startup advice 101: Find a Web Architect

Web Architect

Let’s face it. It’s really trendy to be in the tech startup world. Everyone has an idea for an app, a social network, a utility, or the next big multibillion dollar disruption. Tech is today’s film / music industry. The beauty of the internet is that innovation, disruption, and change are part of it’s DNA. There is a lower barrier to entry due to the core values that the internet was built on: connecting people and sharing information.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s (Facebook’s COO) words from her Harvard Business School speech:

“Now ordinary people have voice, not just those of us lucky to go to HBS, but anyone with access to Facebook, Twitter, a mobile phone. This is disrupting traditional power structures and leveling traditional hierarchy. Voice and power are shifting from institutions to individuals, from the historically powerful to the historically powerless, and all of this is happening so much faster than I could have imagined.”
– Sheryl Sandberg

Obviously Sheryl Sandberg was referencing Facebook and the social landscape, but the concept is also applicable to social networking’s parent, the web.

I’m always grateful that my parents made sure I had a good computer my entire life. Although I doubt my dad was able to forecast the details, he definitely knew that this internet thing was going to be huge. As a teenager I had the same size internet pipe that my high school did, dual band ISDN. I took to programming very early (5th or 6th grade), so I was always able to bring an idea to life if I was excited enough about it.

However, to parallel what Sheryl Sandberg stated, the internet isn’t restricted to just tech geeks and programmers. The net leveled it’s own playing field allowing everyone to participate.

STEP 1: FIND AN ARCHITECT, NOT PROGRAMMERS

I’ve read several articles talking about how an entrepreneur doesn’t need a tech person to make a startup successful. Although sometimes true, finding someone who actually knows how to execute will be the difference between a good idea that hemorrhages cash and an actual product that is profitable.

The biggest execution mistake I see entrepreneurs make is looking for programmers too soon. They don’t know that they don’t need programmers yet, they need an architect. This person usually ends up being the CTO for the startup. If the entrepreneur goes on a hunt for programmers, they’re going to spend a lot of other peoples money for code that may not perform at scale, most likely won’t be manageable by the support staff later on, and almost guaranteed won’t be documented. If the entrepreneur has no tech background, they’ll never know any of these things until it’s far too late because they’ll be too busy raising more money, meeting people, and running the business.

Someone has to read the code, set standards, ensure docs exist, and make sure the tech can scale with the business. Otherwise, the startup will have a mess of a tech stack that is completely unmanageable, thus increasing the risk of running out of money.

Let’s not forget — tech is still the core competency, the infrastructure needs to be rock solid. Unavailability = Brand Damage = Lost $$$

STEP 2: INVOLVE THE ARCHITECT IN THE HIRING PROCESS

If there is an architect involved in the hiring of the programmers, the company will have less wasted skill sets at the end of the process. They will also have set standards for how the software development moves forward.

The web architect will single out the exact skill sets needed. If the tech stack ends up being Java and mongodb, don’t hire developers who know Python and Cassandra too just because they are available. In early stages, it’s better to have developers that know the technologies in the tech stack thoroughly rather than ones who dabble in each. Scaling is serious business and switching application stacks is expensive in both time and resources. It’s also a lot easier to iterate when your engineers are experts in their fields. A good engineer (I say engineer because they need to know how the hardware functions too) is going to minimize cost and increase productivity through infrastructure. They are a bit more expensive, but the ROI on an engineer who doesn’t waste money on server resources and time attempting to learn every new thing that’s out there, is worth it.

STEP 3: WORK FOR HIRE CONTRACTS

Finally, don’t have people code if they aren’t going to sign work for hire contracts. They own the code. It’s very similar to a song writer. Sure, someone has an idea for a song, they pitch it to the writer, the writer records it on their track, but the writer still owns part of the intellectual property at the end. Intellectual Property laws favor the artist (as they should.) Talk about it up front. Even if they haven’t been paid yet, time and code are wasted if they don’t want to sign the agreement. Everyone knows time == money.

Hopefully these few points are helpful. I have a lot of really smart friends with great ideas which I’d love to see turn into products that change the world. So, go find a web architect.


Brian Rossi is a web architect and entrepreneur. Brian loves scalable architectures, small business development, tech startups, big data, mobile payments, social web, branding, & user experience.

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2 Responses to “startup advice 101: Find a Web Architect”

  1. Michael Bailey

    Jun 08. 2012

    What would you recommend for someone who knows how to code and uses a host site like Heroku? I know others who have seen tremendous success scaling their apps with platforms that help manage growth like Heroku does.

  2. Brian Rossi

    Jun 15. 2012

    I agree Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a tremendous asset in many cases. Amazon has made quite a business out of that form of cloud computing. The web architect should absolutely evaluate that as a potential solution. The alternative obviously would be to hire or contract and system administrator to manage it for you. It really comes down to the requirements and a comparative cost analysis to find what will best suit the company. PaaS can definitely help. Thanks for the comment.

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