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How to choose a tech stack for your startup

Every so often, software development companies give their take on the most popular tech stacks for startups and how they should be chosen, usually backed by examples of now-successful companies with humble roots.

But while new frameworks seem to crop by the day, complicating the choice for founders, the fundamentals of selecting the right one haven’t changed much in the last decade — if at all. Updated architectures, languages, and databases are joined by the occasional entirely-new player, but old truths still stand.

So rather than rehash the same technical nuances as everyone else, we’ve opted to approach stack choice from a different perspective. After nearly two decades of developing software for startups, we’ve identified a list of key qualifiers in which the human factor may matter as much as the technological one.

We’ll take a look at personal preference, influence on company culture, alignment with long-term objectives — all intangible byproducts that, although hard to quantify, contribute to your company’s overall competitive advantage, from hiring to future acquisitions.

What's inside

Scalability potential

Scalability potential

No company ever enjoys rebuilding or switching stacks. It’s messy, expensive, time-consuming, and comes with plenty of inherent risks. While today’s microservices-based architecture makes migration somewhat simpler, it won’t ever be sweat-free.

So, as small as your organization may be now, do yourself a favor by choosing a tech stack capable of supporting growth beyond even your best-case scenario. If your end goal is to be acquired by a major company, a stable, enterprise-friendly stack is a great idea. More generally, mobile apps rarely go wrong with JavaScript, thanks to its massive library for both stack ends — even serverless if it applies.

Not sure where exactly you’re headed? Start by sketching up an MVP. Then, examine all the later-stage features you eventually hope to add. Can they be adequately developed using the same architecture as your MVP?

The answer should at least help you rule out any stacks that could constrict growth in the future, and may even point you in the right direction regarding which startup technology stacks specifically may support your long-term approach.

Time to market

If you’re especially anxious to get your product in the public eye, you may be better served by one of the “mainstream” frameworks: It’s simply easier to find React devs than, say, ExtJS. Go too niche, and you might find yourself in a tight spot should you need to replace team members mid-sprint.

However, that doesn’t mean you should shoehorn a framework to fit your project. Your team’s expertise also matters here: suppose that your project calls for Django, but your devs are much more experienced with Ruby, a decent alternative. Leaning into that skill set may mean more efficient development, shorter testing/debugging periods, and, ultimately, a better product in the market, faster.

Development cost

Development cost

Opting for a more common framework can also ease the pressure on your purse. As a rule of thumb, the more unusual a framework is, the more expensive to find specialists, so popular tech stacks often act as a budget-saver.

But in certain cases, a tech stack for your startup can definitely be framed as an investment. If your product’s core functionality involves a new technology, your choice may even be marketable; it can be used to evidence how progressive and cutting-edge your idea is, lending reliability to your company’s reputation.

Maintenance

Rest assured: Every bad decision you make in regards to technology stack will be revealed come maintenance time. Any and all framework cracks — even those that were previously invisible — will pop up, so be sure to safeguard yourself against them before it happens.

Simple software architecture is easier to maintain; easy as that. Popular frameworks supporting short, reusable codes present far fewer challenges than obscure, complex languages. Plus, the bigger your operation, the bigger you’ll need your team to be, raising the issue of developer availability once again. Plan accordingly.

Simple/High-load applications

Personally, we always plan a project out as high-load. You never know if your product will go viral overnight, so high-performance architecture should be prioritized for virtually any project.

Of course, no one goes from one server to a thousand in a blink, but the correct framework right off the bat should allow you to avoid database migrations even in high-traffic situations.

Platform

Platform

Lastly, the main platform of your product is the final component of stack choice. For startups constrained by budget, target audience research is paramount.

Imagine that, on day one, you cannot afford to make your mobile product cross-platform. By understanding what operating system your target audience prefers, you can prioritize that platform and pick your frameworks accordingly.

Wrapping up

In the end, not every single decision you make will be 100% rational. CTOs regularly make technology stack choices that are purely based on personal preferences or go against “best practices” — and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

Why? Because startups aren’t a science. Founding a company is a trial-and-error journey and what works on a global scale might not account for regional quirks, a specific dev team, or even the founders’ philosophy.

So when in doubt, established pathways can be a great starting point, but the best leaders know how to weigh pros and cons in order to chart the best course of action for themselves and their team.

And if you hit a speed bump along the way, no sweat — we’re always ready to ride shotgun.

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