On the Internet, popularity is swift and fleeting. A mention of your website on a popular
blog can bring 300,000 potential customers your way at once, all expecting to find out
who you are and what you have to offer. But if you’re a small company just starting
out, your hardware and software aren’t likely to be able to handle that kind of traffic.
Chances are, you’ve sensibly built your site to handle the 30,000 visits per hour you’re
actually expecting in your first 6 months. Under heavy load, such a system would be
incapable of showing even your company logo to the 270,000 others that showed up
to look around. And those potential customers are not likely to come back after the
traffic has subsided.
The answer is not to spend time and money building a system to serve millions of visitors
on the first day, when those same systems are only expected to serve mere thousands
per day for the subsequent months. If you delay your launch to build big, you miss the
opportunity to improve your product by using feedback from your customers. Building
big before allowing customers to use the product risks building something your customers
Small companies usually don’t have access to large systems of servers on day one. The
best they can do is to build small and hope meltdowns don’t damage their reputation
as they try to grow. The lucky ones find their audience, get another round of funding,
and halt feature development to rebuild their product for larger capacity. The unlucky
ones, well, don’t.
But these days, there are other options. Large Internet companies such as Amazon.com,
Google, and Microsoft are leasing parts of their high-capacity systems by using a payper-
use model. Your website is served from those large systems, which are plenty capable
of handling sudden surges in traffic and ongoing success. And since you pay only
for what you use, there is no up-front investment that goes to waste when traffic is low.
As your customer base grows, the costs grow proportionally.