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Nov. 25, 2013

Why the Cloud and the Internet Speed Up the Startup Process

Modern startups live and die by the speed of their infrastructure. Increasingly, this means they rely on cloud computing to host their sites and provide essential services. The ability of cloud providers to deliver quick payment processing, up-to-the-minute software updates, and real-time customer service helps businesses stay competitive.

Getting a startup off the ground requires the use of different types of cloud computing businesses. Many companies use software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps, such as Google Apps and Dropbox, to communicate between small teams and share thousands of files instantaneously. But the use of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a service (PaaS) cloud companies is more important, because they form the core of web development.

One of the most critical advantages of cloud computing is its flexibility in adapting to the emerging needs of a business, especially regarding data deployment.

Bob Warfield, CEO of CNC Cookbook, a cloud-based software for the manufacturing industry, says this scalability is critical because startups don’t have the resources to invest time and money on big servers that may lie idle on slow traffic days. A new startup, like messaging service Snapchat, would have paid into its cloud data center at a lower rate when it was testing the service than when it was exploding in popularity. A scale-up with this level of flexibility would not have been possible without the cloud — set numbers of local server racks are not so easily manipulated. Instead, the quick scaling results in improved speed for both uptime and response time.

Automation is another key component of the cloud, because it quickly puts software in the hands of customers. Warfield says engineers can easily write a script to run up extra servers when they need them. “This dramatically increases your ability to react to change, get going in a hurry and keep things solid as you move forward,” he says.

Building an Online Business

According to Warfield, there are three tasks that startups must do to build a good online business: reach an audience, build and protect the product, and develop an e-commerce model.

Reaching an audience involves a combination of marketing work and testing. First, a startup needs to establish a marketing presence. This means building a website to communicate updates, ideas, and product explanations to users. Warfield recommends using Wordpress because of its huge ecosystem, which, he says, “means lots of off-the-shelf plugins and know-how to make your site sing with minimal effort on your part.” He also recommends establishing a brand through social media on Facebook and Twitter.

The testing part of audience development is just as important. Startups need to use web analytics like Google Analytics and A/B testing. Analytics helps monitor usage and determine engagement; A/B testing compares pages side by side for optimization.

Warfield preaches practice with this task: “It takes time to optimize [A/B], so don’t wait until you’re ready with product. Start day one trying things to see what works.” Other key audience-facing tasks include tying up all cloud services under the startup’s brand and domain, determining employee and customer email services and mastering SEO skills.

Startup Resources Worth Relying On

Startups must focus on a few software and online tools and resources to build products. Bug tracking is an obvious one that’s needed from the beginning of development. Another is access to a handful of online information resources, such as collaborative engineering forums like Stack Exchange. This online community is known to help fellow developers out of nasty problems. There are also online forums for specific technical information needs. Startups should also consider professional consulting for major or minor work, like tech writing or mobile design.

If it’s focused on selling a specific physical product, a startup needs to incorporate features to take orders, process payments, and handle accounting. Warfield recommends services like QuickBooks for bookkeeping and payment companies like PayPal and Stripe. All of these tools benefit from the nimbleness of being cloud-based software companies.

Once the startup chooses a good mix of cloud systems to build its business, the final step is to decide on the web host. A close analysis of applications and tools should help developers narrow their choices of a cloud provider.

The ability to use modern programming languages is a major application that developers should consider. For example, nearly every web-host site offers support for HTML and JavaScript, but the best offer dynamic iterations, including Ruby on Rails and Python. A new business should also consider the ability of the web hosting company to handle the organization’s primary language architecture and allow it to scale quickly. If a startup needs support for heavy video applications, then it should seek compatibility with vendors such as YouTube and Vimeo.

Another consideration is the availability of multiple (or preferably unlimited) MySQL databases and feature-building applications. MySQL is especially important for startups looking to offset concerns about speed. These databases can be partitioned by developers to simplify data management, increase performance and produce faster queries.

Lastly, startup developers should have a roadmap detailing their expected business needs for at least two years. If the roadmap feature list matches the features available from the potential web host, including marketing, product development and e-commerce hosting, then the startup has the right match, and its developers should get going on building their website.

[image: Jesussanz/iStock/ThinkStockPhoto]

ABOUT THIS CONTRIBUTOR
Jose is a technology expert with experience in covering cloud computing, startups and enterprise IT.
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