Is Elixir the Right Choice for Hypergrowth Startups

We always love to see and share stories that so perfectly capture the benefits of using Elixir. Today, we’ll be taking a look at an example that captures why Elixir

5 min read

We always love to see and share stories that so perfectly capture the benefits of using Elixir. Today, we’ll be taking a look at an example that captures why Elixir is the perfect technology for startups that are anticipating fast growth, including how choosing Elixir allows your development team to focus on improving the product.

I think Elixir is the best way to build for the web today. Everything is top-notch. Documentation is best in class. Focus on dev-ex is great, even though Elixir is still a niche community, we’ve yet to discover any missing tool.

Danni Friedland Co-Founder and CTO Walnut

The company

Walnut is a hypergrowth startup designed to provide companies with an easy-to-use platform that delivers perfect demos to prospective customers. In less than two years, Walnut has grown to 60 employees, raising $54 million in total. Their technical team has grown from 3 developers to 20 in that time and all product research and development has been fully distributed from the company’s inception.

The opportunity

As a new product, the Walnut team had the opportunity to pick a technology stack that perfectly suited their needs. Other technologies considered included Go, Ruby on Rails, Rust and NodeJS. The decision to choose Elixir was a relatively easy one, with the following assessment against their core needs: 

  • Easy to start – Elixir developers can be productive using Phoenix in next to no time. There is no need to understand Erlang / OTP to get started and create great APIs and websites. 
  • Scales well – The BEAM VM’s fault tolerance is famed for its scalability. For an ambitious and fast-growing startup, this provides confidence that the tech stack will not require huge changes as the business grows at a rapid rate. 
  • Reliable, stable environments – OTP provides a huge advantage when creating incredibly stable demo environments for Walnut’s customers. Their system was reliable, stable and fast from the get-go, delivering a high-quality customer experience. 
  • Ability to handle usage spikes – The Walnut demo environments are sometimes hosted on the clients marketing websites. This can result in huge traffic bursts. Whilst they have now created a solution for this using CDNs, they were able to run for a significant period of time simply because Elixir (OTP and the BEAM) were robust enough to handle unpredictable traffic spikes. 

The results

Since its launch, Walnut has grown its user base by 1000%, with over a thousand times more traffic just in recent months alone. Their system has been able to handle this huge growth with minimal changes to their infrastructure while still running on single-digit servers. 

Due to the reliability and stability of their Elixir backend, their team is able to spend more than 90% of their time focusing on frontend and product development because they have built a back-end system that ‘just works.’ 

Despite only being two years into the journey, the decision has already been vindicated from both an organizational (growing from 3 to 20 engineers without trouble) and a technical perspective (handling a 1000x increase in traffic). 

An added benefit to the choice of Elixir has been the ecosystem’s documentation. Not only has this helped them onboard new team members, but it has also led to a positive organizational culture when it comes to documentation. The example set by the tools and documentation has led them to build a culture where documentation is a core principle of their developer culture. You can imagine how advantageous this is to a fast-growing remote team. 

Summary

As we’ve seen in other industries such as banking, startups need to build products with the ability to scale elegantly in mind. Elixir’s documentation, the ecosystem of libraries and frameworks and use of OTP and the BEAM makes it perfect for any ambitious new company. It’s easy-to-start, easy to scale, and offers full-stack capabilities allowing for greater flexibility within your teams. If you’d like to learn more about Walnut, they’re hiring. If you want to talk about whether Elixir is right for you. We’re always happy to help. Start the conversation today here. 

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