πŸ“» β€” The Full Stack Founder’s Ascent Follows the Growth of Cloud & Microservice Orchestration

Reading Time: ~ 12 min.

Good morning yeniverse!

I tried my hardest to make the above title incredibly-technical so that you’d click it β€” did it work?

😘

Before we jump into the meat and bones, here are few good reads to marinate on β€” pick one and give it a good one-over:

  1. Streaming music… stalls? Eventually, all things hit a ceiling.
  2. “Own” community via WordPress β€” As a long-time developer, fan, and user of WordPress β€” part of YEN.FM runs on it β€”Β I’m in total favor of having a bit more control over your content but not for the reasons that are shared in this article as I don’t believe that anyone “owns” a community, ever; that just sounds weird. Reminds me of the two types of community builders out there…
  3. Marketplaces in 2020 β€” very decent overview.
  4. Social networking 2.0 β€” Ben usually gets a lot right but here he gets a lot wrong.Β Separating our identities into separate buckets is not a feature, it’s a failure; we all know what it’s like to try to be 10 different versions of ourselves in 10 different communities β€” that sucks! What Ben is advocating is something that I don’t believe is healthy for people in the short or long-run. Healthy community doesn’t need you to be anyone other than who you already are. I see you yenizens.
  5. 2020 through the lens of the Apple App Store.

Never-forget: Winners take all.

To infinity & community,

β€” john


Yesterday I shared 3 (quick) predictions on the future of the creator / solopreneur economy β€” courtesy of Li Jin β€” and the third question was one that I really appreciated answering.

Here it is again:

The biggest challenge creators and solopreneurs will face in 2021 is…

… the copycat product, service, platform, and community.

Creators will have to effectively create unique, distinguishable value to capture attention and ultimately (recurring) subscriptions in an ever-growing #nocode / #lowcode world.

πŸ›‘ β€” TL;DR: Bring your A-game or gtfo.

I wanted to expand on this thesis for a moment and explain why this is an inevitable and natural conclusion to the growth of cloud services and the move towards decentralization.

Yes, this might get a bit technical so hang onto your butts.

I’ve spent the last 20+ years primarily as a software engineer β€” effectively my entire professional career β€”Β and I have witnessed, first-hand, the move from monolithic architectural masses with a singular data infrastructure and a centralized state (machine) to a distributed and decentralized series of microservices that span around the entire globe.

It still blows my mind. In fact, thinking about it broadly (and intensely) literally makes me feel ill. Time is short and precious my friends β€” let’s not waste it!

And over those two-decades I’ve learned a very valuable lesson: Everything has a cost and the tradeoffs between distribution and scale is a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved.

The result is an ever-widening gap of opportunity for innovation that can be taken advantage of by entrepreneurs who are hungry and motivated to build their own business, live life on their own terms, and create value in the ways that they deem best.

What’s most surprising is that today’s technicians don’t look, act, behave, or think in the way(s) that I (and my generation) do (and I’m not even that old!).

These builders see the world through the phone, first, as a default behavior. These entrepreneurs / solopreneurs / creators are building full, end-to-end businesses with almost little-to-zero software engineering skills β€” meaning, they aren’t writing any code and instead using fully-distributed, cloud-based platforms to fill in every major operational gap that they need to run a business from the comfort and safety of their home.

When I was building software earlier in my career it took thousands of dollar β€” and a week if you knew what you were doing β€” to standup a single website on one web server.

Today? Pshhhh. You can do it for free in sub-15 min (if you focus), completely optimized for blazing-fast load-times via a worldwide content delivery network and sophisticated http:// cacheing at every node…

… without having to know how any of that actually works (or what any of those terms mean)!

5 years ago I wrote an important and deeply personal piece on what I called “The Full Stack Founder” β€” it’s clear that 2021 is going to be the year where this comes, finally, into full view.

I’ve since revisited it and added an important note near the end:

There is a significant difference between being an entrepreneur (and a person who builds a company) compared to one who is just building an app. Those are not the same thing. Just because you can program or build something does not mean you know what it’s like to build a company.

Building a company means that you’re the first person on the team. Being an entrepreneur and founder means that you have to not only engineer a product (i.e. build an app) but also know about finance and accounting, marketing, sales, customer support, product development / product management, research and development, and any / all administrative tasks.

And they must eat, breathe, and shit community from end-to-end, especially if they’re building a CommSaaS.

Take note that I didn’t say you had to be an β€œexpert” at all of these things nor do you have to be overwhelmingly good.

I chuckle to myself because 5 years ago I had barely enough skill myself to call myself a “Full Stack Founder” and yet, now, with the incredible amount of #lowcode / #nocode tools, you don’t have to ever be an “expert” at any of those things to be functional, profitable, and happy.

These people are fucking unstoppable:

But, this doesn’t guarantee that you’ll see the results that you really want, especially because the bar of adoption continues to drop while the ease of access is commoditizing the space forcing builders, creators, and solopreneurs to dig in even deeper if they want to grow and scale.

πŸ›‘ β€” You’re going to have to know your why stronger than everyone else if you’re going to successfully compete.

Or, as I said at the end of my prognostication: Bring your A-game orΒ GTFO.

As it should be, honestly: The full-stack founder is someone who’s relentlessly-resourceful β€” they do it all and they love it:

In summary, the full stack founder is more about one’s interest and openness in doing the tough work necessary to start a company and less about their innate skill set or natural expertise.

A full stack founder is relentlessly resourceful, a polymath when it comes to rolling up their sleeves and getting shit done.

If I were to press harder (and so I shall!) I further believe that the community gigster and on-demand community leader is uniquely positioned to take the crown of capital-C Creator in 2021 (& beyond) as they have been born in an internet-first, community-centric world β€” it’s a place as-close to the so-called metaverse as we get where their very skills are as native to the environment as the tools themselves.

And that frightens me a bit.

The speed and fluency at which I observe my very own 14-year old β€” who knows very little about the internet’s raw and original service architecture (doesn’t give af anyways) β€” is able to build a small, virtual empire with just an email address and YouTube.

🀯

More specifically, she’s been slowly building a small community via YouTube, TikTok, and other social networks where she sells bespoke-digital art to her fans (“stans?”) via Etsy using a combination of digital currency and Paypal.

Here’s the thing: I know I’m missing about 100 other apps / services that she’s installed on her iPhone which, in combination with the digital superhighway, has empowered her without any formal training to build and monetize a growing audience and community.

She doesn’t call it a “business” but that’s exactly what she’s built. And this is what I consider to be, authentically, a Full Stack Founder β€” but don’t press ’cause she’s not into labels, okay #boomer?

🀣

And this follows the exact same path as the growth of cloud services.


A Quick Technical History Lesson

It was a simpler time back then…

… developers built only one type of application: The Monolithic Kind.ℒ️

The model is as consistent as it is simple and can be made to feel nearly-identical to the experience that you get building software in your own, local notebook computer or desktop box.

One single, centralized database which could mutate its state within a single, isolated transaction. This meant β€” gloriously β€” that you’d get a binary outcome: It either worked as you had intended or it didn’t. Bingo, no guessing required.

Consequently, developers appreciate this because it reduces the chance of failed work (or transactions) to zero resulting in inconsistency at the state.

TL;DR: Software developers don’t have to guess and write code to verify the exact state of things in the db.

And, for a time, everything was good as it would be another decade before every application on the planet would have to manage millions of requests instead of just a few. The rise of social networks forced our collective hand to find a better β€” unfortunately temporary β€” solution.

Now, we’re all online 24/7/365, permanently connected to one another as nodes on an ever-expanding universe of inter-dependent networks. We need our data now and with as little latency as possible but with enough compute to power my international business. Unfair expectations much?

Alas, the monolith would never survive such a distributed need for resources β€” scale’s tradeoff had finally come to pay the piper and service-oriented architecture(s) were born (i.e. microservices) that allowed more granular control over “self-contained units” that could be managed, maintained, and scaled independently.

But there’s always a trade-off and this is where we come to a head.

Vertical Scaling or Horizontal? Both, Please.

While it’s true that SOA solved scale and distribution it quickly became apparent that you had to eventually choose to go high or wide, vertically-scale your architecture or go horizontal.

Whereas the former gets its bump in throughput / capacity via hardware upgrades the latter requires the same bump through copying itself effectively everywhere. Both are costly and you hit (physical) limitations (and costly under-utilization) at some point.

Not to fear! Amazon (and Docker and Google Kubernetes) is here! Now, with a little bit of automation, the developer doesn’t have to write custom code to orchestrate resources β€” instead, they can sit back, relax, and rely on the tools to do the work for them.

The rise of cloud services birthed bottom-line, customer-facing innovations in UI/UX and platform tooling that β€” at the fraction of the cost β€” replicated enterprise-grade solutions and put them into the hands of your average, everyday internet user.

That’s so fucking cool! The technical founder and technical solopreneur can work magic with their apps without having to deal with complexity that’s outside their domain expertise or experience.

But wait… what about the community leader / full stack founder? They’re still needing a solution for their own platform needs!

And if there’s a clear relationship between cloud and community, then a solution must be right around the corner.

It’s Not Perfect… By a Long Shot.

The rise of social networking is familiar to everyone reading this issue β€” I don’t have to talk much about how networks like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YoTube, and TikTok have changed the way that we live, work, recreate, and relate to one another.

I, for one, am happy for it because I am, simply put, a better version of myself when I’m living in my digital communities, the places where I have a real, authentic, and true sense of belonging.

And, as you know, these places are rare and the biggest “communities” are also the least-friendly, least-moderated, and generally the least-healthy places for us to be. “Toxic” might be another word that springs to mind.

It all became a mess and our world has reacted violently to the state of social and online communities in their largest form. A natural retraction has occurred after the explosion of social which followed the now well-worn path staged nicely by SOA and microservices architecture.

Both the developer and full stack founder need solutions where they don’t have to “guess” if their data is good or bad, just like a community leader trying to “lead” via any monetized, reverse-chronological feed: It’s an availability and communication crapshoot.

And we would know.

When I first started this project called YEN (more than 3 years ago!) I was building software and community for the decentralized & cryptocurrency space. Decentralization, for us, was not just a technology or financial speculation or lambos and doges; it was a way of life.

Living (and building) in the future will do something to your head if you stay there long enough and I realized that the solution to community and communication wasn’t more decentralized architecture β€” it was less.

The result of this confusion was chaos and most of the decentralized projects died before they even stood a chance, just like developers who are wasting time every single day reinventing boilerplate code for reliability β€” a reinvention of an already reinvention of a reinvention. A colossal time suck and drain on the organizational (community) system as a whole.

What the modern, full stack founder and community leader needed back then is what they still need today (as well as developers): They need reliability and scalability without sacrificing performance and speed.

Now, if that sounds like a pipe-dream I’m here to tell you it’s not as every technical challenge can be solved with the right tools and know-how.

For instance, there are a growing number of SOA / stateful orchestration runtimes that are being developed by big names like Temporal who recently raised a monster round of venture financing for developers.

And on the community platform side? While there are many community-building tools and community-building playbooks I have yet to encounter tooling that fundamentally-tackles these community data issues from the distinct needs of a full stack founder.

Or perhaps for not much longer.

These new orchestration systems (like Temporal) understand the current state of decentralized architectures by combining a stateful backend (with your db of choice) and a client-side framework which communicates auto-magically in real-time. The very nature of a cloud-based distribution make these platforms infinitely scalable, at least from a horizontal perspective.

And these same systems (of thinking) can be applied to community platforms, writ-large.

What does all that mean for the modern developer / full stack founder? It means that they can now (soon) boot complex products / communities that are ready-made for speed, consistency, reliability, and scale without having to manually “orchestrate” or duct tape independent services together.

Here’s an example via Monica Lent‘s paid community, which today requires quite a bit of technical, “manually-orchestrated” work:

The discussions are powered by Circle and a custom theme I hacked together through highly specific CSS selectors and vanilla JavaScript. It integrates with the Gatsby website through a custom OAuth provider, which uses Firebase for authentication. It’s all serverless and cloud native and such. I built Events, a member RSS feed, signup, payment, the landing page, onboarding, profiles, welcome email sequence, and a lean batch of starter content. I designed everything myself in Figma.

This is not the modern community builder’s pipe-dream! In fact, it’s a nightmare and a relative impossibility if you’re not a software programmer.

Consequently, the full stack founder’s very existence is a direct and obvious response to the growth of public (and private) cloud computing β€” capable entrepreneurs are now leveraging powerful tooling that are 10X, 100X, 1,000X better than what previously available just a few years ago.

The last and final piece, though, was an end-to-end community-stack β€” that’s what YEN seeks to solve.

You see what Docker, Kubernetes, and “serverless” did for infrastructure, YEN β€” I hope (and with help via the yeniverse!) β€” will do for community, making it as easy to launch, grow, and profit from a community with just an email address.

I could bore you for hours talking about these things but synthesized this is what I see: A community on every website.

I’m excited about the ascent of the Full Stack Founder which, unsurprisingly, is what most community leaders are (already). Who would have thought?

This is why it’s my belief that the modern, community-centric organization should compensate their community roles via the highest salary bands presently available β€” just as much (if not more) than software engineers.

Eventually.


One Quick Newsletter Optimization Tip!

Most folks never optimize their newsletter “THANK YOU” page! This is sad because it’s a lost opportunity to not only drive deeper readership loyalty and engagement, but it also is an opportunity for you to grow.

For instance, this is the “default” response via Substack:

Pretty boring, right? Instead, spice it up a bit!

You can make this a place that reflects not only your values and culture (and your “why“!) but also point them in the direction of other resources, some of your best articles, as well as an opportunity for them to share your newsletter at a very “peak” emotional moment:

Here’s my slightly-updated version of a “Thank You” page for subscribers to YEN.FM. I’ve intentionally decided not to overwhelm the reader with links to “top articles” and instead give them two important links to follow:

  1. A link to our “culture docs” as a community β€” because that’s important that you know who we are, what we do, and how we behave!
  2. A chance to share the newsletter publicly, thus helping me grow the readership and subscriber base.

There are a billion other ways to optimize this page and most email newsletter systems have the option to customize; my suggestion is to time-box it for 15 minutes and then “save” what you’ve got and move on…

… you can always come back next week and optimize it again.

πŸ€“

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