By Craig Kitterman, Vice President, Product Management, DataStax\nThere are myriad reasons why an estimated 90% of startups fail. You need a great idea (and not just one great idea), you need inspiration, funding, smart people\u2014and a fair amount of luck. Miss any one of these factors, and failure might be a foregone conclusion.\nFor young companies or small teams that build applications, data can be another stumbling block. The databases they rely on have historically stymied innovation by being complex and costly to spin up, manage, and maintain. Proofs of concept\u2014ideas with the potential to turn into something big\u2014can die before even being tested due to a lack of funding or database capacity.\nBut recent advances in database technology have begun making a real difference to a startup\u2019s potential success. The complexities of setting up and maintaining a scale-out, distributed NoSQL database like Apache Cassandra\u2122 can be shouldered by database-as-a-service (DBaaS) providers. And the availability of pay-as-you-go, serverless database offerings have opened new doors to experimentation and testing of new product or service ideas that might have been off the table before.\nLet\u2019s look at how engineering leads at two startups, for whom data is a critical piece of their success, are harnessing these advances to focus on what matters most: building, testing, and getting to market fast with new features and products that address their customers\u2019 ever-changing needs.\nAnkeri: Sailing away from the relational world\nAnkeri, founded in Iceland in 2016, provides data services to companies that manage container ship fleets. Ankeri unifies commercial and technical ship data from thousands of vessels and disparate technology platforms and enables ship owners and charterers to manage and share data from their ships and collaborate for improved decision making (\u2026think better fuel cost management and vessel selection).\nIt\u2019s a cutting-edge platform built on data\u2014lots of it. Ankeri runs roughly 4 million database reads and 2.4 million writes per hour, and the company is growing fast. The company decided early on that relational databases would not provide the performance or scalability needed to serve an expanding set of data sources.\n\u201cWe needed something that could work for 100 ships as well as 10,000,\u201d states Ankeri Vice President of Engineering Nanna Einarsd\u00f3ttir. The choice of relying on a NoSQL database was an obvious one, she said. After some research, Cassandra proved to be the best candidate. But the move wasn\u2019t without challenges.\nAlthough made up of seasoned developers, her team had little experience with NoSQL databases; Einarsd\u00f3ttir acknowledges that designing a product that runs on a non-relational database required getting over a few hurdles, at least initially.\nFor one, most NoSQL databases require building tables based upon access patterns (rather than doing so based upon the nature and structure of the data, as is the case for relational databases), and this means more up-front time investment, Einarsd\u00f3ttir says. It also translates into more time investment for product design changes early in the product life cycle. There is, however, a silver lining in this extra required effort for the Ankeri team.\n\u201cSpending that extra time at the design table is, at its core, beneficial to the product, and it decreases the number of U-turns you might otherwise take during product development,\u201d she mentions.\nWith the initial database set-up phase behind them, the Ankeri team needed to focus on building and improving its platform. Particularly for small teams, spending manpower and resources on database maintenance and monitoring can be difficult to justify. That\u2019s a big reason that Einarsd\u00f3ttir says Ankeri decided to go with a database-as-a-service; the company landed on Astra DB from DataStax, a serverless, multi-cloud DBaaS built on Cassandra.\n\u201cA DBaaS means that minimal time is spent on setup before we can start working on the product itself,\u201d she states. \u201cWe are a start-up company, and as such need to be focused on features rather than infrastructure. The path from an idea to customer feedback must be short, and we need to be agile and forward thinking.\u201d\nCircle Media: Focusing on family, not data\nFor Circle Media Labs, a provider of apps and devices to help parents manage their family\u2019s time online, choosing a DBaaS was a relatively easy decision. Circle Principal Engineer Nathan Bak was intimately involved with the development of Astra DB during his tenure as a senior software engineer at DataStax (Circle is also a DataStax customer).\nEven with his awareness of the workings of NoSQL databases, Bak opted to use a service provider, for a reason similar to Einarsd\u00f3ttir\u2019s thinking\n\u201cEspecially at small startups, do you really want to spend money to find and hire a person that's going to be running a handful of databases? And what if that person goes on vacation, what are you going to do?\u201d Bak asks.\nBut there\u2019s another development offered by a select group of database services that is making it easier to focus on building products instead of data management: the availability of \u201cserverless\u201d data. Modern databases can be challenging to scale up and down, which often leads to costly overprovisioning.\nBut by separating the compute and storage functions, scaling up or down becomes simpler and faster. A serverless architecture matches data usage to workload peaks and valleys\u2014no matter how spiky. This eliminates the costly and labor intensive task of estimating peak loads and enables developers to pay only for what they use\u2014no matter how many database clusters they create and deploy.\nFor Circle, the fact that DataStax\u2019s Astra DB is serverless simplifies their ability to test out new product and service ideas. If, say, someone came up with a new concept, the question might be posed: \u201cBut is it good enough to spin up a new database?\u201d This isn\u2019t an issue with serverless databases, however. Every developer can have a database for their own proof of concept; the contention that existed previously over who gets access to a testing database just goes away.\n\u201cI probably have half a dozen serverless databases with POCs running on them that might not go anywhere, but I can keep them running because it\u2019s costing just pennies, and the data isn\u2019t lost,\u201d Bak says. In Circle\u2019s case, one of those projects eventually became a new and valuable service: emails sent to users detailing their families\u2019 weekly online device usage.\n\u201cThis project went from me working on it on and off\u2014with maybe a megabyte or two of data. But then it pretty quickly multiplied 1,000-fold\u2014and then 10,000-fold,\u201d Bak says. \u201cThere were plenty of things to worry about as that project grew. The database wasn\u2019t one of them.\u201d\nThe ability to spin-up new testing databases for POCs also prevents latency side effects that can affect the customer experience, Bak adds.\n\u201cEven if you do have your database right-sized, with a POC suddenly you\u2019re doing something different. If you\u2019re hitting your database with a bunch of new requests, that can affect the functionality of your core product,\u201d he says. \u201cYou don\u2019t want your customer to have a bad experience.\u201d\nData is a key part of many enterprises\u2019 success. Particularly for those that are early on their journey, it\u2019s the last thing that should get in the way.\nEinarsd\u00f3ttir maintains, \u201cIt makes all the difference to be able to create new databases in a matter of minutes to test out a new idea, without speculations about provisioning and commitment. For innovation, time is of the essence.\u201d\nLearn more about DataStax Astra DB, the serverless, multi-cloud DBaaS built on Cassandra.\n\nAbout Craig Kitterman:\n\nCraig leads product management for Astra DB, DataStax's multi-cloud distributed database-as-a-service offering. Craig is a cloud veteran who has been building and delivering developer tools and application services in the cloud for more than a decade at Microsoft and F5 Networks prior to joining DataStax.