Two professionals discussing the decision to build vs buy app feature software

Build vs Buy: how to decide before you add new app features

You want to add new features to your mobile app but aren’t quite sure if you should build it from scratch in-house or buy the software from a third party. The build vs buy debate isn’t new and you’re not alone in feeling confused. So which one is better?

Building software is only natural in the tech world and developers are always eager to create their own shiny new products. But this isn’t always the wisest thing to do in fluctuating market conditions or if you don’t have time to build new features. This is why more and more companies and startups are choosing to buy commercial software to add features to their app or website. These can include CRM tools, e-commerce capabilities, or social features such as chat, feeds, forums, live video streaming, and more.

The enterprise software and software as a service (SaaS) markets are growing rapidly as companies prioritize streamlining operations and increasing efficiency. Research suggests that two-thirds of software spending will be on enterprise software by 2025, generating $348.3 billion in sales by 2028. The SaaS market is also expected to double in size, with predictions of its estimated worth reaching $208 billion US dollars by 2023. These statistics are a clear indication of companies and startups around the world choosing to buy over build their software solutions.

So what should you consider before making the big decision to build it yourself or buy a ready-made product you can integrate into your app? Truth be told, there is no universal answer to this question. It depends on your specific situation and resources. In this article, we’ll guide you through the pros and cons of build vs buy to help you make the right decision.

Build vs buy: key factors to consider

A chart outlining questions to ask before deciding to build or buy

Identify the issue

The first thing you need to do is identify the issue at hand. What are you trying to solve and how does it impact your customers? Do you want to add app features to stand out from the competition? Increase user retention and engagement? Keep up with changing digital trends and consumer habits? Improve your user experience and customer satisfaction? 

Once you know the issue, you can research the solution. At this stage, you should determine the requirements for the product you need to help create a solution space and narrow down potential options. 

If the specific mobile app feature isn’t available for purchase, then you obviously need to build a custom solution internally. If there’s a commercial Software Development Kit (SDK) or Application Programming Interface (API) that offers the app features you’re looking for, you can consider buying a ready-to-use solution. It wouldn’t make sense to replicate existing technology, so buying versus building would save you valuable time and resources.

Determine your timeline

One of the main factors that’ll impact your decision to build vs. buy is your timeline. Do you need to solve the issue quickly, or is it a long-term goal? Imagine baking a birthday cake and decorating it at home versus buying one from a bakery. The difference in duration is drastic, and the same applies to building or buying software.

Building a new app feature can take around 6 to 12 months (or more!) based on the complexity of the product. Once you’ve gone through the identification stage of the software development lifecycle (SDLC) where you determine what your stakeholders need, your software will need to go through five more stages (plan, design, build, test, and deploy) before it reaches the maintenance stage, which continues as long as the feature is in use.

While there are perks to building—like total creative control and a more bespoke solution to your problem—there’s no denying that it’s a very time-consuming process that takes longer to deploy and is harder to maintain once live.

On the other hand, if you buy an SDK or API-based solution, it will only take you a few weeks to deploy. You’re guaranteed to receive a fully functional and quality-assured product that can be integrated into your app with minimal effort. 

Considering that 53% of downloaded apps are uninstalled within 30 days, it’s safe to say that most app developers don’t have the luxury of time. Faster time to market of new features means fewer missed opportunities and a more competitive edge for your app.

Examine employee workload

Another very important consideration in the build vs buy debate is the existing workload of your employees. Because your developers, engineers, designers, and product managers probably already have projects that they’re working on. 

Will your dev team have time to build a new feature from scratch? Do they have the experience to develop this technology? If you answered “no” to either question, deciding to build could lead to sub-par results and missed deadlines (or worse, a featureset that isn’t fully functional). 

Even if they can fit the build project into their schedule, your core team will have less time to focus on other projects that may be more critical to your app. Diverting their attention to new features could hinder their ability to be creative and consistent in other areas.

Of course, you could always hire new employees to work on the build project. This would ease the pressure on your dev team and give them time to focus on tasks that matter. But this would increase your costs and possibly even cause you to go over budget.

Buying a ready-made SDK or API will dramatically decrease the workload of your employees. And if you think about it, you’re not just buying a product. You’re buying the time, experience, and efforts of countless developers, engineers, and designers that created the product and maintain it on a daily basis. 

So essentially, the software you buy comes with an entire team of experts that indirectly work for you, maintaining and updating the product behind the scenes and providing you support as needed.

Go over your budget

It goes without saying that your budget is just as important as your timeline or employee workload. Building enterprise-level software not only takes a lot of time, but the budget can be massive as well. 

There are several major expenses to consider, from the salaries of employees to the cost of hosting, maintaining, and scaling the software in the long term. 

There will be future upgrades, bug fixes, security updates, and even changes in operating systems that your dev team will have to continue working on. These can cause unexpected expenses that could push you over your budget.

While it’s difficult to estimate the cost of building since it varies based on the complexity of the mobile app feature you’re developing, the total amount you spend over the next few years could be in the mid to high six-figure range. 

Buying the software makes more sense if you want to reduce costs, but it does depend on the third-party vendor you decide to work with. Some have substantial up-front costs. With others, you can pay monthly. But in either case, buying could be a better investment in the long run if you’re on a tight budget or want to reduce your IT spending. 

The software you purchase is ready to use and maintained for you. There’s no risk of unforeseen financial surprises down the road, which means you can direct your finances to other high-priority projects.

Reflect on your core services

Once you’ve considered these four key factors, there’s one last question to answer that might surprise you: Is the software actually related to the service you offer? Will it be a key component of your business, or a tool to help you reach your goals?

If you’re a fintech company, it would make total sense to build the digital payment feature in-house. This is a part of your core services and would be a worthy investment. But if you want to add a chat feature to your app for better customer service, it would make more sense to buy an SDK/API solution from a third-party vendor. 

Off-the-shelf solutions can help you reach your goals faster while giving your developers the freedom to work on other innovative projects that can drive your business forward.

Consider customization

When looking at the various pros and cons lists for build vs buy, the main topic of discussion is usually centered around customization, which is widely accepted as the main pro for building. 

It’s true that some companies offer plug-and-play features that can’t be customized and you’re stuck with whatever product they offer. But there are ready-to-use products that offer flexible customization options to cater to your specific requirements. 

How do we know this? Well, Amity’s API-based SDKs are fully customizable so you can fine-tune the app features and user experience (UX). So buying doesn’t always have to mean compromising customization. 

By conducting thorough research on third-party software solutions, you can ensure that you’re not constrained by a one-size-fits-all featureset that doesn’t integrate well with your app.

There are other vital factors to consider such as complex security practices, data privacy, feature reliability, and stability. If you decide to build, you’ll be responsible for securing all of this in-house, which isn’t an easy endeavor. 

There’s so much technology and knowledge required, not to mention the laws and regulations involved. Working with a third-party vendor that provides security and reliability as part of their services will dramatically reduce the stress on your dev team.

Case Study: True ID

The Issue: 

True ID is the number one entertainment platform in Thailand with 27 million monthly active users. With the grand objective of becoming a super app, TrueID needed something that would make their content extremely sticky. That meant finding a “glue that holds it all together,” or in this case, a community with engaging content.

The Solution: 

As the only platform streaming the 2018 FIFA World Cup games, TrueID was expecting all-time high traffic and wanted to provide the best possible viewing experience for their users. They quickly realized that Live Chat could be a great solution to boost excitement, interaction, and a sense of community.

A short deadline and lack of technical abilities made TrueID decide to buy over building the software needed to implement this new feature in their app.

The Results: 

With Amity’s support, the chat was a massive success from day one. 

Up to 3.85 million users utilize social and chat features per month, sending up to 700,000 messages and reactions.

Since then, TrueID team has seen a massive improvement in areas such as frequency of use, word-of-mouth acquisition, engagement, and retention growth.

How to know when to build vs buy

The key factors we talked about are simple on paper, but we know how complicated it can be to go into the intricate details of your resources, budgets, business plans, and goals. Both building and buying software are big investments that directly affect your business. Here’s a summary you can save for future reference during your decision-making process.

A chart comparing the pros and cons of build vs buy

When to build:

  • The app feature is directly related to the services you provide
  • The software you require is not available for purchase
  • Your dev team has time to develop, test, and maintain the software
  • Your team can handle hosting, security, and reliability
  • You have up to a year to launch the new app feature 
  • You have a big budget to invest in this project

When to buy:

  • The app feature isn’t related to your core product
  • The technology already exists and you can buy the software
  • You want your employees to focus on more vital tasks
  • You want to ensure security, reliability, and scalability
  • You need a quick solution that is guaranteed to work
  • You want a high-efficiency, low-cost product 

The final decision: To build or to buy?

Now that you’re familiar with the build vs buy framework, you can see why we can’t tell you if you should build or buy. The decision really comes down to the timeline, budget, and staff your company or startup can set aside to bring the project to life. 

Looking at the pros and cons of building versus buying new app features, buying does seem like the sensible choice. But if you have the resources, building could be an option for you, especially if the feature is directly related to your business.

Whether you decide to build or buy, you’re on the right track. Either choice will help keep your app relevant in an ever-growing marketplace. Apps need to evolve and adapt to survive. Continue listening to your customers, keeping track of competitors, researching market trends, and innovating your app with new features. 

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about Amity’s API-based SDKs that easily add social features to your app with just a few lines of code.


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