My “aha” moment as an entrepreneur came at the end of a very bad day.

I’ve thrown events my entire life, from house parties to bachelors’ parties, charity benefits, and corporate events. Being a professional event planner was challenging because it called for keeping your eyes on the big picture while implementing every last, small puzzle piece needed to complete that picture. I was passionate about what I did, and always enjoyed my moment of zen: the moment, after a party was over, when I could recall everyone laughing, smiling, and enjoying the event that I’d put together.

But that’s not how I felt after a fashion show I organized as a charity event for a local children’s shelter. There had been problems with both the models and the photographers—people I hadn’t used before—and the event hadn’t gone well. When I got home that night, I launched into a diatribe on my blog. There had to be great models and photographers out there that I couldn’t hire because I didn’t know about them. It was a problem that had to vex both event planners and the talent—entertainers, musicians, bartenders, models, caterers, photographers, designers, florists—that wanted the gigs.

Ping!

That was the idea that led to Jellifi, which brings together event planners and the talent they’re looking for. Think of it as an Angie’s List for event planners, with photos, video, and content on each performer or provider, so event planners can make informed choices about whom to contact. After just a year, we’re now active in the 10 top U.S. markets, plus our hometown of Austin.

Technology was always going to be key to making Jellifi work. And a dedicated server on Rackspace worked okay—to start. We needed scalability and lots of it, not just because we planned continual expansion, but because we were about to be featured in an MTV documentary that would be cablecast broadly. We estimated that the thousands of hits we were getting each day would suddenly jump to millions of hits. We needed to be ready, but we didn’t want to spend money on hardware and a systems administrator to manage it.

We looked at all the big cloud players, and chose Windows Azure. Our solution was already running on the Microsoft stack, so we knew it would run flawlessly on Windows Azure. And the Microsoft BizSpark program put Windows Azure, Visual Studio, and the Windows Azure CDN (essential to our media-heavy solution) within easy reach of a bootstrapping startup like Jellifi. With talent uploading their videos to Windows Azure CDN, we avoid the possibility that their media will slow or crash the site. We also use Windows Azure load balancing for the 4 to 8 instances we generally run. This saved thousands of dollars that didn’t have to come from my pocket.

And that’s the least of the savings we’ve seen from our Microsoft relationship, which, for us, included support for design and testing, and marketing. Together with the tools and hosting, we’ve gained a tremendous amount of support. Of even greater value is the mentoring we received, the introduction to funders, and the credibility that comes from the association with Microsoft. How can you put a value on that?

Jellifi’s future looks bright, and Microsoft is helping to make it so. In retrospect, that “very bad day” wasn’t so very bad, after all.

 


Jellifi founder Cortney Hope (center) knows how to throw a party.