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Mobile App Startups: Tech Stack

Thryv gets many questions about this, especially from startups who are still looking for technical co-founders. Where should you start? What technologies are easiest to recruit for, and what are their tradeoffs? Well, this article should give you a good starting point.

Server

Your server is where you store all the data that needs to be displayed. Almost every startup will need a server.

The in-vogue thing to do at this point, especially if you’ll be building both a website and an app, is to build a JSON API that sits on your server. JSON is a common format for communicating between different types of applications, and an API is a set of capabilities that an outside application can utilize.

With that in mind, the question is often this: what’s the best way to build a JSON API? There are several options.

Ruby on Rails

Ruby on Rails, or simply ‘Rails,’ is a very common and reliable technology. Rails has the advantage of being quick to setup. It’s generally pretty easy to add features to a Rails API, and there are tons of developers who know how to use Rails. The disadvantages generally come as you get larger; Rails does many things for you, so doing more specific things can start being more trouble than it’s worth. That said, the speed you gain at the beginning can often outweigh the costs down the line, and many prominent companies use Rails at scale.

Node.js

Node can be a very advantageous technology to use, especially when the developers who are helping you work primarily on the ‘frontend’ of your website/app. Node uses javascript, which is a vital frontend web technology, but it uses it on the ‘backend,’ meaning that developers who generally work on one can easily get up to speed on the other.

Python (Django or Flask)

Python is a beloved programming language in many circles. Building websites and APIs in Python is enjoyable for many developers because it is so easy to work with. It also has some advantages in raw speed without sacrificing much in the way of development velocity. However, it doesn’t have quite the same developer pool as javascript, and it can be a bit more work than Rails to get something up quickly.

Database

The most common database format at this point is probably PostgreSQL. Postgres, as it’s colloquially called, is robust and professional, and belongs to a family called ‘relational’ databases. It can be a little tricky to setup, but it’s the workhorse of many modern server applications.

For specific types of problems, a non-relational database may be preferable. In those cases, MongoDB is probably the most popular choice.

App

When building an app, there are tons of choices. In Thryv’s opinion, though, there are only three good ones.

Going Native

This means programming in Objective-C or Swift on iOS, or Java or Kotlin on Android. Going native gives you the highest potential for a quality app. iOS and Android phones are built and optimized to run native apps well, so they’re always a safe bet, especially when you’re targeting only one platform to start. However, it can be difficult for small teams to rapidly iterate on two separate platforms, in which case it may be wise to consider a cross platform approach.

React Native

React Native is the latest in mobile development from Facebook. It allows you to quickly build native looking apps on both iOS and Android at the same time. Moreover, since it’s in javascript, you have a large pool of developers who can work on your app. There are, however, downsides. React Native does not match native performance, and there are certainly things that are difficult to do with it. Additionally, since it’s a part of the javascript ecosystem, things move very quickly, which means they break often.

React Native, in our opinion, is a classic high risk/high reward technology.

Flutter

Flutter is a new cross platform framework from Google. There are some large technical differences between Flutter and React Native, but they break down to two things: speed and styling. Flutter apps, due to Flutter’s architecture, will run smoother and probably be easier to build than React Native. That said, Flutter limits you stylistically: if you like Google’s Material Design then it will be a fast, easy to use option for you, but if you want to deviate from Material Design, you may want to consider React Native instead.

Web

There are so many options for building a website today. Most startups generally need at least a landing page, but if that is, in fact, all they need, there are a myriad of solutions that they can use: WordPress, Wix, Instapage, Squarespace… and many, many others. If you need to build a dynamic website, there are a few technologies people generally use. All the technologies mentioned in the Server section apply here, but it can be difficult to make them work with an API as we described. As a result, we recommend React for your dynamic website needs. React is the foundation on which React Native is built, so if you’re building your app in React Native, you maybe able to share code between them. Otherwise, you may also consider a framework called Angular. Both allow you to build beautiful, modern websites with the highest level of flexibility.

Infrastructure

Where should you host your web properties? There are two places we generally use (and, in fact, one is built on top of the other).

Most startups eventually move to Amazon Web Services (or AWS for short), and any tech person you talk to will have heard of it. AWS offers a lot of flexibility, and is excellent at helping you keep costs down. Unfortunately, it can be hard to setup, and there are so many knobs and buttons to tinker with that it can be quite intimidating.

For this reason, we often recommend that startups start out using Heroku, a Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering built on top of AWS which takes care of most of the configuration for you. Your developers will be able to easily deploy your code with few tradeoffs when it comes to performance and cost.

Need help?

Do you need help deciding what kind of tech stack you should go with? Then contact us! We’ll be delighted to chat with you about what you need, and help you get it done.

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