The Tech Founder's Trek: from Idea to Execution

Our technical founder Jonathan describes his journey building The Pack from the ground up, shares lessons learnt and the bright future ahead!

The Tech Founder's Trek: from Idea to Execution
Have you ever wondered what it's like to build a SaaS product from the ground up? Imagine diving into an endeavor filled with unknowns and challenges. That's exactly where my journey began in 2020, amidst the Covid crisis, with my first venture, Hitch and Hike - an automation tool for SaaS integrations. It was a period that truly opened my eyes, laying bare my strengths and, more importantly, those areas where I found myself swimming against the tide, alone, particularly in aspects outside the technical realm. Cold outreach, networking, and sales conversations, to name a few.

This rollercoaster ride I experienced building Hitch and Hike set the stage for my next venture. Starting The Pack with my co-founders Hans and Elias has really changed my experience as a tech founder. Working together has turned the tough parts of software development into a journey filled with shared knowledge and new ideas. Their abilities perfectly complement mine, helping us guide The Pack through an ever-changing startup environment. This team effort has taken away the loneliness I felt before and brought in valuable skills in areas I was less familiar with. Together, we're using what we learned before and combining our different skills. We're moving ahead with the same goal and a stronger, united approach.

The Birth of The Pack

So, where do you begin when you're about to write the first lines of code for a SaaS platform that you envision, or at least hope, will scale to something substantial? Reflecting on my experience with my previous venture, I realized the critical role of a robust structure in product design. I often found myself grappling with initial design decisions, investing too much time deliberating, only to end up with less-than-ideal choices. This is where the expertise of Lotte, our first product designer, came into play. She brilliantly captured our initial vision, sketching out the product and creating foundational components that initially kept me from losing track in the design maze.

Technical Decisions: Choosing the Right Tools

One key insight from my experience with Hitch and Hike was my growing dissatisfaction with Ant Design, leading me to opt for Chakra UI for The Pack. My goal was to build on a pre-existing structure of components, rather than diving into a CSS classes style like Tailwind. With Tailwind, one must first master its class names to achieve efficiency in development. Keep in mind, all of this was before the advent of ChatGPT and Github Copilot. It feels like a different era, but it truly marked a significant shift in development approaches.

Another vital lesson learned was the importance of adopting a monorepo approach. In Hitch and Hike, the absence of this led to redundant types and a disjointed system. The NX monorepo methodology has been transformative, in my opinion. It excels not only in code sharing and organization but also in streamlining CI/CD setups. I'm thoroughly impressed. Transitioning from the monolithic architectures I observed in some large companies to microservice strategies in others, I find that NX offers an ideal mix of these approaches, blending their strengths seamlessly.

Innovations and Challenges

With The Pack, our aim isn't to reinvent the wheel. We are crafting a software platform tailored for a (sizeable!) niche industry. Our primary focus is on merging the most effective technologies to swiftly enter the market. Technically, our strategy hinges on maximizing the use of existing technologies wherever possible.

To illustrate, let me share a couple of examples:

  • Firstly, in our ongoing quest for efficiency, we adopted an innovative method where TypeScript types are transformed into a JSON schema (swagger file), which assists in validating backend requests. However, we’re constantly exploring better options, and recently, tRPC has emerged as a promising alternative.
  • For payments, my background in the banking sector, with experience on three different banking platforms, has taught me the complexities involved in creating a payment system. Early integration of Stripe Connect was a strategic move, enabling immediate payment capabilities for our clients and simplifying banking solutions through a white-labeled solution.
  • Lastly, regarding expense OCR, we didn't find a suitable white-labeled solution in the market. However, for our clients who upload multiple expenses simultaneously, manual processing isn't feasible. Just then, Google Cloud introduced their Document AI solution, offering us a quick and cost-effective way to implement OCR for our clients. Now, with the advent of ChatGPT, we're exploring new avenues in this area and actively iterating on our current solutions.

Balancing Client Needs with Technical Evolution

Finding the perfect balance between meeting our clients' immediate needs and adding new features has been both exciting and challenging. Our product development has been a journey of learning and adapting. We've successfully built a solid backend and a data model that fits our needs. Our initial focus on quickly entering the market meant that product design was less prioritized, a strategic choice during the early validation phase. Embracing full bootstrap mode was crucial in this, tough but necessary to develop a feature set that aligns perfectly with our sector's demands.

Now, with a growing base of heavy users, the role of product design is becoming increasingly vital for our future updates. We're entering a new phase where enhancing user experience and design will be key in our product strategy. Hence, the hire of our new product designer, Ivo. In just one week, he has already made significant contributions, bringing fresh perspectives and innovative ideas that are starting to shape our design approach.

Here's how we're juggling various priorities:

  • Enhancing User Experience: Making the product more intuitive, especially for our larger clients with big artist teams.
  • Technical Updates: Keeping our development agile by updating NX, Next.js and others to their latest versions.
  • Agency-Focused Features: Developing advanced budgeting features for agencies managing multiple artist teams.
  • Building the Marketplace: Initiating the development of the marketplace, a pivotal element of our broader vision
  • Incorporating Smart Capabilities: On top of all this, we managed to secure a significant government grant to integrate AI into our product. This allows our platform to support tour managers to make intelligent decisions. Toon, our talented ML engineer, is leading this initiative, with support from ML2Grow.

Handling all these aspects is like juggling several balls at once. It's about keeping focus and moving forward, step by step, similar to my experience running long distances in the mountains. The key is to concentrate on the immediate step and not get overwhelmed by everything else. Persistence and focus are my mantras.

Looking Ahead

Now is the time for growth!

Peering into the future, we are on the lookout for talented full-stack and front-end developers to join us in this exciting journey. If you're passionate about shaping the future of SaaS and eager to tackle new challenges, we'd love to hear from you. Keep an eye on our job page if this is you.

The upcoming phase for The Pack is not just promising; it's pivotal. It signifies the beginning of a new chapter in our journey, one that aims to further streamline the global live music industry. We're on the cusp of significant transformation, and your contribution could be a vital part of this exciting evolution.