Ground rules for a startup: Build your app with a ‘lean, but bold’ mindset

Neha Sampat, RawEngBy Neha Sampat, raw engineering, Inc. CEO and co-founder of built.io

Embody a ‘lean, but bold’ mindset in your startup to create a successful product, and a successful business. raw engineering has enjoyed its initial success because we have maintained a certain mindset: cost-conscious, bold, simple, and most of all, humble.

Ground Rules for a Startup

A few general rules that helped us get off to a good start are:

1. Embrace your garage—there’s no need to run to get an office.

You don’t need to get a fancy office to prove you mean business, so don’t rush into one as soon as you get funding. For the first three years at raw engineering, our San Francisco ‘office’ was my garage.

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, has only 154 employees spread across the world, and they are able to impact over half a billion people each month from their home offices. Sara Rosso presented at LeWeb 2011 about how they use tools like Skype, IRC, and internal tools to drive a distributed company.

2. The world is your sounding board—talk to everyone.

Surround yourself with people who are smart, have strong opinions, and that challenge you to deliver better service, and a better product. While it can be difficult to stray from your vision, be open to the people who have criticism and praise. We’ve learned that ‘stealth mode’ is unproductive for most startups—if you don’t put your idea out there, it cannot manifest into a market-ready product.

3. Be bold with your ideas, but lean on execution.

You could have the best idea in the world, but being smart about execution will help bring your idea to market. With this in mind, it is important to build products that are malleable and efficient. While it may seem daunting and costly, it doesn’t have to be.

Building Apps With a Lean, but Bold Mindset

Gal Oppenheimer, our Product Manager at raw engineering, suggests five ground rules when building an app:

1. Vow not to worry about servers or your backend.

2. Skip the CMS—stick with pure HTML/CSS.

3. Keep your code safe and have a backup plan.

4. Your office is in the cloud.

5. Back it up—your device is not for storage.

Vow not to worry about servers or your backend—use a service like Heroku and built.io.

The most important thing to get right is your app: whether it’s a mobile or web app, you want to build it correctly, and make sure it’s stable when you launch it. Don’t waste time building your backend from scratch. Tools like built.io take the hassle out of building and scaling your backend, so you can spend your time on the application itself.

If you’re building a web app, you’ll probably need some additional servers. Do not waste time setting up a full blown server on AWS; use a tool like Heroku to get your server running in minutes.

Skip the CMS—stick with pure HTML/CSS.

You’ll need to build a marketing site for your new app, and you might jump to a CMS or host like WordPress or SquareSpace, pick a good theme and then start modifying it to make it perfect for you. This is the wrong move. You may end up spending hours customizing the code just to make it easy to update from the CMS, and six months later, you will want to add something like a video, which your code does not support.

Just code your site from scratch from the beginning. It will reach market faster and you will not have any limitations. For raw engineering’s website, and many of the simpler web properties we manage—we stick to pure code and only use a CMS for blogs.

Keep your code safe—always back up your code on GitHub or Beanstalk.

While your code is not the only value in your company, losing it can be frustrating and expensive so use tools like GitHub or Beanstalk to make sure you always have it backed up. You never know when you’ll pivot back to your original plan and want some of your old code back.

Your office is in the Cloud—use services like Dropbox or Evernote for productivity.

Use tools like HelloFax, Evernote, and Dropbox so your physical location is irrelevant to your productivity. You should never think, “I’ll do that when I get to the office.”

Back it up—your device is not for storage.

If I throw your laptop out the window, you should lose no more than 30 minutes of work. Backblaze and Crashplan let you easily keep your entire computer backed up.

From Startup to Success

Be bold, but lean, even once your product or app is out the door. A great idea can make a great business, but utilizing the right tools, staying humble, and keeping an open mind will create a platform for long term success.

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Neha Sampat is CEO of raw engineering, a software products and services company founded in 2007 that specializes in mobile and web application development and 24×7 Cloud operations. Previously, Neha spent 15 years in product marketing for enterprise software, Cloud computing and online experiences for companies like Sun Microsystems and VMware. She also founded KurbKarma, a TechCrunch Disrupt 2012 Startup Battlefield Finalist, a mobile app which makes parking in cities like San Francisco possible. A technology and travel enthusiast, and a certified sommelier, Neha holds an MBA from Santa Clara University and a bachelor’s degree in French and Mass Communications from the University of Denver.

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