Scalable technology companies can limit themselves if they don’t focus on their underlying cloud platform, writes Terry Brown, associate director of engineering at Healx.

You’ve built your prototype, you’ve tested product-market fit, the beta version is out, and there’s a buzz. What else?

Many startups will continue to add more and more features to attract new customers, but they are often building on a foundation that was built quickly to achieve their early goal and may not be suitable for scale. long-term, efficiency and operation. .

Pay attention to lessons learned from others. CB Insights recently conducted postmortems on more than 110 failed startups and landed on the top 12 reasons why they folded. They run the gamut from running out of capital (38 percent of casualties) to burnout and rolling failure. And while all 12 reasons are different, I can’t help but see a common thread running through them: rush.

How can you not? You have an amazing, original idea and you need to bring it to market quickly. The rush is ingrained in the startup culture.

But there is an alternative—one that even in 2022 very few startups are considering: investing early in the underlying cloud platform.

More speed, more safety, less rush

Many software start-ups today are operating in the cloud, and without an early focus on fundamental and enabling aspects, they can easily be affected by security holes and IP breaches.

Innovation can also begin to stifle due to early trade-offs made to achieve time to market over quality. It is at this stage that startups should focus on their cloud platform as an enabler to solve some of these common pitfalls.

Shifting the mindset at this critical stage and focusing on platforms as a product enables startups to put the basic building blocks of a cloud platform in place. This can generate huge economies of scale, as well as the commoditization and automation of core concerns such as security and compliance, the delivery pipeline, and improving the developer experience.

“Without this approach, you’re running your business down a path where increasing technical and architectural debt is likely to cause you pain when you need it least.”

If you take one thing away from reading this article, please make it this: all software companies from day one need to think about the platform, underlying cloud services and architecture they’re building on, how they run at pace, with automation , with protective rails and effective distribution pipes.

They should also invest in developer experience – there’s no good reason why a developer shouldn’t be able to go from idea to production pipeline safely in less than 60 minutes. If your underlying platform doesn’t allow this, you’re stifling innovation.

Yes, often your top priority will be delivering a working prototype to investors, even if it comes with masking tape, egg cartons and all-night code sprints. But that should never be your sole focus, no matter how close you are to that Serie A pitch.

If you invest appropriately in your platform and treat it like any other product, there’s no reason why any of the above shouldn’t be possible while still chasing market share and the hockey stick slope you want. finance you.

The terrible irony is that without this approach, you’re taking your business down a path where mounting technical and architectural debt is likely to cause you pain when you need it least. It says a lot that most of the most devastating and common problems in software development arise from not investing enough in your platform.

Shift Left your thinking – and employment

So many startups focus on product-market fit and in that compromise neglect to ask themselves essential questions. What processes can be automated to save time for valuable staff we haven’t hired yet, but will soon? What is painful in getting value for your customers? What are our introduced software risks that we are delaying to address?

If you answer these as soon as possible, you’re moving quality earlier into product thinking. This is the essence of Shift Left, a practice in the development world that pushes many aspects of quality such as testing, security and compliance earlier in the pipeline, where the cost of identification and remediation is lower than if issues were to reach customers. .

However, shifting your thinking to the left to bring elements like security and testing into your pipelines automatically also requires an overhaul in your hiring strategy. As you grow, a dedicated platform team will prove invaluable and empower your software engineers to operate securely at scale and pace.

Another key benefit of focusing on your platform with a dedicated team is repeatability – and the efficiency that comes with it. You’re gaining a single, consolidated approach to how to scale the entire operation, rather than individual teams solving the same challenges multiple times across the company.

The role of the platform team is essential in rapidly scaling any technology startup and becomes even more important in larger organizations with more people and more siled teams.

This need will only grow alongside your business

Let’s take an example of how this works.

At Healx, we use artificial intelligence to discover new treatments for rare diseases. As we expand, our main ambition is to find more treatments for more conditions. But how do you go from looking at one condition at a time to 200? You can’t grow staff exponentially because it’s too expensive.

What if one of those human-intensive steps doesn’t require human intervention, but can be automated? What if there is a wait time between steps because there is no effective way to sequence the workflows, so it requires someone to trigger another step? What if validating a step takes hours, but ultimately follows the same process every time and can be automated?

This is where an effective platform team can work with key people to optimize and improve these elements to reduce human effort, increase automation and improve flow.

Time and time again, we see great ideas and talented people fail because what should be critical start-up and development phases are compromised by delivery date pressures and quality compromises that often negate the future and that often self-imposed.

Investing in your platform as soon as possible may seem like a premature optimization, but you’ll be grateful when you find yourself able to continue to scale and operate effectively.

We have the tools and knowledge to make it mainstream in 2022. Let’s do it.

By Terry Brown

Terry Brown is associate director of engineering at Healx, a UK start-up working on AI-powered treatments for rare diseases.

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