Unleashing New Business Potential with Mendix and AWS
WRSTBND emerges as an event technology leader, harnessing event industry expertise into digital solutions powered by low-code.
Event management requires a sophisticated orchestration of systems and processes – from budgetary planning to on-site transactions – in order to deliver a seamless attendee experience. Known for their expertise as event organizers, New Orleans-based Solomon Group has managed the complex production of well-regarded events like Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and the MLB Draft.
Solomon Group landed one of its largest event clients early on which inspired the team to create a suite of state-of-the-art event applications to manage their own business operations. The team quickly saw interest not just in their event production capabilities, but the technology behind it, and spun off a new and independent business – WRSTBND – in 2019.
Co-founder and CEO of WRSTBND, Conway Solomon, said, “We started getting a lot of interest from people who worked on ESSENCE Festival asking what system or tool we used. The requests started coming naturally from there, and we added one more customer, then another, and another. Then in 2019 we formally branched off and founded WRSTBND as its own company to provide that technology to event organizers.”
Today, WRSTBND offers a suite of multi-tenant applications which supported 125 large-scale events in 2022 and has become a thriving business in its own right, built on a low-code foundation.
Matching the Pace of Industry Change
In Solomon Group’s early days the team evaluated several options for optimizing their event management operations, from off-the-shelf solutions to traditional programming. “Writing anything with raw code was off the table, because it seemed like we would never be able to design enough functionality or have enough flexibility to match how quickly things change in the event industry,” Solomon recalled. “For the first couple of years we used a hodgepodge of tools, including some very basic low-code tools like Quickbase, in combination with Google Sheets and convoluted macros.”
The opportunity to manage ESSENCE was the catalyst for Solomon and his Co-Founder and CTO, Jonathan Foucheaux, to seek out a more enterprise-grade development platform which would still be resource-efficient and flexible. The team decided on the Mendix low-code platform, creating a suite of applications to support with processes such as event registration, access control, and on-site purchases.
The success of managing ESSENCE organically resulted in the creation of WRSTBND, which now enables other event organizers to reap the benefits of the solutions developed with and for the event experts within Solomon Group.
As WRSTBND evolved, Solomon and Foucheaux began building a team of naturally curious developers who saw the potential for low-code development to improve their day-to-day work. Today, the WRSTBND development team consists of seven Mendix developers, two of whom had no programming experience prior and five who came from a traditional full-stack development background.
Harnessing Business Expertise into Sellable Technology
The event tech market is a saturated one, especially as the industry pivoted and adapted to COVID-19. Today, customers will seek out a partner like WRSTBND for a multitude of reasons, such as adapting to a year of accelerated attendance or short-term event changes and honoring historical ticket purchases from pandemic-impacted events.
Mendix development is inherently designed for business and technical collaboration, making it easy for WRSTBND’s event experts and developers to mold their application offerings to exactly what customers may need. Today, this includes solutions such as an IoT-enabled access control system to manage event entry, an RFID application to manage the experience of specific attendee groups, and cashless payment applications to speed up and increase transactions at the point-of-sale.
WRSTBND CTO, Jonathan Foucheaux, said, “The IoT piece is primarily used for our access control system. It’s a cloud service that coordinates access for an event and then the devices in the field that are interacting with the attendees, whether that’s through a ticket scan on a barcode or an RFID wristband or a mobile wallet pass on their device. It’s super important, because when you enter an event and we scan your ticket, you are coming through one entry. The event might have 10, 20, or 100 different entrances, so when you scan in at gate #26, we need to let all the other entry points know immediately that your ticket has been used.”
While the technology WRSTBND provides is world-class, Solomon doesn’t necessarily see it as their only key competitive edge. “Our team has so much experience in the event space and really understands what our customers are going through, because we’ve been in most of those situations when working on production jobs before,” he said. “I think our ability to take the variables and knowledge of an event and apply technology to it far exceeds the impact of any one feature. Over half of our 25 team members come from the event space in some capacity, whether lighting designers, audio techs, or stage operators.”
Flexible and Scalable, with Mendix and AWS
Today WRSTBND provides technology to some of the world’s most well-attended events, including the 2022 U.S. Open, which saw over 180,000 attendees, and the Soundstorm Music Festival in Saudi Arabia, with nearly 1.1 million ticket or credential scans.
Events of this magnitude will process thousands of data points per minute through WRSTBND’s technology, so to remain reliable and scalable their team is also leveraging a variety of Amazon Web Services (AWS), such as:
- Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS), which all WRSTBND’s Mendix applications run on
- Amazon IoT Core, for MQTT to push real-time messaging to event scanners
- Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS) to manage sending, receiving, and storage of MQTT messages
- Amazon Aurora, to power WRSTBND’s database layers
“One of the reasons we wanted to stick in the AWS family of services is that there’s a really deep integration between SQS and the AWS IoT broker,” said Foucheaux. “For example, let’s say a semi-large event has 30 scans per second for hours. We take those scans and they get posted to an MQTT topic, and that MQTT topic on the AWS side grabs those and puts them in SQS. Our platform doesn’t need to take on the burden of ingesting them in real-time as they come through the broker.”
In practice, some of the most substantial benefits of Mendix applications running alongside AWS services could be felt at Soundstorm Music Festival. “The event in Saudi Arabia was really incredible. It was the largest event from a number of devices and physical footprint we’ve done to date, and we had no issues with scalability,” he added.
“The database layer, the IoT side, and the SQS side – everything was flowing really well. We had minimal latency – we measured the time from when a scan happens in the field to the time it gets posted to the platform – and we kept it under one second for the entire show. That was a huge success for such a large event, and we had a few other smaller events going on that same weekend in other parts of the world, and it was able to handle them all simultaneously with no issue.”
Architecting Adaptability with Low-Code
WRSTBND used the event standstill of COVID-19 to make significant updates to their platform quickly by leveraging various aspects of the Mendix ecosystem.
Historically, a new instance would be created for every new WRSTBND customer and event. The team adapted their applications into a multi-tenant solution wrapped up into several microservices, all of which are Mendix applications running on Amazon EKS. In 2022, WRSTBND ran 110, about 90% of total events, through the multi-tenant solution which orchestrates a connection between seven to eight distinct microservices.
“Knowing that we can just very quickly and easily add a new customer, and that they can fit into our existing infrastructure, but that we also have the option to build something super custom in those one-off instances, is a huge improvement for us from an architecture and infrastructure perspective,” said Solomon.
The new microservices architecture also makes it easier for WRSTBND to add new core functionality to their systems. “Right now we’re about to roll out our new payment microservice,” added Foucheaux. “It’s a back-end thing, but it’s a big update for us. It’s an entirely new microservice we have been working on for about two months, and it will get released into production in early 2023. For something like that, a relatively complicated microservice, to go out within months – I think that’s pretty spectacular.”
For Solomon and Foucheaux, the speed to add new platform features or customers in preparation for an event is one half of the equation. The other half is the speed to make updates in real-time and be responsive on-site when parameters change. “It’s really incredible how fast we can make changes and updates. For instance, during the show in Saudi Arabia they needed a specific feature for scanning a specific use-case. From ideation with the client to getting live in production was less than 24 hours,” Foucheaux said.
He added that in some instances changes can be pushed out in as quickly as a few hours if needed. The foundation the WRSTBND team has built on Mendix, with features like CI/CD scripting, makes these updates as seamless as possible.
Customer Demands Inspire Innovation
Today, WRSTBND continues to evolve their offering to meet the needs of their customers in a rapidly changing industry – including improved connectivity during large-scale events. “We’re in the process of working on a project with the AWS Private 5G team to start using that service out in the field to get connectivity to the devices in the field straight into our VPC to speed up communication and make it more reliable,” said Foucheaux.
“One of the things we’ve been excited about is seeing how the relationship between Medix and AWS has grown. Even early on when Mendix Cloud switched to AWS completely, that was huge and we saw an improvement in reliability and speed… We use a number of AWS connectors available in Mendix to work seamlessly with systems such as Amazon S3, SES, SQS, and IoT core, so it’s been exciting to see that relationship keep growing,” he added.
The WRSTBND team attributes that speed, reliability, and flexibility as a key driver in their success with customers – which can be seen in the company’s 96% retention rate and the consistent 30-40% year over year growth in their customer base.
“It’s a huge competitive advantage for us to work with Mendix, not just from a timeline perspective, but to meet the demand for those needs that pop up along the way. Adding features or making changes like that historically would have been impossible either due to timing or the cost implication. But today, we can say yes to our customers and make them incredibly happy, and that’s a win-win experience to me,” Solomon concluded.