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SaaS Developer Perspective Build vs. Buy

Hacking the Engineering Process is really a San Francisco-based meetup, which opens discussion for software engineers and tech enthusiasts to talk about their applying for grants leading topics, pose thought-provoking questions for every other, and find out about how various engineering teams measure developer productivity amongst themselves.

In March, the guest speaker was the VP of Engineering at Apartment List, Sue Nallapeta. Nallapeta is really a leader in tech and is passionate about building highly performant and vastly scalable engineering systems. Among the questions that lots of engineering leaders often contemplate is whether or when to create or buy software along the way of building something. Companies invest lots of time and resources into building software, while buying software may also be expensive in different ways. In her talk, Nallapeta described the 7 Cs she considers when coming up with this decision between build vs buy and shared her experience in implementing this technique while developing Apartment List.


The initial C is Capability, that is determined by the issue that you will be solving for, including any features you will need or desire to build. It is a product and a businesss core, and frequently why is it stick out and the like. These capabilities are what you would like to visit market with and what your visitors use. The question then becomes whether these capabilities already exist. If that’s the case, developers have to decide whether it’s worth building them from scratch or utilizing the tools which are already available, that is a decision that depends upon how quickly the merchandise needs to head to market and which path would help achieve the target most effectively and efficiently.


You can find two common dimensions to cost that a lot of people can look at when building. The foremost is resources, including just how many engineers a team might need to develop the merchandise. The next being time, on what long it will require for all those engineers to create the merchandise given the resources they will have available. Most teams will think about the two and pick the cheaper option. You can find, however, other pertinent costs that may and perhaps should impact your choice: build time, maintenance costs (to monitor the merchandise, support it, build test cases, etc.), infrastructure costs, and hosting costs (which are hidden but can truly add up to lot).

You can find other costs if you opt to buy. Transferring a remedy you curently have or integrating a fresh tool could be time consuming and also have major migration costs. Buying software also involves onboarding costs (just how long it requires for engineers to understand the brand new system and be more comfortable with it) with offboarding costs (typically there’s an overlap between old and new systems) and maintenance charges for successful long-term integration. It is very important for teams to believe beyond both of these dimensions before deciding predicated on cost.


To be able to build systems which are clear to see and show others like the sales force, growth team, and all business stakeholders. Teams often build products which are highly complex, and complexity also grows because the product scales. For instance, Netflixs scale was so large they needed to spend money on their very own Content Distribution Network (CDN) and built Open Connect, that they can ship to all or any ISPs to cache videos on your client side to provide content quickly.


A products build speed heavily depends upon the teams competence. Do we’ve the proper engineers on the team who know very well what must be built? Do they will have the knowledge and domain knowledge to comprehend what we have been solving from the business enterprise and customer perspective? Do they work very well together? Or even, how long does it try hire and build this team? Creating a competent team may take up to 3-6 months merely to hire.At a previous company, Nallapetas team acquired over 10 companies, each acquisition immediately adding value in the span of two months. Should they built, it could have taken almost a year or more to include those capabilities.


Cohesion, or connectedness, is tricky regarding buying – if the feature you’re buying integrates with another systems that you curently have. For instance, Apartment List uses Salesforce for Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and any software they build that ingests data should support sending data to Salesforce. It is possible to create value via an ecosystem of softwares, where systems coexist with one another and are influenced by one another.

Competitive Advantage

Any product must be in a position to compete once it enters the marketplace. Competitive advantage is really a main factor decided by if the product or its features are core to its functionality also to the business. The merchandise capability determines if it could be competitive and will ship features faster to win the.


Continuity goes hand-in-hand with maintenance. It determines the way you ensure scalability of the merchandise as your user base grows so when new feature requests rise. That is vital that you track so that you can guarantee your system is sustainable and you also dont have to replace the machine every couple of years, which may be a significant setback.

Apartment Lists Experience

Build: A/B testing

In creating a product that satisfied all the capability needs, From the Box (OOTB) solutions were insufficient for the business enterprise need at that time. Apartment List is really a subscription based business. The team had to quickly ship many experiments, and try various subscription based models and paywalls, each with changes in prices and features, which may not need been possible without fast iteration.

In addition they wished to maintain control over customization to create an excellent user experience. The merchandise was highly customized for various customers and customers sub-groups. In addition, it provided an excellent competitive advantage with insights and quicker feature launches with a lesser experimentation and test setup, resulting in a rise in customers globally.

Build: Billing System

In a higher risk industry, the chargeback rates are really high. With a subscription based business design, Apartment List had a need to maintain fall back use cases in a way that in case a payment will not proceed through for a person, the machine automatically redirects to a new payment processor, an attribute unavailable in other billing system tools. This allowed them to also lower the renewal rates and provide more discounts with their customers. Most of all, Apartment Lists margin was low, meaning utilizing a tool like Stripe would result in them cutting to their margins.

Buy: Email Software

Apartment List had initially built their very own email software, that was relevant for the stage of the business enterprise. At the startup stage, it made more sense to create the software and also have usage of customized complex features. However, engineering teams didn’t have the bandwidth or documentation to aid the machine and as time passes, because the team who built the program left the business, there was insufficient in-house understanding of the software to keep up it. Eventually utilizing the in-house software also meant that something as simple as a brandname update with new logos and colors would require weeks or months of engineering effort.

Apartment List chose Courier to aid transactional emails and another provider for marketing emails. This helped the business achieve cohesion, with the brand new systems integrating well with the prevailing system and one another.

Buy: Testing Software

Every company requires some type of Quality Assurance (QA), which, because the product scales, may become a pricey and tedious process that forces engineers to divide their attention from the product. Utilizing an external tool offers better control and simplicity of the testing software and escalates the efficiency of the testing process.

Build & Buy: Analytics

Data may be the backbone of any business, requiring high data accuracy and coverage. Every decision made must be built on a solid foundation. With evolving business needs, ApartmentList thought we would both buy analytics software and build along with it to close the gaps.


If you want for more information about Sue Nallapetas decision making process and experience with Build vs Buy, browse the talk recording on YouTube:

Hacking the Engineering Process hosts monthly meetups.

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