I am all of the above

How We Got Here

Over the past 6 months I have been working on forming a start-up with colleagues in Chester, progress has been stop-start whilst we understand our proposition and how we bring the product to market. 

About 10 weeks ago we finally found ourselves in a position where we had secured initial funding, we had agreed what we deemed as a MVP (minimal viable product) for launch and we had office space confirmed.

Timing was perfect as this coincided with me end of a contract with NBrown where I had been working on a number of AWS projects within the Digital Marketing team.

Where To Start

Whenever someone mentions the word 'start-up' I instantly conjure up a picture in my mind of multi-coloured beanbags, free pizza, a Google styled office where everyone is working in harmony to achieve a common goal. Time to open your eyes and smell that instant coffee, this is far from reality.

I have experience of working in a start-up environment during my time working on the project at UnShackled.com but that already had in place basic technology governance and a team of 10 including developers, testers and an experienced board. The excitement of working on a fast paced project like this again was something that did appeal to me and I was looking forward to the challenge.

Week 1-5 - Lets Do This!

So its the first week, where do I start? Requirements are on the back of a post-it, ideas are flowing and we still don't have a design down. The purest in me wanted to map out the key customer journeys, requirements (User Stories) and then I could start to  look at the platform but in reality when I'm the only tech resource its not possible.

As the title of the post implies, we didn't have the luxury of a Product Owner/Manager, DBA, Developer, Tester, DevOps and Architect - It was my responsibility.

I am all of the above

The Key Challenges

Has it been a challenge so far? Undoubtedly, the answer is yes! There have been so many considerations whilst in the design and build phase ranging from the smallest UI refactoring changes through to mapping out and understanding the structure of the JSON on our product API.

The challenges have not just been from a technology perspective but also from a management perspective ensuring the key stakeholders are engaged throughout and they can see positive progress on the product build.

 I've outlined a few key specific points below which caused a few headaches:

  • XAMPP issues on my local Mac
  • .htaccess issues
  • Caching of objects leading to random results
  • Configurating of a multi-staged environment with single RDS DB
  • Out of memory settings within Apache even when excessive amount assigned
  • JQuery chosen not working correctly on mobile views

The Successes

During the first 5 weeks we went from literally a handful of post-it notes to something that is 70% ready. We have been date driven rather than feature driven so we have refined requirements and the technology as we progressed. If we had approached the delivery focusing on features we would never be anywhere near our target launch date which was very optimistic.

Reflecting back its difficult to select specific achievements but I've highlighted a few I'm particularly happy with:

  • Set-up of deployment process with git and AWS Elasticbeanstalk
  • AWS S3 configured for image distribution
  • Design and build of an affiliate tracking platform including database design and cookie tracking
  • Build of custom views, tables using SQL Workbench and AWS RDS
  • Design of the evolving architecture blueprint and API definition
  • Product load and ranging process including attribute set-up for facets
  • Automated browser and device testing

Here's the proof of some of the original requirements, no user stories or functional specifications here just drawings.


The ideas quickly transitioned into working prototypes which we tested on iOS, Android and desktop automatically through scripting.



Lessons Learned.... So Far

Before I started on this journey I knew it wouldn't be easy, thats one of the reasons I decided to grab this opportunity with both hands. I know its not for everyone, waking up each morning wondering what on earth will I be walking into today, what issues will I face and how will I alone fix them?

Being the only tech resource means I've had to at times step way out of my comfort zone as a typical Solutions Architect. I've been writing Javascript, PHP, SQL queries, creating ReactJS applications, testing API endpoints with PostMan, load testing RDS connections, designing UI interfaces and when I had capacity also maintaining Trello.

As an individual I always get a sense of self-doubt occasionally but this experience has certainly helped me realise that I can pretty much overcome most obstacles and come out the other side wiser with the experience to share.

Whats Next?

The first 5 weeks have been a blur and hardwork, I'm not going to sugarcoat it for you so it sounds like a start-up story where the founders drive around in new Lamborghinis courtesy of venture capital funds. We've managed to get through which I believe is the hardest part of the journey and now we focus our attention towards the next phase of funding and implementing our marketing plans.

I plan on uploading a video update over the coming weeks with a bit more insight into the project so stay tuned, this will be my first video blog.

Want To Learn More?

If you would like to learn more about this project please get in touch I'll happily share with you our story so far and where we are taking the platform. You can catch me on Twitter and LinkedIn.