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[SOFTWARE DEV] Please recommend how I should manage multi-customer custom-made websites.

iamonlyanegg

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Hi all,

I'm bootstrapping a software startup product idea and I'd like to set up a side business to generate revenue while my start up takes off.

I'm starting to get consulting work for customers that need medium-complexity, custom-made websites. The idea would be to host a range of projects, some more complex than others, where I can have fully independent and separate accounts for different customers.

This would allow me to:
1) Delegate an entire client's project to a contractor/employee without incurring any security risks for the other accounts.
2) Separate billing and resource use on a per-client basis.
3) Have the client's engineering team manage it if they wished.

Question: What is the recommended way to provision and manage separate cloud environments for separate clients that need custom-made websites?

I'm thinking of setting it up with AWS which I'm familiar with, but I'd love to hear from other more experienced entrepreneurs.

Thanks a lot for your feedback,
 

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Jon L

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When you're first starting out, its much better to outsource this stuff. I'd recommend looking at WP Engine. They have a white-label program where their system can be made to look like yours. There are others that are similar. I run my website on their site, though, and have clients I've referred to them. I'm quite happy with their performance.

Developing that kind of functionality from scratch, setting up and performing procedures to keep things patched, etc, would be extraordinarily expensive.

Get your actual business up and running first, and then, when you have a very large quantity of paying clients, pay to set up your own system. You will have enough to worry about finding clients, managing them, setting up the sites, etc. You don't want to have to worry about infrastructure stuff.

How do I know? I run a custom dev shop. If you came to me asking me to develop a system for you that would do this, I'd tell you 'no,' unless you had several hundred thousand dollars you wanted to throw at me, and you told me that you didn't care about the money.

You will find people that say, 'sure...do it yourself. its simple. Here's a list of things to do to get yourself up and running.' Don't listen to them. Their list will work just fine, until it doesn't. What happens when: your servers crash, 30 of your clients' sites get infected with malware that you can't figure out how to get rid of, a system update causes things to slow down dramatically, one of your clients' sites goes viral and your servers can't manage the load ... etc etc etc.
 
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iamonlyanegg

iamonlyanegg

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Wise advice @Jon L, thanks a lot.

Your suggestion sounds ideal except for the tech stack. I plan on using the MERN stack to implement my clients' websites, instead of PHP/WP.

I was considering implementing an automated cloud-based provisioning system (using Terraform/Kubernetes/Docker) to serve multiple, independent client accounts. Granted, this is a huge technical undertaking so I totally get the point.

Any idea how to do what WP Engine does with a different, more flexible tech stack?

When you're first starting out, its much better to outsource this stuff. I'd recommend looking at WP Engine. They have a white-label program where their system can be made to look like yours. There are others that are similar. I run my website on their site, though, and have clients I've referred to them. I'm quite happy with their performance.

Developing that kind of functionality from scratch, setting up and performing procedures to keep things patched, etc, would be extraordinarily expensive.

Get your actual business up and running first, and then, when you have a very large quantity of paying clients, pay to set up your own system. You will have enough to worry about finding clients, managing them, setting up the sites, etc. You don't want to have to worry about infrastructure stuff.

How do I know? I run a custom dev shop. If you came to me asking me to develop a system for you that would do this, I'd tell you 'no,' unless you had several hundred thousand dollars you wanted to throw at me, and you told me that you didn't care about the money.

You will find people that say, 'sure...do it yourself. its simple. Here's a list of things to do to get yourself up and running.' Don't listen to them. Their list will work just fine, until it doesn't. What happens when: your servers crash, 30 of your clients' sites get infected with malware that you can't figure out how to get rid of, a system update causes things to slow down dramatically, one of your clients' sites goes viral and your servers can't manage the load ... etc etc etc.
 

pawon

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Dec 4, 2018
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Can't you just use WHM / CPANEL for this? You can give each client it's own cpanel account and be done with it.

You can install this on a VPS, or you could even use "reseller hosting" .. which will typically be 'shared hosting' so you are not that flexible with access and programs you can run, but you don't have to worry about server maintenance, updates, etc.
 
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Jon L

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Wise advice @Jon L, thanks a lot.

Your suggestion sounds ideal except for the tech stack. I plan on using the MERN stack to implement my clients' websites, instead of PHP/WP.

I was considering implementing an automated cloud-based provisioning system (using Terraform/Kubernetes/Docker) to serve multiple, independent client accounts. Granted, this is a huge technical undertaking so I totally get the point.

Any idea how to do what WP Engine does with a different, more flexible tech stack?
It is so tempting to build out the technical side first. I get it. But you're not in the business of building out a technical platform. You're in the business of selling and building websites. The less technical work and the more sales / customer interaction work you do, the more money you'll make.

You'll need to change your mindset from technical to business focused. Or, you can spend the next year fiddling with tech, maybe getting one or two (or ten) clients that pay a total of $1000 a month. (if it sounds like I speak from experience, there's a reason for that ...)

Try finding a company that does what WP Engine does for the platform you want to use, and take advantage of the thousands of hours they've already spent building stuff. But, don't spend too much time on this. WordPress works pretty well for quite a few complex sites.

One thing you may want to consider is partnering with existing marketing companies. I know a guy, for example, that only has 4 full time employees. All the rest of his work is done through contractors. I'm not sure how many he has, but its quite a few. He keeps them all very busy. You wouldn't have to worry about direct selling as much if you did it this way.
 
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iamonlyanegg

iamonlyanegg

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I totally agree. Believe me, I am constantly struggling against the temptation of "overbuilding". It's just that the tech stack needs to be different (no doubt WP can do a lot; it's just not the tech I need ATM).

I'll look into a similar solution to WP Engine with the tech stack I'm looking for.

Thanks for sharing your wisdom, I really appreciate it.

It is so tempting to build out the technical side first. I get it. But you're not in the business of building out a technical platform. You're in the business of selling and building websites. The less technical work and the more sales / customer interaction work you do, the more money you'll make.

You'll need to change your mindset from technical to business focused. Or, you can spend the next year fiddling with tech, maybe getting one or two (or ten) clients that pay a total of $1000 a month. (if it sounds like I speak from experience, there's a reason for that ...)

Try finding a company that does what WP Engine does for the platform you want to use, and take advantage of the thousands of hours they've already spent building stuff. But, don't spend too much time on this. WordPress works pretty well for quite a few complex sites.

One thing you may want to consider is partnering with existing marketing companies. I know a guy, for example, that only has 4 full time employees. All the rest of his work is done through contractors. I'm not sure how many he has, but its quite a few. He keeps them all very busy. You wouldn't have to worry about direct selling as much if you did it this way.
 

rhyeal

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If you are wanting truly multi-customer cloud accounts, look at the following:
- AWS Organizations
- AWS Control Tower
- AWS Cloudformation Stacksets

You'll end up with a default deployment that costs between $0 and $300 per month per account, depending on how you set up the AWS Config rules and security monitoring. Once you get a default Cloudformation Stackset, you can spin up a new account and give customers access.

You'll assume role into these accounts using AWS Extend Switch Roles (Chrome addon) and AWS-MFA command line tools.

Then you'll do the old S3+Cloudfront CDN for hosting. Plug in CircleCI for deployments (including invalidating CDNs on deploy), and you've got a fully custom cloud solution.

Now, is that cheaper than WP Engine? Nope.
More customizable? Yes.
Requires DevOps skills that customers will need to pay for? Likely.

But, as Jon said, you've got to decide if you're in the business of making websites or selling customer-specific technology solutions.
 
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iamonlyanegg

iamonlyanegg

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@rhyeal This is EXACTLY the kind of information I was looking for, thanks so much for this.

I totally get the trade-off, it's probably not worth it unless you can justify the higher operational complexity with a larger scale (i.e. a larger customer base).

I think I'll go for a simpler, ad-hoc solution and only consider the more flexible approach if my customer base gets big enough to justify it.

You guys rock, thanks again,

If you are wanting truly multi-customer cloud accounts, look at the following:
- AWS Organizations
- AWS Control Tower
- AWS Cloudformation Stacksets

You'll end up with a default deployment that costs between $0 and $300 per month per account, depending on how you set up the AWS Config rules and security monitoring. Once you get a default Cloudformation Stackset, you can spin up a new account and give customers access.

You'll assume role into these accounts using AWS Extend Switch Roles (Chrome addon) and AWS-MFA command line tools.

Then you'll do the old S3+Cloudfront CDN for hosting. Plug in CircleCI for deployments (including invalidating CDNs on deploy), and you've got a fully custom cloud solution.

Now, is that cheaper than WP Engine? Nope.
More customizable? Yes.
Requires DevOps skills that customers will need to pay for? Likely.

But, as Jon said, you've got to decide if you're in the business of making websites or selling customer-specific technology solutions.
 

George Appiah

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I'm bootstrapping a software startup product idea and I'd like to set up a side business to generate revenue while my start up takes off.
Your suggestion sounds ideal except for the tech stack. I plan on using the MERN stack to implement my clients' websites, instead of PHP/WP.

I was considering implementing an automated cloud-based provisioning system (using Terraform/Kubernetes/Docker) to serve multiple, independent client accounts. Granted, this is a huge technical undertaking so I totally get the point.
IF YOU'RE NOT in this "side business" for the long haul, for Pete's sake please consider your side business client's investment... and use a tech stack that's easily transferrable... so these clients don't have to lose their investment and start over (or incur huge porting costs ) when the time comes to say goodbye and focus on your main business.

Of course, that depends on whether these sites are mainly content and commerce play, or full-blown web apps in their own rights.

And IF YOU ARE in this "side business" for the long haul, be careful to NOT make this side business and potentially avoidable complexity consume all your time and derail you from your professed main business of bootstrapping a SaaS startup.

Good luck!
 
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