partner with all parents to promote a healthier life balance for their children offline by helping to manage their online time more effectively."
"At the core of our offering is a platform for controlling, on your behalf, the single point of internet access in your home – your router."
This is compelling. These are not parental controls that are really outside of a parent's control -- typical of some software solutions that are in-browser, or web-based. Even some downloadable software operates on the PC, not in the peripheral device that feeds Internet traffic into the computer.
We were intrigued enough by da Silva's vision that we sat down and talked with him about what he's doing with WebCurfew, and how he started working with Microsoft to send that startup on its way to growth. Here's what he had to say.
Can you list the Microsoft technologies that you are using in conjunction with the development of your application (and if you’re using Windows Azure, please highlight that):
Windows Azure IaaS, Workflow Manager/Service Bus 1.0, SQL Azure, ASP.Net, .NET 4.5
Can you describe the relationship that you have had with Microsoft in building your startup?
WebCurfew Founder Ron da Silva
I have found Microsoft to be extremely approachable and helpful in every aspect of building my start-up. From the early stages when I spoke with the product group members as part of the TAP program about my ideas and how best to implement them on their technology, to the planning stages as I worked with Azure specialists to help me determine what the “cost” of my planned solution would be, Microsoft has been there every step of the way. And now that I have launched, they continue to be supportive of what I am doing through the very generous BizSpark program and its many marketing programs. Simply put, Microsoft has been a great go-to-market partner, and their Azure platform gives me my competitive advantage.
Why would an entrepreneur turn to Microsoft for help in building scale, a team, or using software?
A lot of developers already know about the many software APIs and developer tools Microsoft offers that are the instruments of their creativity. However, what they might not know is how supportive Microsoft’s many marketing programs are at getting the word out about your product. Whether it’s the Windows 8 or Azure App stores, BizSpark, or the Cloud Vendor Services support groups, Microsoft has demonstrated real initiative in helping companies build the Windows Azure eco-system
What questions do you and your technical co-founder / engineering team feel are the most important to solve about the business aspects of your company?
WebCurfew offers both a Free and a paid service. The free offering allows anybody to use the service without restriction as long as they are willing to log into the website manually. Our premium service offers automated control over people’s routers (i.e.; turn the internet access of a devise off automatically at a certain time). Hence our revenue model is tied directly to our proprietary scalable timer infrastructure running in Windows Azure. So a big question we had to answer about the technology to placate the business was how we were going to scale the outbound “automation” traffic of our solution to ensure the revenue stream.
Where do you include technical members of your team during the building of your business plan?
We differentiate our business through strong technical IP, so technical members of the team play a large role in providing the vision and go-to-market strategy of the business, based on those core technical capabilities.
What impact or legacy do you hope to make in the market and in the business world?
My dream is to use technology to humanize technology. We are trying to build a successful business partnering with parents to restore balance to their children’s online and offline lives. I can’t think of a more noble endeavor, and I would be proud to play even a small part in it.
What characteristics do you possess that make you an entrepreneur? What makes your startup a startup?
For me its perseverance and learning on the fly. Having a no quit attitude when you believe that you are on the right path, and not respecting existing technologies and ways of doing things so much that you won’t challenge them. It takes a long time to build a successful technology-based company. You will hit many hurdles and you need “stick-to-it-ness”. You have to run straight at your challenges and trust in your ability to figure things out in real-time. If you wait until you have it all figured out, it will be too late because someone else will beat you to the punch.
Tell us about your Azure-based solution.
We run entirely in the Azure cloud, however, we are much more than just another Azure hosted website/service. WebCurfew is an application sitting on top of a platform for "remote controlling consumer-based routers". Essentially WebCurfew servers running in Azure call out to and control the routers in people's homes, providing an easy way for them to turn on/off internet access to kids’ devices by "programming" the routers with MAC Filter blocks, triggered by simple button clicks on a web page. As of right now we support more than 100 popular brand-named consumer-oriented routers. So in effect, WebCurfew is an “Internet of Things” (IoT) application & service as it can control a piece of hardware that millions of people have in their home already – their router! It is the “outbound” nature of our IoT Azure cloud service that makes the architecture of WebCurfew interesting.
How is Azure implemented in your solution?
We utilize Azure IaaS VMs and SQL Azure. Furthermore, we are heavily reliant on Workflow Manager 1.0 and Service Bus 1.0 running on our VMs as a key aspect to our internet-scale Timer infrastructure.
How did you get excited about Azure?
The motivation to use Azure to scale our outbound communications with all of the customer routers we management was a no-brainer. There really isn’t any other way to do it short of building your own global, scalable cloud hosting infrastructure. Azure has everything we need to run this business entirely in the cloud, and being a Microsoft shop to begin with meant Azure was a natural fit for our development skillset.
What were the Azure features that prompted you to decide to build on Azure?
Because we had custom requirements for our WebCurfew servers, having control over the servers was paramount. So Azure’s IaaS offering was perfect for us. But it is the strong fit our architecture had with the capabilities of Windows Workflow Manager 1.0 and its underlying Service Bus 1.0 platform, and the scale we could achieve with them in Azure IaaS that really makes our solution shine technically.
What advice do you have for companies that are thinking about building in the cloud?
Just do it. By the time you do all the studies to justify whether it makes sense or not to move your application to the cloud, you could have already done it. It’s easy. You use all of your existing skills. If you are a Microsoft shop there is little learning curve. And in the end it will almost always make financial sense as well.
Rod da Silva