The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Tech Stack for Startups in 2023
Find the right tech stack for your startup
Oct 2, 2023
In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, it's crucial to select the right tech stack (combination of technologies) that will help your tech startup grow and scale efficiently. In this blog post we break down the ins and outs of each of the main layers and show you the results from talking to over 200 tech startups about what technologies they use. Our goal is to help you on the way to choosing the right tech stack for your startup.
What is a tech stack?
A technology stack is a set of technologies, programming languages, and software products that are used together to create a web, mobile, or desktop application.
So, why is it called a stack? Imagine a stack of pancakes (sorry, I'm hungry) - each pancake makes up a different layer or piece of technology. In a tech stack, each layer is responsible for something different. Take for example the front-end component of your stack - this is the technology that users will interact with, another layer might be the backend which is responsible for computation and data storage. Each layer of the stack provides a crucial function to your application.
Layers of a Tech Stack
In a tech stack you can have many layers and as you get more nuanced use cases those layers can grow. However, most startup tech stacks are comprised of four parts:
Database (such as PostgreSQL or MongoDB) - stores your data
Back-End Framework (such as Express) - performs business logic on your data
Front-End Library (such as React) - builds the user interface that your clients will interact with
Scripting Language or Runtime Environment (such as Node.js or PHP) - runs scripts and other operations
TL;DR - Spoiler Most Startups Are Using PERN
We talked to over 200 startups and found that the vast majority are using PERN (PostgreSQL, Express, React and Node.js). Hang tight, we'll break down the programming languages and components of this stack later.
Guide to Choosing the Right Layers
In this next section we'll break down each layer and offer guidance on the pros and cons of each technology.
The database is a crucial element in your startup tech stack. The architecture of the database can make a dramatic difference depending on which you choose.
MongoDB or SQL
When people talk about databases you'll usually hear them talk about a SQL database or MongoDB. When people refer to a SQL database they are referring to a relational database (see below) that uses SQL such as PostgreSQL or MySQL. SQL-based databases have long been the industry standard in web applications and remain so today. In a SQL database, information is stored in tables that relate to one another.
MongoDB is a very different no-SQL database that does not store data relationally the way SQL does. Instead of tables, MongoDB stores data in a JSON format.
Relational databases derive their power from being able to store enormous amounts of information and retrieve it quickly. Imagine a database with one monster table with millions of columns of information - it would be exceptionally slow to load and access data from. Relational databases offer us the ability to look up data from multiple tables using keys.
For example, imagine a database with two tables. One table includes a record of purchases, the other includes a record of customers. The purchases table includes the item description, the date that item was bought, the quantity bought and a customer ID. The customer table includes the customer name, phone number, email and other relevant contact information. If you wanted to know the phone number of the person who purchased a specific item, you'd tell the relational database to match the customer ID from the purchases table and retrieve the relevant contact info.
NoSQL Databases (MongoDB)
Each document can have a different number of fields, the content and size of each document can be different from each other, and the data structure can be changed over time. This flexible and dynamic approach is particularly useful when dealing with data that is diverse and doesn't fit neatly into a table, or when the structure is likely to change.
MongoDB vs SQL
If you're dealing with transactions or structured data, SQL is for you. If you're dealing with unstructured or dynamic data, then MongoDB may be the right choice. That being said, MongoDB is very adaptable and has been gaining in popularity.
The Most Popular Database
You could spend all week (or even year) reading about the pros and cons of MongoDB and SQL. So we want to simplify things for you: we've seen lately that PostgresSQL is beating out all other SQL databases and MongoDB in popularity among startups. To learn more about the differences between it and its rival MySQL check out this article. In other words PostgreSQL is a safe bet.
That being said, if you're familiar with MongoDB and know it would meet your needs, then the MERN tech stack may be worth considering (MERN is the same tech stack as PERN just with MongoDB instead of PostgreSQL).
A backend framework, often referred to as a server-side framework, is a crucial part of your tech stack that acts as the backbone of your web application. It provides the analysis and logic to make your application function properly, handling requests from the user interface, processing these requests, interacting with the database if necessary, and sending a response back to the user interface.
React - the Industry Standard
Component-Based Architecture: React promotes the use of components, which are reusable and combine to build complex UIs. This makes code easier to manage and boosts productivity.
Fast: React uses a virtual DOM (Document Object Model), which optimizes rendering and improves app performance. When a component's state changes, only that component will be updated in the virtual DOM, not the entire page.
One-Way Data Binding: React ensures that the flow of data is in one direction, which helps keep everything modular and fast.
Flexibility: Unlike other frameworks, React is just a UI library, so it doesn't dictate the architecture of your entire application. This flexibility allows developers to choose other libraries or frameworks that best suit their specific needs.
Strong Community and Support: React has strong backing from Facebook and an active community of developers. This means a wealth of resources, tutorials, and third-party libraries are readily available.
Use Across Different Platforms: With React Native, developers can use the same style of components to build mobile applications, making React versatile across multiple platforms.
Learning Curve: Other front-ends like Angular have steep learning curves. React has a fairly subtle learning curve with phenomenal documentation.
These are just some of the reasons why React is a popular choice for front-end development today. It was also the clear winner in our survey. React is definitely a safe bet for startups.
Alternatives to Consider
While we have seen PERN (PostgreSQL, Express, React, Node) come out as the clear favorite among the 200 startups we surveyed, it's still important to be aware of other popular technology stacks that have been around for a while.
The Flutter technology stack, developed by Google, is designed to be suitable for mobile app-based startups and utilizes the Dart programming language. Flutter is best suited for B2C and C2C projects where the primary focus is on mobile.
Flutter vs PERN
Flutter, backed by Google, is specifically designed for mobile app development, while PERN is a versatile stack used for web application development.
Flutter supports cross-platform development, allowing you to write code once and run it on multiple platforms. PERN, on the other hand, doesn't have this cross-platform capability.
Flutter ensures UI consistency across different screen sizes and platforms. PERN doesn't directly manage UI consistency, as it depends on the specific front-end technologies used.
Flutter's Hot Reload feature allows developers to see changes in real-time, speeding up the development process. PERN doesn't have a built-in feature like this, but it can be achieved through specific libraries or tools.
While Flutter is ideal for B2C and C2C projects with a primary focus on mobile, PERN is more suited for web-based applications.
Ruby on Rails (RoR)
RoR is admired for its simplicity and speed, making it a go-to choice for rapid application development. It's robust, secure, and dependable, which makes it a reliable choice for many startups. Furthermore, it boasts a large and supportive community of developers, ensuring that assistance is always within reach.
However, it's important to note that RoR may not be the best choice for large-scale applications, as it can be inefficient and challenging to scale. Also, it can be more labor-intensive from a coding perspective which may mean it's the wrong tech stack for you. Despite these challenges, many startups still choose RoR over PERN due to its flexibility and ease of use.
Ruby on Rails vs. PERN
Ruby on Rails embraces the Convention over Configuration philosophy, which results in less time spent on configuration files and thus faster development.
Ruby on Rails has faced criticism for its performance in comparison to Node.js, which is used in PERN. However, for many applications, this performance difference may be negligible.
The LAMP has been around for a long time, so it's worth mentioning here. It is comprised of of:
Linux (operating system)
Lamp Stack vs PERN
LAMP, an acronym for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP, is a traditional tech stack that has been around for many years and is widely used for web development. PERN, on the other hand, is a more modern tech stack that uses PostgreSQL, Express, React, and Node.js.
LAMP is often used for more complex, enterprise-level applications, while PERN is often used for more dynamic, interactive web applications.
LAMP can be more difficult to set up and configure compared to PERN, which is known for its simplicity and ease of use.
While LAMP offers numerous advantages, such as being open-source, cost-effective, and straightforward to configure and maintain, it's not the right tech stack for mobile development.
Despite some drawbacks, like challenges in debugging and maintaining, LAMP remains a popular choice for web app development.
How Expert Assistance Can Help in Choosing the Best Tech Stack
It's clear that with so many tech stacks available there's a lot to consider when choosing one! We recommend asking an expert, like a fractional CMO or Software Architect before embarking on a decision that will certainly define the future of your infrastructure! The best developers already have jobs and are expensive - however, with us you can hire them fractionally! There's no better way to get high-value advice on your tech stack!
In conclusion, selecting the best tech stack for your startup is a crucial decision that can greatly impact the success of your business. By considering factors such as scalability, cost, security, and ease of use, and drawing inspiration from the tech stacks used by successful companies, you can make well-informed decisions when selecting the stack that's right for you. Additionally, don't go it alone! When making a decision this critical, you should absolutely get expert help.