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Full stack is more then a checkbox for your startup

The words full stack will quickly be overburdened, but for now they represents an ideal. The basic premise laid out by Chris Dixon.

The new approach is to build a complete, end-to-end product or service that bypasses existing companies.

Awesome, we now have this new word, and it’s a word that is getting used a lot from fund-raising, to job listings, to internal memos. Like any new label how the hell do you know if a company is actually full stack? I think we can get more concrete then Dixon’s definition.

The definition of a full stack startup is going to change from industry to industry, so I am going to use the lens of content production to dig in to this, but I think there are some common truths that apply to all full stack startups.

One way to know is to consider the relationship between Tech and Strategy. Tech meaning the whole technical operations of a company. From senior tech leaders to the actual engineering. Strategy meaning the plan, the way forward, the core playbook the company is executing.

Let’s say you wanted to build a startup around content. Your Strategy is building an audience and selling ads. To build an audience you need to create content. You have a number of choices when starting but one of the biggest is your content management system or CMS. This will be the backbone of your operation. Your CMS will literally shape your content.

How do you choose the CMS? Given that the CMS is core to your Strategy you really need to get his right. And here is one way you can tell if a company is full stack or not, and its not by the choice they make, it’s how they make it that counts. Was Tech represented when the decision got made. If Tech was apart of the big Strategy decision then you have a full stack startup on your hands.

In the content spacne you can see this manifest in a number sites. Look at something like Grantland or FiveThirtyEight versus Vox.

Both Grantland and FiveThirtyEight use Wordpress VIP. Which, while technically sound, is effectivley outsourcing your tech. Where as here is Vox Media’s CEO Jim Bankoff describing how the product gets built:

On any given day, you’ll see our technologists, our designers working really closely with our storytellers, our journalists, to help them figure out how to express their ideas in the most compelling way.

If on the daily you’re mixing disciplines to run the site you’re pretty full stack.

As with all new words there are many shades of gray, but if you are trying to understand full stack startups I don’t think you can go wrong by figuring out if all the part of the company executing the Strategy are apart of planning the Strategy.