A decade ago it came as a surprise to Louise Hill and a couple of other parents that there wasn't really a digital service for children to help manage their finances, as she increasingly found herself facing ‘card nag': having to make all of her kids' iTunes, App Store or Amazon purchases.
As a result, Hill and two other dads spent two years coming up with a solution that would allow parents to give their children pocket money, but also educate them on how to responsibly spend and save their money. The three entrepreneurs put together a business plan and secured close to £750,000 to launch gohenry at the end of 2012 - an app and prepaid Visa debit card to do exactly that.
Since then gohenry has experienced tremendous growth, having doubled its customer base in the last two years and grown more than 30% over each of the last four years. Now operating in the UK and the US, gohenry reported an annual turnover of £13 million in 2019 as families increasingly look to cashless solutions to become more skilled in money management.
However, as the company has grown, it quickly realised that it needed a modern digital infrastructure and architecture to support its scalability requirements. It has recently migrated away from a private hosting environment to Google Cloud to do exactly that, which is supported by Rackspace as a partner.
A public cloud environment is particularly important when you consider the nature of the gohenry service, where there are peaks and troughs in demand. For example, at gohenry automated pocket money payments are typically made early in the morning, often at the beginning or end of a week, leading to large spikes in activity.
Meeting those peaks in demand means either over-supplying servers, which will stand idle for most of the time, or building an infrastructure ready to scale up and down at speed. gohenry now has 99% of its services running on Google Cloud.
We got the chance to speak to co-founder and chief operating officer Louise Hill and investor and CTO Jeff Faubel of gohenry about the project and the company's technology plans.
Commenting on the business need for the move to a public cloud, Faubel said:
It's all about scalability. Many years ago when Louise had this wonderful idea, we had a couple of computers at the back of the cupboard. We then moved on to Rackspace to get a more professional infrastructure, but then very quickly we realised we needed more and more power on a monthly basis. We needed the cloud to help us achieve the scalability that we wanted. So we went to see various providers and in the end we selected Google Cloud.
I don't think you can go wrong with any of the other providers, but we thought that Google Cloud was listening a lot more to our problem and they wanted to be part of our team - helping us architect solutions. We felt a lot more confident working with the Google team than we were with other providers. Price was also a factor, it was slightly cheaper than other providers.
Rackspace, which had hosted the infrastructure since 2016, is also working with gohenry on support. Faubel added:
We were in a lucky position where we had all our servers at Rackspace and we could essentially move services one at a time to the cloud. We did it over a few months and now everything is on Google Cloud, with Rackspace behind us to help monitor our infrastructure.
Everything went smoothly because we spent a lot of time with Rackspace and the Google team to architect our solution. So we didn't really have any problems moving our services across, it was a very straightforward process for us.
Understanding what kids need
The gohenry environment is running on Kubernetes Engine within Google Cloud, which Faubel says allows the company to more easily scale the system. For example, services automatically start themselves when more power is required. As G Suite users, the gohenry team also benefits from a unified system of access management, where it can control access to all of the systems through the click of a button.
Faubel explained that by using DevOps tools and by having a microservices architecture, gohenry can develop features more rapidly for its users. He said:
We release much more frequently our code into production, which the microservices architecture allows us to do. We don't have to retest the entire infrastructure before we can release. We can test microservices one at a time, which allows us to release new functionalities in almost real time.
Going forward, gohenry has also begun making use of Google Cloud's BigQuery and analytics features, in order to continue to refine the product based on user need. Faubel added:
We're at the beginning of our journey in terms of using BigQuery. We've got a lot of data in our database and data is increasing exponentially. More and more customers are coming into the platform and those customers are making more and more transactions over time. So we've got a massive amount of data. We want to use analysis to better our product. To analyse our customers' use of the product, get insight into that, and develop new functionality.
We've got a data team and a product team looking at the results of that data. Every day, every month we are making small changes to improve the functionality that we offer to our customers.
However, the technical architecture is fundamentally all about supporting the finance needs of children that will be reliant upon gohenry. Hill explained:
We talk about our services having to be available 100% of the time. If you think about who our customers are - with children it's even more important that data security is of the highest calibration. But from a performance perspective and system availability perspective, if you or I go into a train station and need to buy a ticket, if my bank card doesn't work I'm going to bring out another debit card that I've got. If that doesn't work I'll bring out the credit card.
For kids, they only have one. And that makes it massively important that we are there and our services are up and they can get that train ticket, get the bus home, buy lunch at school time.