The growing number of unicorns and futurecorns is great news for the UK economy. But, despite their magical names, these are real-life tech companies facing real-world challenges. We’ve helped several current and former unicorns overcome issues that might otherwise have hindered performance. Read on to find out how DevOps-enabled cloud modernisation can rectify common problems for fast-growth companies like these.
What’s the UK’s unicorn situation?
According to a Beauhurst report, 11 UK companies became unicorns in the first half of 2021, more than in any other six-month period to date. The number of futurecorns – private tech companies deemed capable of achieving the $1bn+ valuation milestone – has also increased significantly. Startups Magazine reports that 132 UK companies are currently on track to reach unicorn status.
Growth in the tech sector over the past decade has played a large part in this. In fact, digital secretary Oliver Dowden says the UK has turned from “a nation of start-ups into one of scale-ups”. While this is certainly cause for celebration, rapid growth is never easy and it’s inherently risky. Scaling tech businesses need to align, optimise and invest in systems to ensure their rapid growth is sustainable.
Growing pains for tech companies
So, let’s talk about technical debt. We’re firm advocates of the quadrant devised by Martin Fowler showing that technical debit is not always bad. When a company is growing at pace, incurring ‘deliberate and prudent’ technical debt can be a good move. The secret for unicorns, futurecorns or indeed any scale-up is to deal with technical debt – good or bad – in the right way at the right time.
For scale-ups that weren’t built in the cloud, legacy physical compute increasingly looks like a form of technical debt. The adaptiveness and agility of cloud computing are so important to a scaling business that all-in adoption has become fundamental to success. Largescale cloud migration is usually the answer, but it needs to be handled in the right way to minimise risk and maximise benefits.
Even companies that are already well-established in the cloud can encounter complex migration scenarios. A third of unicorns make at least one acquisition on their journey to billion-dollar valuation. If the acquired business is not cloud-based, or uses a different cloud vendor, a lack of unity between systems can be a limiting factor, and it’s not easy to put right.
The bottom line is that cloud modernisation and expert cloud engineering empower scaling tech companies to go further, faster.
Getting more from the cloud
As mentioned above, cloud environments help scaling tech companies remain agile and competitive. But simply being in the cloud doesn’t automatically leverage the potential benefits. This is where DevOps can make a positive difference. My colleague Ed Pearson has written before about why cloud and DevOps are better together, and this is especially true for unicorns, futurecorns and scale-ups. Here’s why:
Leverage cloud capabilities
When there’s a complex, largescale migration on the cards, a DevOps-enabled approach makes the process faster, less risky and more effective. Similarly, once you’re in the cloud, DevOps engineering ensures all those benefits – from cost optimisation to scalability to agility – are properly exploited. Advanced technical methods like automation and everything-as-code play a key role here.
A ‘migrate and modernise’ approach using technologies such as containers offers a quick route to the cloud that enhances resilience and stability both during and after migration. It also enables the implementation of techniques like on-demand scalability without the need for a full rebuild. You can read about how we used this approach with former unicorn Skyscanner here.
It’s important to recognise that cloud modernisation isn’t a once and done task. Successful companies treat it as an ongoing journey, where the management of costs, security, resilience and performance continually improve over time.
Check out our free whitepaper Move to the cloud and modernise workloads.
Embed operational maturity
Fast-growth tech companies place great emphasis on innovation, developing new products and features at pace to delight their target audiences. Inevitably, however, there comes a time when the stability and security of systems requires increased attention.
This is where operational maturity comes to the fore: it’s the cornerstone of sustainable growth. But where do you start, and how do you strike an effective balance between the immediate need for innovation and the more general need for operability improvement?
In our work with unicorns and other fast-growth tech companies we identify infrastructure and operations challenges, then work strategically and systematically to address them. For instance, the automation of infrastructure engineering can be an effective way to raise the bar on reliability, efficiency and security. Continuous delivery pipelines also make it possible to accelerate software delivery without compromising quality. This is the Holy Grail for many scale-ups, and DevOps-enabled cloud adoption puts it within reach.
The operability / innovation equation
Effective engineering maximises the benefits of cloud computing and enhances operational maturity. In turn, this releases more resource for the development of new products and features as well as streamlining processes and procedures. So, any investment in DevOps-enabled cloud adoption is also an investment in innovation potential. Ultimately, it allows scaling companies to innovate faster and out-perform the competition while improving security, stability and resilience. It works for unicorns, and it can work for your business too.