Picking Platform Stacks

Chase Raz

Chase Raz

Picking Platform Stacks

Constructing a building.

Generating a lot of ideas is easy for some of us. Sure, you hear the technically proficient repeatedly decry, “If only I could come up with an idea!” But, for those of us who are creatives… oh how we wish we could get anything done!

Creativity and idea generation (ideation) seem to be a blessing and a curse in some ways. The relationship between generation and fulfillment seems to be quite proportional and inverse. Maybe that’s because those who do simply don’t have the time to get bogged down with the 8,000 ways to accomplish a task… they pick one and go for it.

Meanwhile, those of us who think incessantly don’t seem to be able to bring an idea to fruition. We’re too busy considering what the impact would be if we had been born in another country and therefore subject to a different tax rate. Or some other such trivial bullshit.

For me, all of this comes to a head when I launch a digital property.

To Pay or Not to Pay

This seems to be the true question for me most of the time. If I had unlimited funds, or even the perception thereof, I’d likely be more than happy to spin up an idea, pick the most raved about platform, and say, “Fine, you manage everything outside of my core focus.” This is actually what a number of highly esteemed technology professionals have kindly suggested that I do, with the kindly part being sometimes open to interpretation.

But money isn’t unlimited, cost creep and artificial scarcity are real things to contend with on top of limited resources, and there were too many small business owners in my family for my upbringing to have been anything but extremely scrutinous of any type of cost.

My Three Real Decisions

When it comes to running an online property, I boil my choices down to three real choices that are supported by a number of support technologies. For designing sites without having to do it by hand, I use visual design tools like Webflow and SiteJet that generate HTML and CSS code (and some JavaScript) on my behalf. Plus, good old WordPress can do the trick sometimes, as can the occasional hand coding.

Each of these tools also offers hosting services for a fee, but I independently maintain a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or two on Amazon Lightsail. I have a Plesk Hosting Platform and a more basic LAMP stack configured by Bitnami. So, my three primary courses of action for launching a new venture become:

  • Design And Host – Use some service such as Webflow, SiteJet, WordPress, or even Wix or SquareSpace to whip up a quick design with included hosting all in one monthly price. The, additional functionality will come from third party tools. There may be some limitations on what can be used, but most of the big tools all play together despite bringing the risk of severe cost creep.
  • Design Then Host – Use Webflow, SiteJet, or my coding skills to build a template or basic design and then export it in order to host on my own servers or with third party. This is great for mixing and matching services, but it adds another player into the mix and increases complexity. This is especially true when designs have to be converted into templates rather than merely being able to inject functionality into the exported files as-is. In other words, sometimes a design must go into WordPress or Shopify rather than just slapping some PHP or other dynamic code in a placeholder DIV. There are always at least two costs (one design, one hosting, often more for third-party tie-ins), but this means it’s easier to control the overall price by manipulating each price component individually.
  • Turnkey – Bear with me, this is going to feel a lot like Design And Host, but this is when I outsource the entire thing onto one third-party platform. WordPress, Shopify, SquareSpace, etc. I use their tool, maybe pull pre-configured add-ins, but I’m limited to what their developers have built into the platform. You’d think this would always be the cheapest based on such a limited feature set, but this can be quite pricey due to pricing based on artificial scarcity. Afterall, one business-level domain at WordPress.com starts at $25 per month. That’s quite a bit more than even Design Then Host paying for both Webflow and a VPS, but it carries the most convenience of never having to think about the platform stack again once selected.

How to Manage

Well, I can’t really tell you how to manage these options, just that they exist. I continually find myself gravitating back towards Design Then Host, but that also slows my development down. Consider the idea of launching an MVP just to test an idea and you’ll realize that Design Then Host is way too front heavy in terms of effort.

Turnkey is generally the best for one-off MVPs, but the “What if’s” start to get to me. What if this scales, how hard will migrating be? What if this doesn’t scale, how will I have justified the higher budgetary requirement from artificially scarce pricing? What if…

The good news is that I find the Design And Host tools really are getting better at being a hybrid of the classic Design Then Host model for developers and the Turnkey solution for consumers. Webflow has blogging and ecommerce tools now, but the cost is literally the same as using Webflow for design and then an expensive specialized solution for hosting like Shopify for e-commerce. No price advantage whatsoever, actually.

SiteJet also has neat features, like the ability to automatically generate a design based upon a template and project specifications, but they’re not quite as advanced on the blogging or e-commerce ability, as even they generally rely on third party offerings that are quite limited.


So, what do you do? I suppose the best course of action is whatever makes sense on a case-by-case basis, but it doesn’t help that I’m 60% thinker and 40% doer, so I get entirely caught up in analyzing the situation if I’m responsible for both tasks. That’s why the President of the United States doesn’t have to single-handedly go perform each approved military action him or herself. But, as small business owners or entrepreneurs, we don’t get that advantage, do we?

An Inconvenient Post Script

The more I’ve thought about this idea while composing this post, the more I’ve been exposed to. Everything from free site builders to simple no-frills web hosting for hand coders. Systems to accomplish anything you’d like, from white label site builders to static contact card style splash sites.

Sounds like I need to formalize what I’ve learned and turn it into yet another course for A.B. Gamma, which I’m intent on growing this year.