The House That Jack Built: Understanding Technical Debt for Startups

The Story of Jack’s House

Jack was an ambitious entrepreneur with a grand vision of building his dream house. Eager to move in quickly and save costs, he decided to cut corners. Instead of conducting a proper survey of the land, he trusted his gut feeling. Instead of investing in high-quality materials, he opted for the cheapest options available. Instead of hiring experienced builders, he went with the quickest and least expensive labor he could find.

In just a few months, Jack’s house was complete. From the outside, it looked magnificent. Jack moved in, excited to enjoy his new home. Initially, everything seemed perfect. The house had all the basic features he needed, and he felt proud of what he had accomplished in such a short time and at such a low cost.

However, as time passed, problems began to surface. The foundation, which had been laid hastily, started to crack. The roof, made from low-quality materials, began to leak during heavy rains. The walls, constructed with little attention to detail, developed mold and started to weaken. Jack found himself constantly fixing issues, spending more time and money than he had anticipated.

Living in the house became increasingly difficult and frustrating. The quick fixes that had initially saved him time and money turned into ongoing headaches. Jack realized that his rush to build the house had led to long-term problems that could have been avoided with proper planning and investment in quality from the start.

The Lesson for Startups: Understanding Technical Debt

Jack’s story is a perfect analogy for understanding technical debt in startups. In the fast-paced world of technology, startups often face immense pressure to develop and launch products quickly. This urgency can lead to taking shortcuts in the development process, much like Jack did when building his house.

What is Technical Debt?

Technical debt refers to the concept of incurring future costs due to taking shortcuts or making suboptimal decisions during software development. Just like financial debt, technical debt needs to be “repaid” with interest. The more shortcuts you take, the higher the interest you’ll have to pay in the future, often in the form of increased maintenance, slower development, and reduced product quality.

The Short-Term Gains and Long-Term Pain

In the short term, taking shortcuts can help you get your product to market faster, much like Jack moving into his house quickly. You might be able to attract users, generate revenue, and gain a competitive edge. However, these immediate benefits often come at a significant long-term cost.

  1. Increased Maintenance Costs: Just as Jack had to spend more time and money fixing his house, a codebase full of technical debt requires more effort to maintain. Developers will spend a significant portion of their time addressing bugs, patching issues, and dealing with performance problems.
  2. Slower Development: Technical debt makes it harder to add new features or make changes to your product. Each modification requires navigating through messy, complex, and poorly documented code, slowing down the development process.
  3. User Dissatisfaction: Jack’s crumbling house led to frustration. Similarly, software plagued by technical debt can lead to a poor user experience, frequent bugs, and performance issues. This can result in user dissatisfaction, negative reviews, and ultimately, a loss of customers.
  4. Higher Costs: While shortcuts may save money initially, the cost of addressing technical debt can be substantial. Refactoring code, rewriting problematic sections, and redesigning architecture are expensive and time-consuming tasks that divert resources away from innovation and growth.

Strategies to Manage Technical Debt

To avoid the pitfalls that Jack experienced, startups should adopt strategies to manage and minimize technical debt from the beginning:

  1. Prioritize Quality from the Start: Invest time in proper planning and design. Ensure your product’s architecture is robust and scalable. Avoid taking shortcuts that compromise the integrity of your codebase.
  2. Implement Code Reviews and Testing: Regular code reviews and rigorous testing help catch issues early. This ensures that the code is clean, efficient, and free of critical bugs.
  3. Maintain Documentation: Comprehensive documentation helps new developers understand the codebase, reducing the risk of introducing new bugs and making maintenance easier.
  4. Refactor Regularly: Schedule regular refactoring sessions to clean up the code, improve its structure, and reduce complexity. This helps manage technical debt incrementally rather than letting it accumulate.
  5. Balance Speed and Quality: While it’s important to launch quickly, ensure your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is built on a solid foundation. Have a plan for addressing any technical debt incurred during this phase.
  6. Automate Testing: Invest in automated testing to catch regressions and ensure new code doesn’t introduce new problems. This saves time and resources in the long run.
  7. Monitor and Measure: Use tools to monitor code quality and performance. Metrics can help identify areas of concern and track improvements over time.
  8. Foster Team Communication: Encourage communication and collaboration within your development team. Ensure everyone understands the importance of maintaining code quality and the long-term impact of technical debt.


Jack’s experience with his hastily built house serves as a cautionary tale for startups. The allure of quick gains and rapid progress can lead to significant long-term problems if not managed properly. By understanding the concept of technical debt and adopting strategies to mitigate it, startups can build robust, scalable, and maintainable products that support sustainable growth and success.

Just as a well-built house stands the test of time, a well-architected product provides a strong foundation for your startup’s future. Investing in quality from the start will pay off in the long run, ensuring that your business can grow, adapt, and thrive in an ever-changing market.



Eran Ben-Shahar is a Sydney-based, experienced IT/AI Startups CTO, Solution Architect, and Team Leader. In addition to several successful businesses and two seven-figure startup exits, he has led projects for prominent clients like the New Zealand Transport Agency, where he was responsible for all enterprise web applications, and the New Zealand Parliament, where he executed seven web projects. He has also worked with various leading startups and companies. Currently, he is looking for interesting hybrid opportunities as a CTO or tech lead.

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