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Differentiating with Technology: Building Your Own Coworking Software

Sep 25, 2019 ∙ 4 mins read
building your own coworking software

As a coworking space owner, you probably often think about building your own software to run your space.

The current software vendors might not check all boxes, your members might need new features, your staff may need help optimizing a specific process or investors might want to see the value of their investment increase through the creation of unique intellectual property. Shipping your own software product seems like the obvious answer to keeping everyone happy.

However, unless you are genuinely a ‘tech’ company you should almost always buy rather than build.

Before you decide to go that path of building your own software, start by asking yourself these hard questions:

Why do you want to build it?

  • Is your requirement unique that no product can satisfy?
  • Are you a technology company or a technology-powered company?
  • Is the software IP going to increase the company’s valuation and/or attract more investors?

Can you build it?

  • Do you have a tech co-founder/executive that can grow and manage a tech organization?

Can you support and maintain it?

  • Can you make it reliable, secure, and compliant with all regulations?

Start from a position that taking the decision to build requires solid evidence that you will create a significant competitive or commercial advantage by building it yourself.

As an ex-software engineer, I’ve built a few internal products too. I have compiled along the years a list of points on why companies, in general, should not build their own software. The coworking industry is not an exception.

7 Reasons Not to Build Coworking Software

Building software is expensive. Really expensive.

It’s probably becoming the most expensive thing you can build nowadays due to the ever-increasing price of great engineers.

Hiring engineers is painful.

Hiring great engineers (developers, QAs, DevOps…) is nearly impossible. Other than the fact that there’s a huge shortage of engineers worldwide, they also want to work for amazing tech companies and fancy startups with other great engineers. Great and experienced engineers know that internal products are rabbit holes too.

Running the thing you built is even more expensive.

You may understand the cost to build a product, but you almost certainly haven’t budgeted enough to support it in the future. You need good infrastructure, write documentation, fix bugs, support your users, etc.

Cut-corners will start to cost as your use of the product grows.

I have never seen an internal software product that was well built, documented, maintainable, secure or easy to use as a ‘good’ enterprise software product.

You are unlikely to be able to compete with an equivalent product that is sold to many clients.

If it’s someone’s sole job to build a product, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll be able to build an equivalent product more cost-effectively. Your product will be obsolete even before it goes out because a competitor will release a new update with more awesome features quicker.

There’s a good way to tackle this and it’s to commercialize the product and start competing with the rest. That’s a good way to stay on track with what’s good out there. For example, that’s how Amazon Web Services (AWS) came to life, as well as many of Amazon’s products that were built as internal products first.

It’s slow to attain the expected value.

It won’t just be more expensive, it will also take way longer than you were expecting. Designing, building, testing and delivering a new product always take way longer than anyone expected. That’s the case for the best tech companies out there. Imagine how bad it can be for your case.

You should spend a severe amount of effort and resources to make your software secure.

Seriously. Building software these days isn’t just complex, but invariably exposes your data to the world. Don’t assume it’s going to be secure. Assume that someone might try and steal your data. Budget to develop defensively with security in mind from the outset (which will further increase the cost).

So when building your own software, you’re actually spending more (both money and effort) for a product which is less secure, harder to maintain and takes longer to benefit from.

Blend and Build Only What You Need

So does it mean you’re limited to the capabilities of the solutions already available? Actually no because you can always adapt them to your needs. Instead of building software from scratch, you should consider building unique capabilities that offer value to your business or members.

It’s usually more pragmatic to integrate best in class products and blend them together to suit your business needs and improve your members’ experience. Following is the list of ideas that you can consider to blend the best tools together and create a complete solution. The points are ranked from the cheapest to the most expensive.

  • Use a commercial coworking management platform that offers a vast number of native integrations. Native integrations almost always work better, are easier to set up and maintain. Also, they are usually the cheapest option.
  • Use an integration platform, such as Zapier to connect your main platform with the rest of the tools you use. This option requires more time to set up which makes it a bit more expensive. Sometimes it can also be a bit clumsy and harder to maintain as the Zapier integrations can be prone to errors due to changing APIs.
  • Build an integration layer using the platform’s APIs yourself. This is the most powerful option that gives a lot of flexibility to design and implement a great integration or an extension. This option can be a bit more time consuming and expensive but many times it’s worth it.
  • Hire a software developer consultant company to help you blend the tools you need and get a complete solution. This option can bring amazing results and solve all your problems. Of course, this will be more expensive but in many cases, it’s worth it.

To recap: Buy it, then blend it, but don’t build it (unless you have to)!