The interconnected startup: a year in technology
Klaus, ClearScore's Chief Technology Officer, describes the technological milestones they have achieved in their first year
ClearScore has some major milestones coming up. Our customer base will shoot past the 2 million mark any minute now, and we’re moving our entire infrastructure onto the IBM Softlayer cloud platform next week. In July, we will also be celebrating our launch anniversary. All of this has got me thinking about how far we have come in such a short space of time and what it took to get there.
ClearScore sets sail
There exists a romantic notion of start-ups. It’s the life of a pirate. With an ambitious dream you set sail with like-minded buccaneers. Your crew then forge their own path, take risks, break the rules and leave the safety of everything held dear to do something that no-one else has ever done before.
The seas are rough, sometimes the winds are unfavourable, but your ship is fast, your course is true and, should you survive, the bounty is a-plenty. The truth is that you never really set sail alone. Your ship will quickly sink unless you rely on other crews that do things better that you could possibly do.
We weren’t going to create and manage our own datacentre…why would we? That would have taken ages, been very costly and become a security and compliance nightmare. For this reason, we reached out to Blenheim Chalcot and their in-house datacentre helped us get FCA certification in record time and limited cost.
Creating our own Credit Bureau would have been a huge task on its own, but Equifax stepped up and made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. At our first meeting they brought most of the key players in their company to show support. It was overwhelming. That support enabled us to fully integrate our systems and launch within 6 weeks. Even by start-up standards it was hair-raising.
For our product matching service, we turned to TotallyMoney who, in turn, use HD Decisions for real time eligibility checking. From day one we were thus able to seamlessly offer customers the best products on the market, picked specifically for them. Our service could then remain free for life; a total game-changer in the UK.
These choices meant that within 5 months we were able to launch, with a secure, certified platform to create a product that not only looked beautiful, but also offered customers clarity into their financial position and the best products on the market. Boom!
That was all less than a year ago. Life is easy when you have no customers. Without customers you don’t need to think about mobile apps, fraud, performance, uptime and scalability. We’ve since upped our game in all these areas.
Raising the mainsail- building our app
There are a number of systems we use to display real-time customer behaviour. During big events, we are all glued to Google Analytics which clearly shows active users coupled with a colour-coordinated view of whether they are using a mobile, desktop or tablet.
When the first TV adverts went live, they created waves that washed up onto Google Analytics lighting it up green. The colour indicates heavy mobile traffic. From their comfy couches, few customers wanted to get up when they own a phone with more computing power than was once required to send a man to the moon. It was clear that we needed to rapidly launch mobile apps.
Luckily, Frank (our trusty UX Lead) had an ace in his sleeve in the form of Prague-based company called Nextap. This talented team of Czech youngsters helped us smash out a Hybrid iOS mobile app in just four weeks.
On the 22nd December, we launched our full iOS and Android mobile offering. This still ranks in my top ClearScore moments as it was beyond our wildest expectations.
Our iOS app flew into first place in free finance apps and into 20th place in the top free apps in every category within the App Store, with our Android app fairing equally well. Over 33,000 total app downloads within 24 hours. This rocketed us past half a million customers on Christmas Eve making it one of the Merriest Christmases that I can remember.
Putting security first
With increasing attention, comes increasing responsibility. The single biggest concern in our industry is fraud. The harsh reality is that any online system is constantly under fire, from quaint WordPress sites to corporate behemoths. Almost anyone can bring to mind several companies that have unfortunately made the news because of data breaches.
To combat fraud, we have implemented some of the most sophisticated systems in the industry and completely redesigned our registration flow. Before you even start to register, we use iOvation to seamlessly carry out dozens of checks against a database that spans more than 3 billion devices.
When you register, we use Emailage to assess risk using an interconnected global community doing the same. Furthermore, our systems are independently security tested with thousands of checks on a regular basis, such that we can remedy any risks on our platform.
None of this is quick, cheap or easy, but it’s necessary and constantly being enhanced.
Keeping afloat- a 24/7 service
We are, and will continue to be, a 24/7 service. Performance and uptime aren’t just critical for our business, they are our business. For real time monitoring, we work closely with AppDynamics. Our “Health Dashboard” is the first thing that I check each morning. It gives a traffic light view of 5 different platform metrics (memory, CPU, response times, error rate, database usage) and the status of another 9 external systems.
When we launched our new Timeline feature, the subsequent email campaign sent a tsunami of traffic challenging our servers to handle 5,000 active users and 200 calls per second. The ability to track the health of every single transaction gave us the confidence to push our system to these new records.
Navigating new waters- a new datacentre solution
Scalability continues to be a priority given we expect to take on another couple of million customers this year. There is no point in crafting and marketing an awesome product, if your system then goes into meltdown. Cluttering our company basement with a shiny new datacentre still isn’t going to happen. Besides, I still need to find a good time to tell our CFO that I have plans to make it into our table tennis room.
Going directly to a public cloud is clearly an attractive option. Some Fintech start-ups (rplan, Nubank, Xignite) are already jumping on the AWS bandwagon with Azure and Google Cloud also coming along in leaps and bounds. It’s an exciting space to watch. Following months of investigation, we decided to go with a Hybrid Cloud approach using IBM Softlayer. It gives us the best of both worlds: the ability to scale up servers at will, but also have a professionally managed, super-secure datacentre in the UK whilst retaining the option to commandeer bare metal servers.
The adventure continues
The beauty of ClearScore is that it’s a constant work in progress as we build our product and the user base continues to expand rapidly. This defines the career I signed up for: to passionately parry the punches of the new challenges, rather than sit on the sidelines within a comfortable, corporate cocoon.
Working with the right platforms and partners means that we’re ready to take on any issues that might come our way and also that we’re future-proof as our user base continues to expand. When we celebrate one year of ClearScore on July 15th , we’ll be toasting to all that we have achieved so far – but will also look forward to many more challenges ahead!
Klaus Thorup CTO, ClearScore