How Static Apps are Changing Startups

If you work at a startup or are planning to start one, this post is for you. One of the best decisions I made when starting Appcues was to build it as a static application. It was a bit risky at the time and the technology was still maturing, but the benefits have been remarkable.

Appcues uses static hosting for our website and our web application, and I'll share the advantages we've enjoyed since making that choice over a year ago.

Massive Performance, Minimal Cost

4000 session/hour spike. No servers, no downtime, $0 spent.

Appcues had very few advatages over the industry titans we planned to disrupt. Sure, we were smart and could move quickly, but we had no money and were just getting started. Static hosting added one more arrow to our quiver: cheap performance on day one.

Since you're reading this blog, you may already be aware of the vast shift that static applications have caused in web development. You no longer need a team of backend engineers and a veteran DevOps (aka database whisperer) person. Now, you can deploy a site or app that can get TechCrunch'd without breaking the bank.

This instant performance gave our business a sizable competitive edge early on. We found that performance translates into more perceived value, trust and enjoyment in the eyes of savvy customers. Since some of our competitors' (and even our customers') products were slower and outdated, Appcues stood out as the modern alternative and let us approach enterprise customers with confidence.

All Code is User-Facing

What users care about

Our team prioritizes user-facing features and automates or outsource everything else we (reasonably) can. By choosing a static architecture, 100% of our code became user-facing (we leverage a backend-as-a-service provider called Firebase).

Divshot handles things like routing, redirects, caching, deployment and much more of the stuff that we would normally write code for. While those tasks have gotten easier, the time we'd normally spend building and maintaining that infrastructure is instead spent on stuff users actually care about.

Ultimately, users don't care if we used Express over Koa.js. They don't care if our codebase is isomorphic javascript. They just want useful software that's easy and enjoyable to use.

Statically-hosted stacks encourage teams to focus on what's important: shipping features and improving the user's experience.

Professional DevOps

The job of a DevOps engineer is incredibly stressful. When disaster strikes at 11pm on a Friday night, it's the DevOps engineer who answers the call.

Using Divshot is basically hiring a team of passionate DevOps pros to host your site. Sure, we have a lot less control, and that's been scary at times, but Divshot's team has consistently convinced me that they make a much better DevOps engineer than I do. As a bonus, I get to enjoy my Friday nights again.

How Startups Should Use Divshot

We've been using Divshot to host the Appcues web application for over a year now. It has a lot of awesome features, my two favorites are their Form to Email Service and Custom Environments.

We use simple form service to add feedback forms to our product. It's great for embedding demo requests or simple customer feedback forms, and we can pipe responses directly into our CRM or help desk. We have a one-liner in our code to show the feedback form, and it's been great for getting feedback on beta features.

In addition to the normal development/staging environments, we use Divshot environments to isolate big feature releases for testing. We'll sometimes spin up a new environment and CNAME, like <feature_name>, to make user testing a big feature easy and friendly for customers. It's a great way to deploy things quickly but safely.

Startups need every competitive edge they can get, and technology that lets us get to market faster with a more mature product are definitely a competitive edge.

How are you leveraging new technology at your startup?