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Use tools that speed you up

There’s a time and a place to try out new software tools. That time is not when you’re trying to get a business off the ground. This isn’t to say you absolutely shouldn’t learn a new technology while starting out. If you do decide to try it, make certain you’ve thought it through and can justify it from a business standpoint. Just don’t be whimsical about it.

The single most important aspect to think about is how rapidly your tool set enables you to improve your product. Built-in testing. Easier and more reliable release management. A healthy community to help when you hit a wall. Continuity and predictability between releases and updates to the tools. All these things help you move faster with less risk.

And don’t forget happiness as a productivity booster. In most cases, happiness will be a function of what you’re able to accomplish, but it can also be an input. If you hate your tools, you’re going to be less energized and less productive. Even if you know a certain tool forwards and backwards, the productivity gains disappear when you hate doing work.

All of that said, let’s dive into the risks of using a new language or framework that you don’t know inside and out. A side project is one thing, but building a business is something else entirely. You’re inevitably going to face new learning curves with incorporation, legal issues, taxes, payment processing, customer support, and countless other curveballs. Your chance of success will increase dramatically if you minimize risk anywhere you can. In most cases, that means using tools you’re already familiar with. You’ll know the pitfalls and precisely how to avoid them. When you’re starting a business the last thing you need is yet another new thing to learn if you don’t absolutely have to.

If you’re dying to use something new or just move away from a technology you already know but don’t enjoy, learn it ahead of time. Start some side projects now so you can minimize the learning curve when it’s time to start your business. It won’t eliminate all effort, because a real business is completely different from side projects, but it can help mitigate it.

The clean state of a new business can tempt you to adopt the shiniest bleeding-edge technology, but your business is more important than that. Focus on tool sets that trend towards maturity and stability. Using new, unproven technologies can introduce significant amounts of maintenance work and other hurdles that dramatically slow you down as the new technology tries to find its way in the early days. Whether you end up patching every week or regularly perform upgrades with breaking changes, the pain can quickly counter all but the most extreme gains in productivity.

Healthy businesses are pragmatic. I regularly talk to people running very healthy and profitable businesses on Rails 2. (As of late 2017, Rails is at version 5.) Do they wish they were running the most current version? Sure. But they’re still running highly profitable businesses without using the latest technologies. It’s quite possible that you could end up hating the new technology. Few situations are worse than building your company on a technology you can’t stand or don’t trust. You’ll either be stuck with it forever, or you’ll have to rebuild it from scratch. Neither of those bode well for the future of your business.

Promises of scalability may also lead you astray. Don’t get caught up worrying about whether your platform of choice will scale. If the business doesn’t get off the ground, scale will never matter. Choosing a new platform just because it will theoretically scale better solves a problem you don’t have. And with a business, you’ll be a lot more successful if you focus on the problems you do have. There’s an infinite number of potential problems, and while you can be mindful of them, you can’t build a business insulated from them all. That takes time.

You’re setting out on an ambitious journey. As a technologist, the newest technologies can be tempting; but as a business owner, you have many more factors to consider. Whatever you do, don’t choose your technology in a vacuum. Make the choice that puts you in the best position to build a healthy and sustainable business.

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