This is the first of a new series of Tech Tuesday posts on Technology in Startups. Today’s topic: choosing your technologies. As a startup when you are just getting going, you have the luxury of picking any technology you want — you don’t yet have a legacy set of choices to contend with. It’s completely greenfield and that level of choice can be both exhilarating and daunting (what if I pick the wrong technology? cf Paradox of Choice). So what are some guidelines for thinking about that choice?
The most important initial consideration is the nature of innovation for your particular startup. Is your innovation primarily a social/behavioral/market structure one (think Instagram, Tumblr, Etsy) or a technical one (think v1 of Google, Twilio)? If it is the former you should tend to go conservative in your technology choices whereas in the latter you must pick something risky.
Why? Because risk is in startups is compounding/multiplicative rather than just additive. If you are already taking market or behavioral risk you shouldn’t also take technology risk (if you can help it). But in the case of early Google people were already searching or Twilio sending and receiving calls/texts and the companies innovation instead was a breakthrough way of doing that which requires taking technology risk to deliver that breakthrough.
Now there are at least two important footnotes required to that basic rule:
1. For social/behavioral/market structure startups: Your choice of technology also impacts your ability to recruit talent. If you go too conservative you might have some trouble getting the most talented engineers to work with you. You will need to decide how important a problem that is in your specific case keeping in mind that if you succeed and you will become attractive by virtue of scale. This is also an area where having a strong mission can help early on.
2. For technical startups: Riskier doesn’t necessarily mean more cutting edge base technologies it could simply mean more custom code in a well established technology (e.g. C). For instance, if you are creating a new database as in the case of 10gen your technology risk is writing a lot from scratch and so you probably don’t want to do that in a language that just emerged and for which tooling is still lacking and performance characteristic are poorly understood.
One additional consideration that may matter in all of this, including the original choice of what kind of startup to have in the first place, is the degree of technical competency of the team. If the founding team is more business and design oriented then all the more reason to go for a social/behavioral/market structure startups and make conservative technology choices. Next Tech Tuesday: how to evolve your technology once you are up and running.