a blog about programming and startups by Brian Brunner

Paying Money To Save It And Doing More With Less

23 Oct 2013

Recently, an email thread got started on the all-team mailing list at my office. Everyone in the company, devs and non-devs alike, was asked to take stock of all of the different SaaS products that they were using. When all was said and done, the list that we had compiled numbered around 40 different websites, most of which we pay some monthly fee for.

This was a little bit of a surprise for me, as we’re a team of less than 20. This means that we use twice as many SaaS products as we have people. If you want to unbundle all of the different services we use that fall under the umbrella of AWS, that number jumps from around 40 to more than 50. Basically, we leverage the crap out of other people’s software.

Incidentally, most of the software we pay for on the engineering side of things has open-source equivalents that we could run ourselves for free (besides hosting costs). We were recently looking to put together an automated testing setup for our frontend code, and one of our engineers offered to set up Jenkins to take care of it. It took all of a minute to decide on a managed, paid alternative instead. Because it was, without a doubt, much cheaper.

When it comes down to it, all employees, especially software engineers, are fucking expensive. In my experience, salaries are almost always the biggest expense for a technology startup. When you have the choice between having someone spend time setting up a piece of software or just paying a company to do it for you, you should almost always go for the outside solution. This is especially true when your organization is still small, as time spent managing a self-hosted solution would be better spent building out your core product. So, you know, you can actually make money.

Using outside software even when you could run something yourself is an idea that I’ve found comes naturally to those in more business oriented roles. Engineers are, however, notorious for reinventing things that there are already existing solutions for. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people reimplement software that they could just buy for cheap or use for free.

Quite possibly my favorite instance came from a friend who told me that a startup he had interviewed at had entirely reimplemented nodejs in house because they didn’t want to run software that was “not built here”. It’s not exactly the same as node is, by no means, a SaaS product, but the idea is the similar: stop wasting time on things that have already been done for you.

So, in short, leverage the crap out of SaaS, even if you could do it yourself. Good SaaS integration is like having extra employees that are way cheaper and don’t require things like insurance and time off.

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