It's tough getting going - technical decisions for start-ups

13 December 2021
4 min Read
Rob Stemp
Unsplashed - Adi Goldstein

Having a great idea is only the first step for a start-up. Some of the early technical decisions that have to be made early on could be the difference between a rapid rise or a quiet failure.

Are you a start-up? Do you have a great idea, but you don’t know how to bring it to the market? How exactly do you get going and bring your vision to life? One of the most important decisions to make is how to build the product or service, not just what it is. This can include the whole technology stack in use, as well as the development approach. But how do you make these key decisions if you don’t have the right technical input?

If the founders and decision makers are non-technical, then this typically means either in-house technical recruitment or outsourced development. I’ve seen many examples of offshore development disasters. Sure, they look competitively priced, they have an amazing website with tons of testimonials, so they must be good, right? Unfortunately, the reality is that it is hard to judge whether software developers are competent if you yourself are not technical. It’s very easy to say the right words and sound like you know what you are talking about, but it’s much, much harder to put it into practice.

The world of software engineering is huge, is changing all the time, and requires genuine talent to do effectively. Easy to start, hard to master. It is great that there is such a low barrier to entry that anyone can get started, but don’t let this fool you into thinking that anyone that has read a text book or has a couple of years of experience can build a world class web app and backend service. Its fundamentally hard to do effectively and securely, and requires a great deal of experience.

We are often brought in to secure and fix problems when the technology is failing, and in some cases the only practical way forward is to start over. But this can be a bitter pill to swallow for the client, who regrets putting their faith in the wrong development outfit or appointing an inexperienced CTO. New investment is sometimes needed to continue, and the whole excitement of the start-up phase is lost. Of all the decisions you make as founders, getting the technology on the right path from the start is crucial, and one that will kill your business if you get it wrong.

So, what should you do? You need someone technical on the board. Not just naming the most technical person you have as the CTO, an actual technical person with a couple of decades of proven experience. If the founders don’t have that person amongst them, you need to hire one. They don’t need to have a track record of being in a successful start-up (a mistake many founders make); you want their technical skills, not the knowledge of how to run a start-up (that’s your job). You need them to be deeply technical, with a track record of building reliable, maintainable, complex systems with solid choices, processes and procedures. An eye for detail and not being afraid to ask very awkward questions. Once this person is in place, they can then advise you on the right choices for your business and recommend the next steps.

But also, make sure you get the customer requirements right. You can’t build a system from a pitch deck and enthusiasm alone. You need detailed wireframes, flows, and walkthroughs of every customer interaction. There are a ton of tools that help with this. Mock it up and go through the user experience all the way through, then go through it again and, if necessary, again, each time making improvements and optimisations. Is the registration process arduous? Do you ask for the same information more than once? Are you collecting far too much information on the initial sign-up? Once you have the user experience figured out, you can get someone to build it. But not before.

Good luck, and if you get in trouble, you know where we are.

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About Rob Stemp
Rob is Red Maple's Chief Executive Officer, and one of our co-founders. He has 20 years’ experience in Cyber Security, working across National Intelligence, Security, Defence and the Commercial marketplace. With a deep understanding of IT security architecture, systems engineering, technical leadership, information security, cyber security and battlefield cyber, Rob provides in-depth technical knowledge of both enterprise IT systems and cyber security best practice.