How to pull off the full rebuild of a remote collaboration platform at the peak of work-from-home

When a new SaaS, software app, or platform is being created and readied for the market, every company that we are familiar with has at some point been forced to choose between a short-term win and a long-term solution. In those moments of discussion, when it feels like the future is on the line, a short-term win can be a compelling option to bring in revenue, capture market share, or meet a deadline. Such tradeoff decisions reflect a conscious effort to use a shortcut to solve a technical problem or hurdle, choosing to forgo a long-term sustainable architecture or design for expediency, and create what is commonly called technical debt. As the architect, decision maker, or product owner, you know that you’re going to have to come back and replace the shortcut with a long term solution, whether that is to drive scale, cost management, redundancy, resiliency, modularity, or automation.  

From 2015 to 2019, Evercast started, stopped, and started again before bringing version 1 and then version 2 of the service to market. Version 2 was a hit -- the first of its kind: a cloud-native collaboration tool for the creative community that didn’t require complex cloud compute and storage requirements for clients. Instead it brought high-quality, rapid review and approval of media and entertainment workflows such as streaming an editorial review session, where an editor and a director meet to review the progress and decide what to keep and move to the next step (this was previously conducted in person requiring physical travel). It enabled talent to collaborate with talent no matter where they were.

By the start of 2020, the adoption of SaaS tools like Evercast was slow, steady, and built by word of mouth. The reputation of the brand, one could argue, is the most important currency in tight-knit markets like creative communities. The often misunderstood notion about a SaaS like Evercast is that it replaces how clients work, and unlike a software service that enhances, the SaaS is the new workflow. A SaaS workflow requires a different level of training, documentation, always-on support, a specific sales approach, and listening to clients to adapt new virtual tools, like Evercast, to legacy processes.  

By April of 2020, with the nearly overnight lockdowns, creative professionals were some of the worst impacted positions. Across the globe, pipelines of content, shows unfinished mid-season, and movies in nearly every phase of production became focused on reaching completion. Evercast version 2 was already in the wild, being used by big name directors, editors, and tentpole productions. As word of mouth exploded, so did our adoption and growth.  

From a technology standpoint, this meant that we needed to increase our cloud footprint tenfold within a few days to keep up with the wonderful problem of instant demand. Security, resiliency, support, automation, rapid development and technical debt now had to compete for development resources that had been focused on new features. Brooks' law reminds us that adding new developers doesn’t bring instant resolution, but teams needed to grow. Security and privacy were still paramount, but automation and global scalability had to be prioritized to sustain the business strategies of a new UI, new features, and new workflows.

While we were growing, we were also designing and building version 3 of the front end and refactoring our backend for infinite scale. The intent had always been to address the technical debt in the architecture methodically and deliberately within the growth curve. However, tenfold growth is incongruous with such refactoring, so we made the tough decision to stay on version 2 a little longer than anticipated, in favor of going back and rebuilding the new Evercast from the ground up. In the long run, this full service build means our platform is more stable, highly scalable, highly available, multi-region, and nearly tech debt-free.  

We can say unequivocally that at Evercast, we are very excited about bringing the new Evercast to market, as a new WebApp experience bundled with a new backend, new features like SSO and IT Integration (collectively called the Admin Portal), and new native clients for iOS and AppleTV.  

The lessons to be offered are: It is both a blessing and a curse when you aren’t ready for a tenfold surge overnight. There will be missteps, forgotten debt, uncontrolled costs, and if you’re lucky (mentally prepared) there is no reason to be afraid to pivot -- but don’t layer a shortcut on a shortcut. Play it smart, look for talent and team, and go to battle.

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