Posts tagged Startup
Vizify announced today it is joining the ranks of Yahoo—becoming the latest company to be picked up by Big Purple and included in its seemingly arbitrary suite of startups. It was not made clear how much Yahoo paid for the company, but we’ll update the story as soon as we learn more about the terms of the deal.
Vizify, the Portland, Oregon-based startup founded in 2011, turns your social media data like tweets, posts and pictures, into interactive infographics and videos. The company is now sunsetting all its services, including deactivating all accounts and paid plans.
Here is an example of “My Year On Twitter” created with Vizify at the end of 2013.
Image courtesy of Vizify.
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In startups, it’s often all hands on deck, all the time.
Unfortunately, not all members of your staff have the same level of commitment you do—and burnout is a very real phenomenon. And as a leader, it’s not only your job to make sure your teammates succeed—it’s your job to curb overwhelm too. How do you make sure everyone is putting forth their best effort without going overboard?
Nine startup founders from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) offer their advice on being a more balanced leader.
1. Help Prioritize
When my team is spread thin, it’s my responsibility and that of my senior staff to help with prioritization. We let our team know we understand the burden that is on them and the stress they are under. Then, we ask everyone to itemize their to-do lists, and we work together to prioritize these items.
It’s not possible for anyone to do everything and do it all well. Productivity isn’t just about crossing everything off your list; it’s about being efficient, effective and focusing your energy and attention on the top priorities that will have the greatest impact on your company.
2. Find Obstacles and Clear Them
Picture it: The CEO has a schedule change and now wants to meet with another member of the leadership team. That team member then has to alter his or her schedule, and subsequently, everyone’s day is turned upside down.
Senior staff and leaders have to think through the impact of their actions on productivity. They should regularly ask staff what gets in their way each day. And if scheduling continues to be a problem, seek out company-wide suggestions to fix it. If employees are working too many hours, ask what’s taking up unnecessary time.
Employees are often fearful of speaking up because they think they’re the only ones facing an issue or they don’t want to be seen as the complainer. But if leaders regularly ask these questions, they can look for patterns among the team and fix them.
3. Use Creative Resources
One key way you can stretch dollars and handle growth crunches more smoothly is to be intelligent and creative in your resourcing. Most founders tend to go the full-time, salaried employee route first as a knee-jerk reaction.
Full-time employees are great and should always be considered for core roles. However, having lots of salaried staff can limit your flexibility and can also be very expensive once benefits and additional taxes are factored in.
At Speek, we hired a small, core team of full-time and salaried staff to start with. Once we had our core team, we started looking at freelancers, contractors, vendors, offshore companies and other options to handle our needs. These alternate resources can be point expertise and give you the ability to scale up and down with our growth.
4. Focus on Margin and Mission
An expanding business is great, but it can also be very stressful. It’s important to create processes that allow your team to feel supported during a period of high growth and vast opportunities.
For my company, I’ve found that the margin and mission approach works best. For every new opportunity that comes up, ask yourself, “Does this meet our mission, and does it meet our margin?” If it doesn’t do both, it’s not an idea you should pursue at the moment.
For example, I have a personal mission of empowering girls. I write a book series for girls, and even though it’s my passion, it fulfills my mission and margin requirement. You can do what you love, grow your business and embrace opportunities while still maintaining a margin and mission approach.
5. Be Understanding
Growing too big too fast places a huge amount of stress on your team, to say the least. When your team is spread thin and overloaded with work, it’s very easy to get frustrated.
Approaching issues with this perspective tends to shift the focus to the problem, rather than the solution, which creates even more stress. Understanding that everyone is in the same boat and empathizing with your team allows you to approach conversations and dilemmas with a clear mind. In the great words of Captain Jack Sparrow, “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?”
Lead by example because this attitude inhibits productivity and clouds your judgement, rather than helping you and your team focus on what needs to be done to get out of this alive.
—Fabian Kaempfer, Chocomize
6. Put Their Lives Before the Company
Sounds backwards for a startup right? I firmly believe that putting employees’ personal lives first yields more productivity, ownership and results. This can take many forms, but one major way we accomplish this at The Bouqs Company is through 100 percent flex hours and location. We trust our employees to manage their work in the best way possible, but we give them the flexibility to work where and when they want.
Asking employees to sacrifice personal time for their family, friends, a doctor appointment or whatever it is adds stress and pain to their lives. Giving them the freedom to make their own choices and execute the work at the time and place where they can be most effective is empowering and builds long-term trust and loyalty. Put their lives before the job.
7. Remove Hierarchy Within the Organization
For a startup, I believe it’s about removing hierarchy within the organization. People are most likely to become stressed when they are made to feel inferior. Give everyone a stake in the game, and create an office environment that buzzes with positive energy and momentum. They won’t have time to feel stressed.
8. Have Clear-Cut Roles
One of the quickest ways to cure startup stress is to have clear-cut roles for each employee. Have everyone make a list of their roles, and then share the lists at a staff meeting, so everyone is aware of what everyone else is doing. Then, have a file where the lists are kept, so employees can access them whenever they have a question about who is responsible for what. Not only does this help employees understand the structure of the company, but also it helps employees stay on top of their own tasks.
9. Prioritize and Outsource
Senior-level staff can help reduce burnout by asking employees to circle the items on their to-do lists only they can accomplish. Once managers realize which tasks need to stay with an employee, they can figure out how to complete the leftover tasks.
At ZinePak, we engage a variety of solutions, from Task Rabbit to freelancers, to help out when our staff is stretched thin. Although every item on a to-do list is important, it is the high-level ones that need to be completed with the most accuracy and usually by a specific person.
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As a startup founder, most big decisions fall to you. And much of your company’s success depends on how you handle those tough choices. What thought processes are best for making the most informed call—often, at a moment’s notice?
Eleven entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) share which questions they always ask themselves before committing to an answer:
1. What’s the Worst-Case Scenario?
The fastest way to evaluate a decision in business is to try to determine the worst-case scenario and then try to assign a probability of that happening. This method allows you to understand what you could be getting into in terms of cash flow, time, distraction and opportunity cost.
In addition, from a holistic standpoint, it helps to try to imagine yourself already in the worst-case scenario caused by the decision and reflect back on your decision to understand if it was worth it. Would you still make the same decision after having been through the worst-case scenario?
2. Is the Risk/Reward Favorable?
All decisions come down to risk versus reward. If the reward for making the right decision outweighs the risks (in terms of probability and expected return), then it is a decision worth making.
3. What Is My Emotional State of Mind?
It is important to reflect on your emotional state of mind before making any difficult decision. Taking a step back and understanding your current emotions and drives can help your timing on when to make a decision, increasing your odds of a favorable outcome tremendously.
4. What Would (Fill in the Blank) Do?
Small business owners often make business decisions based on the mindset of other small business owners. On the contrary, entrepreneurs who are experiencing the most growth will make a decision based upon the mindset of what we call the “big business playbook.”
If success leaves clues, we look to determine what other successful people have done in our situation and model their achievements. Instead of saying, “Is this a decision another small business owner would make?” we ask: ‘What would Jeff Bezos do? Richard Branson? Tony Hseih? Howard Shultz? Warren Buffet?” (The entrepreneurs we select are the ones most likely to have shared a similar decision to the one we’re facing).
5. Will My Team Be Proud of the Decision?
My barometer for what to do has changed. It used to be, “Can I change my mind later and work hard to reverse a bad choice?” But as we have grown our business, what matters the most is our entire team’s buy-in. Now, for every major decision, the only thing that matters to me is if a choice I make will create a positive or negative feeling for our team.
6. What Would I Say About This Decision Six Months From Now?
In a fast-paced startup, you’re always testing new things and preparing for phenomenal growth that challenges the organization in multiple ways. For difficult decisions, you need to skate where the puck is going. Will this be a critical item in six months? What will have changed by then? The decision is not for now. It’s for the future, and six months is a good timeline as a litmus test.
7. Is It Aligned With Our Values?
Does this help us achieve our vision and is it aligned with our values? I test the question against my company’s vision and values first—then ask what it means in terms of profitability.
8. Are You Doing It for the Right Reasons?
Emotions including fear, envy and anger influence your decision-making processes. Taking your time to make important decisions can dramatically improve the quality of those decisions.
Over time, the quality of those decisions determines the quality and success of your company. Try to take petty, short-term emotions out of important decisions by consciously asking yourself if you came to that conclusion for the right reasons.
9. Why Am I Doing This?
It is never easy to make any decision that affects a company, let alone a really difficult and important one. I always ask myself why I am doing something, and that usually adds a layer of clarity. When you factor the “why” into the decision, it often makes you realize what the decision is really about.
You may find that the reason was to earn a huge contract, or you may find that it is because it will open up doors down the road. But until you fully understand why you are doing it, you can’t have it relate back to the mission of the company and see how it aligns with that mission. When you really understand the mission and why your company exists, you will see how the choice is aligned, and your decision will be much easier.
10. Will It Create a Win-Win Situation?
We focus on creating win-win-win situations for everyone—shareholders, employees, partners and customers. If something ultimately isn’t a win for everyone involved, maybe there’s a better option.
11. How Will This Affect the Company Later?
With every tough decision there will be consequences on either side, but I always make sure I ask myself where my decisions will put the company and its employees in one year, five years and 10 years. Forward thinking is always one of the most important factors.
—Daniel Wesley, Creditloan.com
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Pure SEO a $200 start-up
New Zealand Herald
Richard Conway says $200 was all it took to establish his start-up, Pure SEO, in 2009. Five years down the track, he says, the Auckland-based search engine optimisation company is earning annual revenue of "a few million" and turning solid profits. And …
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Entrepreneurs really do love to pay it forward and support each other—usually. And what better way to show your support then to financially help out with a friend’s new venture?
But beware—just because someone is a good friend doesn’t make them a great businessperson. Financial commitments to friends can quickly go south and ruin both relationships.
Startup founders from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) share 12 questions they would ask before getting financially involved in a friend’s startup.
1. Have You Grown and Exited a Company Before?
There’s only one thing to find out: Has she grown and exited a company before? If the answer is yes, then you are good to go. If not, then you are just rolling the dice and might as well go to Las Vegas or invest without asking any questions.
2. What Is the Timeline?
If your friend’s business plan is well-thought-out, she will have a rough idea of her runway based on the funding she is able to raise. Make sure you both agree on a clear vision for the business and what to expect on the horizon. Having a hard copy of expectations—something written down at the beginning—will bring added accountability in the unpredictable early stages of a startup.
3. What Are the Real Risks?
There’s no such thing as a guaranteed financial investment in a startup, so a “smart” investment is one that you’re willing to lose. Honestly, if you can’t afford to lose, don’t invest.
That said, your friend should be completely transparent about the risks involved in her endeavor. If she is upfront about the risks, this shows a necessary thoughtfulness and thoroughness, which bodes well for you seeing some eventual return on your investment.
4. Who Else Is Investing?
Startup investments are hard enough to predict without introducing the bias of investing in a friend. If you are considering making this investment, I would recommend you consult the wisdom of the crowds before making your decision. If you are the only person willing to back your friend, it’s likely that you’re not making a smart financial investment.
5. How Much Money Have You Put in the Business?
Only you know your friend and her capabilities. And only you can decide if you believe in the vision and your friend’s ability to execute. I believe the biggest indicator of startup success is hustle. And nothing creates hustle like having your nest egg on the line! Before investing in a friend’s company, I would want to make sure she has invested in herself first.
6. Why Are You Uniquely Able to Solve This Problem?
A startup is just that—an underfunded underdog hopefully tackling a meaty problem. What makes you think you’re the right person to solve this problem? Why hasn’t it been solved before? What do you bring that’s unique, not only in company approach, but also in personnel? Who are the people who would make me confident enough to invest in this horse to win this specific race?
7. Will This Impact Our Friendship?
Money comes and goes, but great relationships can be difficult to find in life. Have a serious talk with your friend and go through scenarios where everything falls apart or really painful decisions have to be made. Understand where the line should be drawn between personal and professional, and figure out your strategy to make sure your friendship comes first.
8. How Much Can I Give You to Do Something Else?
Ask them how much money it will take to make them quit and do something else. If their answer is anything other than $0, don’t invest. They’re doing it for the wrong reasons and will probably fail when faced with the extreme pressures of entrepreneurship.
9. How Do You Plan to Make Money?
It sounds simple, I realize, but I would have to know her plan for generating revenue because it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new venture without thinking through all the logistics and nuances—even those that are the most basic.
—Bobby Grajewski, Edison Nation Medical
10. Are You Doing This Full Time?
It’s important to know how committed one will be to the project. I have some friends that start projects, but never finish them, even if they mean well. If they’re willing to put some skin in the game, whether it’s time or money, I’ll be more confident in them following through and being successful.
—Russ Oja, Seattle Windows and Construction, LLC
11. Do You Have a Blueprint?
What assumptions have you used to figure out how much you’ll need to get to profitability?
12. Do You Have Paying Customers?
Ideas are not worth much money without action, and in many cases, even when executed perfectly, they just don’t have market viability. It’s important to prove that customers are willing to pay for a product before investing cash into a business.
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Not all progress is good progress, and not all investors are as hands off as startups might prefer. When your investors start asking questions and don’t like the answers, what should you do next?
Below, 12 successful entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) weigh in, offering advice on how to respond—and how to make sure you reach your milestones in the first place.
1. Create Clear(er) Milestones
When founders aren’t clear on their milestones, it’s not always easy for them (or their investors) to see their progress. When you create distinct milestones and raise funds accordingly, it’s easier to stay on the same page with investors and avoid these kinds of concerns.
So I’d advise founders in this situation to rethink their milestones—what do they want to achieve, by when and what do they need (in terms of resources) to hit these milestones. If you take this milestone funding approach going forward, you can avoid a lot of hassle.
When stuff gets really hard (and stuff always gets really hard), don’t go into your shell. It’s easy to go into your shell or your bubble and isolate yourself when people are doubting you, but that will only make matters much worse.
I’d strongly advise you to email, call and meet with your investors even more during your down time, so you can help control the narrative and show them you are on top of it all.
3. Expect It
As an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to be Chief Encouragement Officer (CEO). While you are the optimist that sees things where others may not, investors may lose faith when results are poor.
Listen to them and take their advice seriously. Don’t let their criticism shake your motivation to a point you can’t perform. It’s common for investors to go through cycles where they are in love (and out of love) with your business.
The best thing you can do is keep the relationship positive and gravitate your time and energy towards investors that will help you and your business. After all, getting things in the green again is the best way to regain their faith.
4. Tell The Truth
I’ve seen too many entrepreneurs who are pretty much professionals at raising capital, but amateur at running businesses, and they provide every excuse in the world to investors who have already put their money in. People are squeamish when they see a lack of progress.
So the best thing to do is tell them what is “really” going on. Why aren’t you in revenue yet? What needs to happen for you to get into revenue, and what are you doing to get there? Investors who are told the truth are always five times more patient than investors who feel like they are being given the runaround or answers to simply try to appease them.
5. Carry On
Check to see if your investors are armchair rulers or if they’ve ever gotten their own hands dirty. Those who have been in the game will have a better understanding of the challenges you have to overcome on the frontlines. But people always have doubt until they see the finished product, at which point their doubt will be removed. Don’t let their doubt derail you. Be brave. You have to endure these moments and carry on.
—Ty Morse, Songwhale
6. Have A Fact-Based Discussion
Investors and founders are engaging in a high-risk venture—to doubt is human. But keep the dialogue productive by hinging statements to facts and figures. Compare metrics to the previously defined goals.
If the numbers prove to be keeping pace, then it’s emotional (not business) management that needs improvement. If the numbers fall short, then there’s the opportunity to figure out what changes need to be made, set new goals and keep a steady flow of information about progress going forward. The doubt will never go away completely, but facts are your strongest weapons against it.
7. Address It
When someone who has a stake in your company is expressing doubt, don’t ignore it, address it immediately. This is not the time to throw out ideas but rather demonstrate results, and express intentions.
Any relationship, whether it is in public relations, employee relations or investor relations needs attention and value in order to continue and prosper. Provide them with a reason to buy-in.
—Fabian Kaempfer, Chocomize
8. Get It Together
If your investors are expressing doubt, it’s likely that one of two things is happening: You aren’t doing a good job communicating your progress, or you really do have fundamental issues with your business.
If it’s the former, you must learn how to better communicate your story. If you are confident with where you are and your plans, then find a way to communicate that clearly to your investors. If it’s the latter, then this is the time you should be using your investors the most.
When you are having real, substantial issues with your business, present the facts candidly and openly to your investor base. Most have been there before and can offer valuable help. The worst eight-letter word in an investor’s vocabulary is “surprise,” so keep them up to date and communicate.
9. Schedule An In-Person Meeting
Schedule a face-to-face meeting with the investors, ask them to elaborate on their doubts and provide open, honest answers. Sometimes, just getting it all out in the open can ease an investor’s doubts.
10. Re-Establish Credibility
Create opportunities to earn back your credibility by resetting goals and expectations within more conservative and achievable levels. Then overcommunicate your progress with increased reporting and by sharing successes and failures along the way. You are better off being conservative and outperforming than having to go back and explain once again why you didn’t hit your goals.
11. Don’t Get Defensive
You always need to be completely honest and transparent with your investors. By communicating openly and effectively with your investors, you can better strategize ways to solve your problem; hiding key information will only hurt you. Accept responsibility, be open to feedback and don’t get defensive—every business has bumps.
12. Talk Up Your Plan And How You’re Executing It
Investors are looking at long-term profitability, but there are several milestones to pass on the road to profitability. Show investors you are reaching those milestones and remind them about the market opportunity that got them excited to invest in the first place.
If you are not hitting the milestones that were outlined in your original business plan, show investors what your new course of action is to restore their confidence. Clearly articulate what has changed and how you are responding. No matter what, always show that you have a plan and that you are executing on it.
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At a startup, it can be hard to avoid conflict: hours are long, space and money are usually tight, and people are opinionated. Maybe you can’t avoid them entirely, but you can certainly be prepared to deal with them gracefully.
To find out how, we asked 11 entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) the following question:
What are the most common conflicts (name only one) that you have seen arise between employees at startups? And how do you resolve them quickly?
1. Delegating Responsibility for Tasks
In the quick pace of a startup environment, it’s easy to throw out projects without clarifying who is responsible. This becomes a conflict when two employees are doing the same task or no one thinks they’re responsible.
It’s honestly a leadership problem and has to start by delegating responsibility at every meeting and in every email. When conflicts come up, start by acknowledging that the communication was unclear and specifying who should be working on the project moving forward. You may need to smooth ruffled feathers, but in time, clearly designating who is managing projects will minimize these conflicts and confusion.
2. Deciding Where to Go
Because things change so quickly in the startup environment, it’s common to see disagreements around where the startup is headed. This goal underlies all the work team members are doing. If there isn’t a consensus around the common goal, this can lead to real conflict.
The simple solution to this source of conflict is for the founder to have a very clear company vision and articulate it to all members of the team. Keep reinforcing or redefining if and when company direction may change.
3. Implementing the 80/20 Rule
You have to resist the urge for your employees to agree with you 100 percent of the time and to design products and produce work that is 100 percent in line with your expectations. By and large, I won’t fuss about something or push for massive revisions when something is somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of how I’d hoped it would be.
4. Dealing With Turf Wars
Smaller businesses tend to attract take-charge types who like to try new things, and roles within a startup often overlap by necessity. When that tension escalates to an all-out turf war, it can destroy your business from the inside.
The source and the solution in this conflict lead back to you as the boss. You haven’t made it clear enough who is responsible for what and who has decision-making authority in which situations. Resolve these sorts of conflicts quickly before people start wasting lots of time jockeying for power instead of doing their real jobs. Prevent major systemic problems from developing by revisiting the org chart and updating job descriptions every quarter or so.
5. Defining the Priorities
This happens in many companies, but it may be more evident in a startup culture. A disagreement about what the priorities are often signifies a department versus department dispute. Depending on the background of each one of these employees, someone may feel like his or her area or project should take precedence over another. The best way to resolve these disputes quickly is to take the United Nations approach and have both parties come up with a solution from which they can both benefit.
—Fabian Kaempfer, Chocomize
6. Managing Time
Within a startup environment, you encounter a variety of employees with varying degrees of time management skills. On one end of the spectrum, you have employees who will work through the night to complete a task that isn’t due for days, while other employees methodically take the full amount of time to fulfill the task.
The two types of employees working on the same project can become conflicted and resentful of each other. Good project management can help curb the tension by understanding the employees’ approaches to tasks and assigning them accordingly, as well as clearly outlining the time expectations for these tasks.
7. Struggling With Power
Most early-stage companies lack the reporting hierarchy that would otherwise maintain order in larger firms. Young, ambitious employees often find themselves tangled in power struggles as they try to determine who is boss. Founders need to get things under control by swiftly instituting an org chart and clearly communicating the reporting structure and job descriptions. Subsequently, it is important for founders to empower in-place leaders by channeling communication and leadership responsibilities to those in charge. The entire organization is guaranteed to watch and test the new pecking order and will follow the founder’s lead.
8. Making User Interface Decisions
Dealing with user experience and user interface decisions is difficult. Luckily, there is a surefire way to resolve these quickly and objectively. We A/B test everything and make the decision a data-driven one. This helps take egos out of the equation and reminds everyone that there is not “my solution” and “your solution,” but rather there is just “the best solution,” which is the one we are all after.
9. Clarifying Responsibilities
Startup team members always wear multiple hats and take on multiple roles. Inevitably, there will be confusion about responsibilities and ownership of certain tasks or departments. The CEO or founder must establish clear team responsibilities to avoid this morale-damaging confusion. Give team members one area that is solely their “baby,” and allow their other responsibilities to be shared.
10. Handling Cultural Mismatches
People sometimes aren’t a great fit for the culture of the office or their work group, and when that happens, a change needs to be made. If they’re not a cultural fit, and they’re underperforming, it’s easy to let that person go.
If only one of those is true, it may be worth exploring other roles within a company because maybe they’re in the wrong spot. A different situation may show if that person can fit the dynamic and demonstrate that they can collaborate well with others. If a person is a high performer but clearly not a cultural fit, that’s a big conflict. Ultimately, you may need to let that person go because you risk that person driving other people away.
11. Fixing Alignment Problems
The biggest conflict I have observed between employees at startups is misalignment in terms of how the team sets tangible strategy and goals to implement their vision and how they will work together in order to best accomplish those goals. Rules of engagement are critical early on so leaders can drive clarity and alignment throughout the organization during the early years when there tends to be a distinct lack of structure and process to guide organization.
—Chris Cancialosi, gothamCulture
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Let’s face facts: e-commerce isn’t the Wild West it was just a few short years ago. Amazon has virtually monopolized the sector, and niche opportunities are disappearing fast. To be a successful e-tailer, you need to take an innovative approach, not just with your interface, products, and tools, but with your marketing strategy. The boilerplate […]
The post 3 E-commerce Start-up Marketing Tips to Level the Competition by @DholakiyaPratik appeared first on Search Engine Journal.
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DevOps—it’s not just the latest buzzword from the IT sphere. It’s a paradigm shift in the way technology companies look at the marriage between software development and the infrastructure that powers it.
It’s wrong to assume that only enterprise businesses can benefit from or need a DevOps strategy. Whether you are an organization the size of Facebook or a one-man tech startup, DevOps is now a way of life and ignoring it can make or break a company of any size.
Defining The Buzz
So what is DevOps? Well, much like the name states, we are talking about a union of Developers and IT Operations (aka Systems Engineers). DevOps is many things. It is a collection of best practices, a set of tooling and a philosophy that emphasizes automation and collaboration.
The term “DevOps” emerged from the fast-paced “agile” software development movement. Agile practices encourage short iteration cycles, frequent new function releases and close collaboration between development and business stakeholders. It’s made quick revisions a common practice, which in turn has increased the need to produce software in a way that delivers ideas to market in a much faster model. Both established companies and startups are racing to test their innovative ideas and provide value for their customers.
If you aren’t adopting DevOps practices in your own technology projects, then you may be wasting time and increasing the risk of delay on your technology projects and costly technical debt. And the time to start is soon; DevOps is easiest to implement early on in a technology project’s life cycle. The longer you wait, the more effort will be required to re-work DevOps into your workflow.
If you are building a startup, this kind of speed and iteration is the name of the game. When you’re developing software for a particular customer, you must determine which features are valuable to them as quickly as possible. Or if you adhere to “Lean Startup” ideologies, then your goal is to eliminate time wasted and focus more on value.
For Lean Startup in particular, utilizing DevOps is a major component of eliminating the waste that occurs around provisioning new servers, installing and configuring software, and doing deployments across environments. Without a proper DevOps strategy, these tasks can become prone to errors and are time-consuming. When this process is automated, features move into production faster, which allows them to be tested and validated more quickly, leading to faster reaction time to your customers and less wasted effort.
How To Do DevOps
Implementing a DevOps process usually starts with adopting an automation platform, like Chef or Puppet. Chef has been taking the IT world by storm as of late, and has been adopted by both large IT organizations—like Facebook—and small teams in startups all over the world. Once an automation platform has been adopted, it is used to code all systems related configuration and deployment. The idea is to remove the human component of manually configuring servers or deploying an application across multiple environments and multiple servers.
Your automated configuration will need to be deployed somewhere, too. Cloud-based systems are where the full power of a DevOps process can be realized. Though it can be implemented in traditional non-virtualized data centers, much of DevOps’ true capabilities are lost in this type of implementation. Cloud is where DevOps really shines.
Using tools like Vagrant, the efficiencies gained from the automated setup of cloud servers can also be realized in a local developer’s environment. Vagrant allows for the same scripts that are powering the production cloud servers to be used to setup local developer environments.
But the current pace of software development still needs improvement, as it will go from a developer’s workstation, into quality assurance (QA), and finally into the production environment. In traditional technology teams, this is when the code leaves the developers and goes into the hands of a systems engineer, who feverishly work their magic, on a server they crafted by hand, to deploy it to the world.
So, what are the best practices of DevOps? Why should you use them? And how do you get started implementing them? Read on to learn all the answers to your DevOps questions.
Reason One: Inefficient Use Of Time
So, is DevOps always going be the solution to every organization? Many CTOs in enterprises agree there isn’t a problem when releases are happening once a day, on only a few servers and that the software is not complex. If all goes well and the systems engineer makes no mistakes, this process may take less than an hour, making everyone happy.
However, this is rarely the case—more often, there are several releases a day, across half a dozen servers and software begins to accumulate some time-consuming deployment complexities. Also, imagine that the trusty systems engineer didn’t have her morning coffee, and the boss is pressuring her hard for that much-needed feature release.
Oops, a step is missed. Deployment fails halfway through, and now it takes 30 minutes to roll the servers back, all the while showing the much-despised error message to users. Or worse, imagine the systems engineer moves on to greener pastures, taking months (maybe years) of the system’s knowledge with them that the next recruit will have to acclimate by digging into the nooks and crannies of the ever-evolving infrastructure.
Startups are particularly susceptible to problems like this. When the very success of your new company relies on getting new code into production, anything that slows down “ship day” is unacceptable. Adopting a DevOps strategy early on will allow each deployment to become faster and faster, making for shipping a new build of your app something that can happen every week, not just every few months.
Reason Two: Stability, Predictability And Testability
Like Agile’s emphasis on collaboration between development and business, DevOps is all about the close collaboration between development and IT operations. One of the defining principles of this collaboration is leveraging the stability, predictability and testability of code. The emergence of “coded infrastructure” is made a reality by configuration management (CM) and aforementioned data center automation platforms like Puppet from Puppet Labs and Opscode’s Chef.
These tools enable developers and infrastructure engineers to find common ground, allowing the systems that power software to be described with fine granularity using code. For example, Chef uses Ruby code to create “recipes” that automate the building and deployment of a server from the ground up. This type of “Cookbook” coding, used by major companies like Facebook, Ancestry.com and Brightcove, enables those companies to rapidly deploy new code into production and scale up and maintain their ever-growing server farms.
Another added benefit of infrastructure as code is the ability to use automated testing practices, common in traditional software development environments, to prevent changes causing regressions, which could bring down critical infrastructure. Libraries, like test-kitchen for Chef, enable you to write a full suite of integration tests to keep your cookbooks regression-free, which can be integrated directly into a continuous-integration workflow with tools like Jenkins or Bamboo.
Reason Three: Build An Inventory Of Code To Create Efficiencies
Another benefit DevOps provides is the inherent “self-documentation” CM systems like Chef create. Now that the entire server is being built from the ground up by code, it provides an inventory of all the supporting software and configuration specs. This doesn’t mean we can get away without additional documentation on infrastructure, but it provides a well-established baseline that any engineer familiar with the chosen configuration management platform can quickly learn.
Startups should be able to scale to survive. The accepted method of scaling infrastructure is horizontal scaling, or adding additional servers to the infrastructure that handle smaller parts of the overall system. This means that if a startup plans to scale, the company will need to be able to add new servers to the system as quickly as possible—which can be made possible in no time with a proper DevOps plan in place. Since CM is a huge part of any solid DevOps process, automated scripts will allow you to implement and manage the growing server infrastructure easily and efficiently.
An investment in DevOps and infrastructure automation helps to keep resource costs low, while maintaining output at the desired velocity. With the focus on automation, a single engineer can run an infrastructure of non-trivial size. For example, at Facebook, a team of four engineers is responsible for rolling out and maintaining a system of roughly 15,000+ individual machines using the Chef system automation platform.
But these efficiencies are not just gained in the enterprise. In a startup, where resources are tight and engineers can sometimes be hard to come by, a DevOps platform can allow for a software engineer to double as an operations engineer.
More tools like Puppet and Chef have become available that make implementing DevOps within any organization easier and faster. The ecosystems for these DevOp platforms and tools for all skill sets are released frequently, which make implementing DevOps achievable for any organization. Tools like Vagrant provide a way to test creating infrastructure using Puppet and Chef—which can be done on an engineer’s local computer. Also, systems like Berkshelf are making it effortless to manage a growing collection of automation scripts and leverage an ever-growing community of contributed code.
DevOps has clearly moved beyond a mere buzzword—it now describes an entire process that is essential for IT organizations of all sizes to adopt. In the same way IT organizations have adopted Agile as a methodology, in the near future, we will all look back at DevOps as another de facto evolution of the IT industry.
While its shape and form continue to evolve, one thing is certain—if you make your living in coding, whether at a multinational enterprise or a budding startup, adopting DevOps is a necessity. Adopt or be left behind.
Lead image courtesy DevOpsDays, DevOps image courtesy CollabNet.
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