Peyman Eskandari

Why do you need it to be scalable?

January 06, 2024
12 minutes read
Why do you need it to be scalable?

Hey there; Happy New Year!

In the world of software and startups, there’s this big buzz about making everything scalable from the very beginning. But let’s pause and think about this: are we getting too wrapped up in the scalability game, especially when we’re just starting out?

It’s annoying to me, so I’m going to take a deep dive into why focusing on scalability might not be the immediate priority for your new software project or startup. I mean, do you really need to jump on the latest tech trends when you haven’t even landed your first customer? Maybe sticking to what you know, is actually a smarter move at the start.

So let’s unpack this idea. We’ll explore whether it’s more sensible to work with familiar technologies and focus on scalability when your business really demands it. It’s all about making wise choices and letting your technology grow with your business. Let’s get into it!

The temptation of scalability:

So, what’s the big deal about scalability anyway? In the realm of software development, scalability is like that cool kid everyone wants to be friends with. It’s all about the ability of your software to handle growth – growing user numbers, growing data, and growing traffic without breaking a sweat. When your software scales well, it means it can take on more load, more users, and more data without crashing or slowing down to a crawl.

But why do we value scalability so much? Well, for starters, it’s about being prepared. Think of scalability as a safety net for success. If your app or website suddenly goes viral or your startup takes off overnight (we all dream about this, right?), scalability ensures that your software can handle this surge without crashing. It’s like making sure your boat is big enough before you catch a giant wave.

Scalability is also tied to performance. We live in a world where speed is king. Users expect apps and websites to load in the blink of an eye. Scalable software can handle increasing demands while keeping things smooth and speedy. No one likes a slow app, and scalability is what keeps your software zippy even under pressure.

In a nutshell, scalability is about being ready for growth and ensuring your software performs well, no matter how many users you have. It’s about future-proofing your tech so that when success comes knocking, your software doesn’t just survive – it thrives.

The Early-Stage Reality: No Customers, No Scale

Alright, let’s get real about the early days of a startup. You’ve got this awesome idea, you’re putting in the hours, but here’s the kicker – you’re likely doing all this for a very small audience, or heck, sometimes no audience at all yet. This is the reality for most startups in their early stages: the customer base is just beginning to grow, or you’re still figuring out who your customers even are.

This brings us to an important question: if you don’t have a swarm of users yet, do you really need to lose sleep over scalability? I’m here to say, maybe not. At this point, your focus is probably (and should be) on getting your product out there, testing it, gathering feedback, and making those crucial first sales or sign-ups.

When you’re still in the phase of introducing your product to the world, your tech needs aren’t the same as a big, established company with thousands of users. Chasing scalability from day one can be like buying a 10-bedroom house when you’re single – sure, you might need that space someday, but right now, it’s just a lot of empty rooms to clean.

The truth is, scalability concerns can often be premature in the early stages of a startup. It’s like putting the finishing touches on a painting you haven’t even sketched yet. Sure, scalability is important, but in the beginning, it’s more crucial to focus on building something that people want and getting it in front of them. Once you’ve got that rolling and start seeing your user base grow, that’s when you can start thinking seriously about scaling up your tech. Until then, keep it simple and focus on what’s right in front of you – getting those first customers.

Sticking with What You Know

Let’s talk about choosing the right technology for your project. Often, there’s a temptation to jump on the latest and greatest tech trend – like Golang, known for its scalability and performance. But here’s a different angle: if you’re already well-versed in a technology like PHP, there’s a lot to be said for sticking with what you know, especially in the early stages of your project.

Imagine you’re building a house. If you’re skilled with a hammer and saw, would you switch to fancy power tools you’ve never used before just because they’re the new trend? Probably not, right? The same logic applies to software development. If PHP is your hammer and saw, and you’re comfortable and efficient with it, then it makes perfect sense to use it to build your initial product.

There are some real, practical benefits to this approach:

  1. Familiarity and Speed: You can develop faster with a language you know well. This means you can get your product out there quicker, start gathering user feedback, and begin iterating. Time to market can be critical, especially in a competitive landscape.
  2. Availability of Resources: There’s a vast pool of PHP resources and a strong community out there. If you hit a snag, chances are high that you’ll find a solution quickly. This accessibility can be a huge advantage.
  3. Cost-Effective: Often, sticking with a familiar technology can be more cost-effective. You’re reducing the learning curve, which can be a significant expense in terms of time and money.
  4. Proven Track Record: PHP has been around for a long time and powers a significant portion of the web. It’s a proven technology that can certainly support the initial stages of your business.

Now, this isn’t to say Golang or other newer technologies don’t have their place. As your business grows and your needs evolve, it might make sense to explore other options that align with your scalability needs. But in the beginning? If PHP is what you know, it’s more than capable of getting your idea off the ground.

The key takeaway here is this: don’t get caught up in the hype of what’s trending. Building your product and business with the tools you’re familiar with now can be a smart strategy. It’s all about laying down a solid foundation with the tools you have, and then scaling up when the time is right.

Again, PHP is just an example but if Facebook, Slack, and Etsy can find success, you can too.

The Cost of Premature Optimisation

Now, let’s shift gears and talk about the downsides of jumping the gun on scalability. Prioritising scalability too early in the development process can actually set you back in several ways. Here’s why getting ahead of yourself with scalability can be a costly affair:

  1. Increased complexity: When you aim for high scalability right out of the gate, you’re signing up for a complex tech setup. Scalable systems often involve more advanced technologies, architectures, and design patterns. This complexity can be a lot to handle, especially if you’re still trying to figure out the basics of your product.
  2. Higher costs: With complexity comes higher costs. Advanced scalable technologies might require more expensive resources, both in terms of the technology itself and the talent needed to manage it. As a startup or a small business, these costs can add a significant burden to your budget.
  3. Delayed market entry: Time is a critical factor in the tech world. If you’re spending too much time perfecting your scalability, you’re delaying your market entry. This delay means you’re missing out on valuable user feedback, potential revenue, and the chance to establish your presence in the market. Remember, the first mover advantage can be crucial.
  4. Risk of over-engineering: There’s a term in the tech world called over-engineering – that’s when you build more than what’s needed. When you focus too much on scalability too soon, you risk building features or infrastructures that your business doesn’t yet need. This not only wastes resources but can also make your system unnecessarily complicated.
  5. Detachment from current needs: In the early stages, your primary goal should be to validate your product idea, attract initial users, and iterate based on feedback. Overemphasis on scalability can distract you from these immediate goals. It’s important to stay grounded and focus on the present needs of your business.
  6. Inflexibility for changes: Early in your business, your product is likely to undergo significant changes based on user feedback. A highly scalable system, built prematurely, might not offer the flexibility needed to make quick pivots or changes.

Why do you need to put more things on your plate? It’s often easier to start simple, validate your idea, and then scale your technology as your business grows and demands more.


Balancing Act: Scalability and Practicality

Navigating the tightrope between being future-ready with scalability and staying grounded in practicality during the early stages of your project is crucial. Here’s some advice on how to strike this balance, along with key criteria to consider when making technology choices:

  1. Start with the End in Mind, but Focus on the Present: It’s wise to have a vision of where you want to be in terms of scalability, but your immediate focus should be on what you need right now. Build for today’s requirements, but choose technologies and design patterns that won’t box you in as you grow.
  2. Assess Team Expertise: Your team’s skill set is a crucial factor. If your team excels in a particular technology, leveraging that expertise can be more beneficial than venturing into unknown territory for the sake of scalability. Remember, a tool is only as good as the hands wielding it.
  3. Understand Your Project Requirements: Every project has its unique needs. A small-scale application meant for a limited user base has different requirements compared to a consumer app aiming for millions of users. Tailor your technology choice to your project’s specific requirements.
  4. Keep Budget Constraints in Mind: Budget is a reality that can’t be ignored. Weigh the costs of adopting scalable solutions from the start versus starting with a more budget-friendly option and scaling up as needed. Sometimes, the latter can be more financially prudent.
  5. Plan for Scalability, but Implement as Needed: Have a roadmap for scalability. This doesn’t mean you implement everything right away, but rather, you’re aware of what steps to take when the need for scaling arises. This approach ensures you’re not caught off guard.
  6. Stay Agile and Ready to Pivot: The ability to adapt quickly is invaluable, especially in the early stages of a business. Choose technologies and architectures that allow you to pivot and make changes without significant overhauls.
  7. Prioritise Simplicity and Maintainability: Simpler solutions are often easier to maintain and troubleshoot. They allow you to move fast and make changes without getting bogged down in complexity.
  8. Monitor and Evaluate Regularly: Keep a close eye on your system’s performance and user feedback. This will help you understand when you’re approaching the limits of your current setup and when it’s time to scale.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the scalability question. It’s about making informed decisions that align with your business goals, team capabilities, and financial realities. By being mindful of these aspects, you can navigate the path between scalability and practicality, ensuring your technology choices support your business both now and in the future.

As we wrap up this discussion, let’s circle back to the key points we’ve explored. The journey through software development and startup growth is not a one-size-fits-all path. The context in which you make your technology choices is critical. Scalability, while important, might not always be the immediate concern for startups, especially in their early stages.

Remember, the primary goal at the start is to build and validate your business idea. It’s about bringing your vision to life and getting it into the hands of users as quickly and efficiently as possible. During this phase, familiarity and ease of development can often trump the allure of scalability. Sticking with what you know, like PHP or any other technology you’re comfortable with, can be a smart strategy to get your product off the ground.

As your business grows and your user base expands, that’s when the scales might tip in favor of scalability. But by then, you’ll have a better understanding of your needs, more resources at your disposal, and real-world feedback to guide your decisions. Scalability is a journey, not a starting point.

So, to all the entrepreneurs and developers out there: focus on building something great with the tools and knowledge you have right now. Validate your ideas, attract your first customers, and create that initial impact. Let scalability follow your business’s growth, not lead it. Your journey is unique, and so are the tech choices you’ll make along the way. Keep innovating, keep iterating, and let scalability come naturally as your business evolves.

2024. Inspired from a lot of websites and developed by copying from tutorials (just kidding 😬).