Kahuna: The first SaaS platform built for digital marketplaces

About Kahuna

Kahuna strives to deliver the best technology solutions for online marketplaces, which include seven of the #1 marketplaces in the world. The Kahuna platform provides seller optimization and buyer marketing across a diverse variety of markets that include ride sharing, restaurant bookings, and job sites. Investors in the Redwood City, California-based company include Sequoia Capital, Tenaya Capital, and Uncork/SoftTech VC.

Industries: Technology
Location: United States

Kahuna enables marketplaces and ecommerce companies to deliver highly personalized engagement and insights by leveraging Google Cloud Platform services including Google BigQuery and Google App Engine.

Google Cloud Results

  • Kahuna’s machine learning algorithms have increased consumer engagement and goal conversion by as much as 43%. Travel marketplace cross-sells are up 40%, classifieds repeat purchases are up 43%.
  • Ingests tens of billions of events a day
  • Onboards as many as 80 million users a day without any DevOps support
  • Delivers the most up-to-date and accurate data within 4 seconds

Scales dynamically to handle unplanned 5x global traffic spikes

Per Forrester Research, online marketplaces are the fastest growing category of consumer commerce, accounting for more than 50% of all consumer online transactions in 2016. From classifieds and ride sharing to travel, education, food delivery and restaurant reservations, and a host of specialty offerings, marketplaces reduce friction by connecting the right buyers and sellers, and exponentially expanding available goods and services, to give the buyer choices.

Ecommerce and marketplace marketers face a unique challenge: communicating at scale with buyers and sellers in a way that keeps them engaged and always connected at the time of product availability and buyer need. Personalized engagement and communication, be it in the form of the right product, right messaging, right timing, right device, or right channel, is paramount.

“Google Cloud Platform scalability allows us to not worry about adjusting to our customers’ needs, which can change by the minute. We’ve onboarded as many as 80 million users in a single day.”

Jacob Taylor, CTO and Co-founder, Kahuna

According to Gartner, companies that succeed in personalization at scale are 20% more likely to outsell competitors that fail at personalization.

Founded in 2012, Kahuna helps the world’s leading marketplaces drive buyer marketing, seller optimization, and liquidity. Kahuna relies on Google App Engine, Google BigQuery, and other Google Cloud Platform (GCP) services to provide its customer engagement software.

To drive extreme personalization, Kahuna customers derive insights within milliseconds about their buyers and sellers. With machine learning, Kahuna enables its marketplace customers to act at the right time, with the right action. The world's most iconic marketplaces rely on Kahuna, and the scalability of GCP plays a strategic role in Kahuna’s software.

“One of the biggest hits to our system was a 5x increase in global traffic coming from a breaking news event, with no advance notice, and Google Cloud Platform scaled to meet our increased demand as we needed it.”

Jacob Taylor, CTO and Co-founder, Kahuna

“Google Cloud Platform scalability allows us to not worry about adjusting to our customers’ needs, which can change by the minute. We’ve onboarded as many as 80 million users in a single day,” says Jacob Taylor, CTO and Co-founder, Kahuna. “GCP can scale to handle anything we throw at it. For example, on the same Saturday, two of the internet’s biggest brands successfully launched new versions that included the Kahuna platform without giving Kahuna prior notice.”

Kahuna engineers didn’t realize the integrations had begun until the following Monday, when they examined traffic logs and dashboards. What the engineers saw was that data from tens of millions of new users was suddenly flowing through the Kahuna platform. None of Kahuna’s engineers received traffic spike alerts that weekend, because the flood of new users didn’t measurably impact Kahuna system performance.

That Saturday spike wasn’t particularly unusual. Often, Kahuna engineers don’t know when a customer will experience a major surge in traffic because of a new customer engagement initiative. “It’s typical for us to find out only after the campaign hits,” says Jacob. “One of the biggest hits to our system was a 5x increase in global traffic coming from a breaking news event, with no advance notice, and GCP scaled to meet our increased demand as we needed it.”

“We update our user records in about 4 seconds. By streaming data to Google BigQuery, we can deliver the most up-to-date and accurate data every time it’s queried.”

Jacob Taylor, CTO and Co-founder, Kahuna

Estimating reach

In addition to GCP scalability, BigQuery has enabled Kahuna to add a real-time reach estimator to its platform.

Whether it’s to spark repeat purchases or optimize sellers’ ability to reach target buyers at the right time, marketers often begin with a broad consumer population. Using the Kahuna platform, they can sort the target audience using filters for age, location, and other demographics. As marketers filter their audiences, the Kahuna platform taps BigQuery to analyze relevant consumer datasets—including hundreds of millions of data points for the average campaign. The goal is to analyze the data and provide the marketer with a real-time estimate of how many consumers in each demographic the new campaign can reach.

“Google BigQuery helps us dig into customer history data in greater detail, which allows us to spot trends and detect patterns in our data,” says Jacob. “With the high quality of our data, our customers have even more complicated filters and context they can use when communicating with their users. We update our user records in about 4 seconds. By streaming data to BigQuery, we can deliver the most up-to-date and accurate data every time it’s queried.”

“Growth marketers today want to enable their sellers and buyers to have a personalized, 1:1 conversation with tens to hundreds of millions of people,” says James Sprinkle, Kahuna’s Head of Engineering. “They’re trying to get consumers to take specific actions, such as onboarding in a certain way or buying a more profitable product. Before they email their marketing offers, they need to identify the largest segment of consumers most likely to be interested. Having high-quality, up-to-date data about the size of those segments, combined with the filtering we provide, enables us to offer something of real value that our competitors don’t have.”

Expanding with new services

The scalability, reliability, and speed of analyzing data that GCP provides is giving Kahuna the support and tools to further expand the company’s offerings. Kahuna is currently developing a host of SaaS-based solutions designed to help marketplaces accelerate growth and profitability.

Marketplace marketers will be able to leverage big data analysis to optimize each of their customer touch points. Machine learning models will recommend the best communication style and marketing copy for products and services—as well as recommend the ideal timing and devices. “Marketplaces require analyzing a huge amount of data and transactions,” says Malcolm Friedberg, Head of Marketing. “We knew we could build it on GCP. It has the capacity and scale to meet the needs of marketplace operators and their buyers and sellers, and provide needed real-time insights.”

Filtering out the noise

Kahuna uses Google Stackdriver for monitoring, logging, and diagnosing applications running on GCP. Stackdriver alerts are easy to set up and adjust, so that over time, you can fine-tune the alerts to filter out the noise.

“Our traffic is very spiky," James says. “We’d get a handful of error messages at first because of the spikes. But the alerts helped us learn where the real problems were, versus just seeing a spike in traffic that’s causing a transient impact. They helped us figure out where to set thresholds for alerts, to filter out what’s important for us to focus on and what’s not so important.”

Resting easy with security

GCP default at-rest encryption and other security measures give Kahuna engineers a high degree of comfort. And Google security practices have been a selling point for potential Kahuna customers during the RFP process. “Having Google run its data centers in such an insanely high-quality way helps us a lot,” says Jacob.

Delivering more advanced features

Several years ago, Kahuna developed its own machine learning models to enhance its customers’ ability to personalize marketing messages. “Today we complement our own machine learning models with Google machine learning APIs to drive TensorFlow, an open-source machine learning framework. Our customers work in highly competitive markets where speed matters. So where applicable, Google will help us accelerate development of next generation AI-based marketplace functionality," says Jacob.

Kahuna Subject Line Optimization, its newest offering, will leverage GCP to analyze billions of sent email messages. Based on the analysis of what has and hasn’t worked in the past, marketplace participants will receive real-time recommendations as they are in the email editor composing an email subject line. Kahuna will score the likely success of the subject lines in appealing to target audiences, so marketers can make adjustments on the fly.

Push optimization is yet another way Kahuna will deliver on its goal: To help marketers have meaningful conversations with their buyers and sellers, as well as to enable meaningful conversations between buyers and sellers. “We want our customers to have the tools they need to treat each of their customers as an individual,” says Jacob. “And the detailed data and analysis we can give them by combining Kahuna's secret sauce and GCP makes that possible.”

About Kahuna

Kahuna strives to deliver the best technology solutions for online marketplaces, which include seven of the #1 marketplaces in the world. The Kahuna platform provides seller optimization and buyer marketing across a diverse variety of markets that include ride sharing, restaurant bookings, and job sites. Investors in the Redwood City, California-based company include Sequoia Capital, Tenaya Capital, and Uncork/SoftTech VC.

Industries: Technology
Location: United States
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