What Is a Tech Stack (And Why You Need to Plan Yours Now)

Not every product universally works with other products.

Take your iPhone or Android device, for example. You can’t just use any cord to connect or charge your device—you have to use specific product-compatible cables.

Or imagine a wonderful goulash of your favorite foods. While you may love graham crackers, relish, hamburgers, and cotton candy, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll taste good (or even be edible) when paired together.

These same concepts apply to your tech stack.

Fail to think about your tech stack now, and you may end up serving your team a dish of spaghetti, syrup, and PopTarts down the road. Gross.

Sorry, Buddy.

If you’ve never heard about a tech stack before, don’t panic. This post will walk you through everything you need to know—from understanding a tech stack to building your own.

What Is a Tech Stack?

Tech stacks combine technology products and services that work together to build or complete an app, project, or task.

Facebook’s app, for example, is built with a combination of coding frameworks and languages, including JavaScript, PHP, HTML, CSS, and ReactJS.

Or consider a marketing team’s tech stack, which might include WordPress, Instapage, Twilio, Google Analytics, Ahrefs, and Sprout Social.

These frameworks, languages, and applications work seamlessly together to create a tech stack. The term “tech stack” originated in the software development community, but it’s evolved to include marketing services (MarTech stacks), sales services (sales stacks), financial services (Fintech stacks), and more.

Not all tech stacks are created equally, though. Some require intensive integrations, APIs (application programming interface), and ongoing maintenance, while others refuse to share data with one another.

Whether you’re a software company or an ecommerce business, you’re going to have a tech stack that’s unique to your business. However, we want to help you avoid accidentally building a tech stack without intention and purpose.

That’s why you need to plan your tech stack now.

Why You Need to Plan Your Tech Stack Now

You can’t just pick and choose software products and services in isolation. As you scale, these tools will eventually need to work together, and you don’t want to end up with an inedible ice cream meatloaf.

Here’s how planning a tech stack now can help you avoid headaches later:

  • Maintain Workflows: It can be time-consuming to adopt new software solutions. Team members have to onboard and adapt, and efficiencies take time to develop. Choosing the right tech stack from the get-go can help prevent unnecessary pivots down the road.
  • Save Your Budget: It’s not cheap to restructure your tech stack. This may include rebuilding applications, reworking processes, and even hiring new employees with special skill sets. It all takes time and money.
  • Support Innovation and Scale: Budget constraints and headcount may slow down your business from time to time, but you don’t want your tech stack to be the primary reason not to implement a new idea or strategy. Ensure your tech stack will encourage innovation rather than stifle it.

6 Things to Do When Building Your Tech Stack

Every company has its own unique tech stack. For example, one might use PHP and Laravel to build its web application while hosting the site on WordPress, while another might use Python and Django to build a website on Wagtail.

Your tech stack may look completely different from your partner’s or a competitor’s, and that’s OK. Don’t be afraid to talk to other founders or leaders to learn about their tech stack. You may learn what to include and not include on your own, or you may discover pain points with specific applications, like a lack of customer support, available talent, or bug issues.

As long as you follow the tips outlined below, you’ll have a tech stack that works efficiently for your business in the short term and the long run.

1. Plan for the Future

Technology solutions solve immediate pain points, but each should be considered in conjunction with the rest of your current and future tech stack.

Consider scalability from the get-go. Will a current coding language or ecommerce platform support your business in a year? What about 5 years? 10? Fail to consider scalability early on, and you’ll likely need to add additional tools or rework your tech stack in the future—something that’s often time-consuming and costly.

Talk to your team before making any decisions. Your head developer or marketing manager will likely know the ins and outs of their industries, helping steer you in the right direction and avoid costly mistakes.

For example, if you’d like to add email to your MarTech stack, you might consider what other channels you plan on adding in the future. If you’re just going to need email, a service like MailChimp will likely be adequate. However, if you plan on adding voice, SMS, chat, WhatsApp messaging, and a contact center, you’d be better off jumping on a platform like Twilio from the get-go.

Remember, it’s not impossible to change your stack mid-project. If you discover inefficiencies and have to pivot later, it’s doable—costly but possible. Do your best to plan your tech stack now to avoid any unwelcome surprises later.

However, planning ambitiously for the future can come back to bite you. Anticipating exponential growth may lead you to choose more expensive software solutions that you might not ever take advantage of. These decisions could lead you to burn money too quickly, and you might go under before achieving broader market adoption.

This leads us perfectly to our 2nd tip: create MVPs.

2. Create MVPs

MVP stands for minimum viable product, and it’s a development technique that focuses on creating a product or service with basic, budget-friendly features while still getting customers excited.

Think about Facebook 12 years ago—it’s a far cry from what it looks like today, but it was able to generate enough hype and interest to justify (and afford) spending millions of dollars to invest in additional features and functionality.

Before you throw your entire savings account at building an expensive ecommerce store that integrates with your massive inventory and Instagram account, test your idea at a smaller scale.

Instead, consider launching a landing page that features your products (before you build them) to gauge your market’s appetite. If they’re hungry for what you have to offer, you’ll know your idea is worth putting money behind. If the desire isn’t quite there yet, you know you’ll need to iterate on your product or your messaging before you scale.

3. Tap Into the Open Source Community

Technology can be expensive. How can you build and test an MVP without draining your bank account? With open source.

Consider open source software the ever-benevolent developer philanthropist.

Open source tools are free to use and available to anyone and everyone. Thousands of developers contribute millions of hours to the open source community, giving your business free access to use, copy, modify, share, and build upon existing code and applications.

Take the popular MEAN tech stack, for example. This stack includes MongoDB, Express.js, AngularJS, and Node.js—all of which are open source and free to use.

Before purchasing an expensive software license, look for an open-source solution. You may find an existing open-source application that satisfies your needs. It might not offer the scale and support you need long term, but it can help you launch and test an MVP on a budget.

4. Create Budgets

Budgets and tech stacks are 2 intertwined conversations you should be having as you plan for the future. Whether you’re primarily relying on open source applications or investing in long-term growth, you’re going to need to have your financial statements beside you as you plan for the future.

Can you afford to invest in the tech stacks you want to launch your product or service? What revenue margins will you need to hit to be profitable? How will scale affect your expenses in the future? Will you be able to raise prices to accommodate?

You’ll also want to calculate the cost of ongoing maintenance and upkeep. Security protocols will need updating, bugs will require fixing, and code will need to be rewritten to improve stability. All of these tasks require valuable resources and bandwidth.

While developers may be the key decision makers behind building and planning tech stacks, ensure your financial planners and accountants are part of the conversation, too. They’ll help keep the conversation realistic and affordable, so you don’t run into cash flow or profitability issues later.

5. Consider Your Team’s Experience

Building certain kinds of tech stacks requires varying levels of expertise. For example, while you might be able to find thousands of available Python developers to build your application, you may only have a handful of Ruby on Rail’s developers to choose from.

One tech stack may offer your application greater scalability and functionality, but it may limit your talent market. Consider what your current team already knows and what they’re comfortable learning.

Adopting new technologies with difficult learning curves could slow down progress and even send projects to a screaming halt. If it’s necessary, you’ll need to think about training your current team on the job or hiring an expert to come in and manage that aspect of the tech implementation.

This is true even from a marketing or sales perspective. If you want to add a deeper analytics layer to your content marketing, you might consider high-end applications like Heap or Kissmetrics. However, these tools don’t come with an easy learning curve or instruction manual—you’ll either need to train your marketers on these new platforms or hire candidates with that specific skill.

In the end, you may decide that less functional software is worth the ease of use and smoother learning curves. However, that decision is ultimately up to you.

6. Put Your Users First

Beyond thinking about your team, budget constraints, and scalability, think about your end users—the customers.

For example, while Squarespace might be easier for your marketing team to build a website on, it might not provide the features and integrations your customers would like. In that case, despite your team’s skills, you may decide that WordPress is a more customer-first, scalable option.

This point supports the purpose of building an MVP. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how feature-rich or cost-efficient your product or application is if it doesn’t satisfy customer demand.

Put the customer first, and then work backward. Use analytics to track users and learn about their experiences. Survey and interview potential customers to learn about their wants—these insights could dramatically shift the direction of your product and evolve the needs of your tech stack.

Gain the Know-How You Need to Succeed

Starting a business is hard, especially if you’re trying to do it all on your own. Fortunately, you have Foundr’s team of experts on your side.

Check out our catalog of free training courses to learn the essential skills you need to start and grow your business. From launching a profitable online store to finding sustainable financing, we have the resources necessary to support your startup journey every step of the way.

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Dive into the list of free training classes now to learn what your business needs to overcome specific pain points. See you in the classes!

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