Startups move fast, but they can move a lot faster

Startup founders have different technical challenges at the various stages of their journey.  At the early stage, it’s a race to product market fit, and at the growth stage, it’s scaling the business and customer acquisition. A technology stack that does not support your growth strategy holds back product evolution and causes performance issues that erode the customer experience.  So how can startups go faster and retain and grow their customer base?  

At the early stages startups pay less attention to the performance, cost and scalability of their technology stack.  Instead, they tend to use the standard infrastructure building blocks and install software to experiment and develop their technology. The goal is to get their first customers signed up, but this approach requires that they manage their infrastructure stack manually resulting in a much lower rate of experimentation, lower developer productivity, and ultimately a much longer journey to product market fit.  Leveraging cloud native applications removes the undifferentiated heavy lifting of installing and managing software. It gives early stage developers the freedom to experiment without having to worry about the cost of managing the technical infrastructure.

Leverage the self-service approach to learning. There is an abundance of online training resources to keep up to date on new technologies, for example, review use cases and links to the detailed product documentation.  AWS also has a new Startup Kit, which is a set of resources designed to accelerate startups’ product development on AWS. A core component of the Startup Kit is a set of well-architected sample workloads that can be launched within minutes with code published on GitHub. The code can be extended easily to create a wide variety of applications.

Look for opportunities to meet like-minded people to learn from. This could be through classroom training, bootcamps, user groups, meetups, and industry events. Leverage funded programmes, such as AWS Activate, which is a program designed to provide startups with low cost, easy to use cloud computing resources. Many cloud providers also have programs available for funded startups to help with the cost of experimentation during the early stages and benefits are accessible through their angel investors, accelerator program managers and venture capital firms.

Architect for scale and cost efficiency. The world’s most successful startups from Airbnb, Slack, and Stripe to Robinhood have all been able to scale globally at a rapid pace because they’re built using cloud native applications. This approach helped them to scale, and remain laser focused on building innovative products and services that deliver value to their customers.  They have also been able to double down on other business priorities, such as hiring great people and driving new customer acquisition. Startups who choose not to build in the cloud risk having to rearchitect their applications, slowing down innovation and wasting money.  Supporting a technology stack that does not scale to meet the needs of the business is a costly mistake.

A good example of this is TransferWise.  TransferWise are re-platforming from a monolith on-premises architecture to microservices using AWS Elastic Container Services (ECS). Using autoscaling containers was not an option for them 7 years ago when they first launched, but they are now adopting cloud native applications, which has allowed them to scale more cost effectively.   For example Deliveroo developed an internal application called ‘Frank’, their new despatch engine running on AWS using Machine Learning models.  ‘Frank’ tracks restaurant preparation time and delivery times then despatches riders based on the outputs, and it has helped Deliveroo increase operational efficiency by 20%.   The costs of machine learning model training are kept low by using AWS Spot Instances, a cloud native approach to consuming spare compute capacity for steep discounts.

Don’t get locked-in. Startups are choosing to use cloud native services to avoid getting locked into lengthy contracts with traditional technology providers. Taking this approach means startups are not forced to standardise on the lowest common denominator of features and services.  They can benefit from the elasticity of cloud native applications and cost per use pricing, so are not forced in to overprovisioning and overpaying for infrastructure that needs to support peak time utilisation.

Whatever stage of the journey you are at, adopting cloud native applications accelerates your rate of experimentation, increases your developer productivity and scales your startup in the most cost effective manner.  By reducing the heavy lifting associated with managing software, you can move a lot faster and scale globally.

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