2014-05-30

Co.Labs

To Build or Buy A Piece Of Software? Here's How To Decide

Given limited design and dev resources, what's the secret to deciding whether to roll your own? Ask your customers.



Ever throw a party and have a hard time getting people to pay up afterwards? Yeah, it’s the worst.

It’s also one of the reasons why event-centric social network Meetup decided to build their own way of handling payments. Previously, the company had used off-the-shelf solutions to handle payments whenever a Meetup required the exchange of money. The company made use of both PayPal and Amazon Payments to handle transactions on the network—the sort of readily available tools used by digital ventures of all sizes.

But then the company noticed something about it’s network: The most successful, active Meetups involved payments.

“The toughest part about having a community and switching to a model where you're asking people to contribute money, is that there's that fear of asking people for money,” says Matt Trush, VP of product at Meetup. “What the initial system didn't do was that it didn't really keep track of who was paying and who hadn't. It didn't celebrate the people who were paying, and on the user end… they had to jump through the hoops of getting kicked over to Amazon Payments, or getting kicked over to PayPal.”

Using off-the-shelf solutions to handle payments on Meetup, whether they be for member dues, tickets, or contributions, was introducing an unnecessary level of friction in the experience—and it also presented a way to improve upon behaviors that made money and social gatherings difficult.

“The way that we look at it is, 'how can it help organizers, how can it help members, how can it help members strengthen their relationships with these groups, how can it strengthen the overall network?’” says Trush. “Because groups that tend to have transactions flowing through them tend to have higher levels of participation and tend to stick around longer.”

That desire to strength the connection between its members is what helps dictate whether it will devote resources to developing a homegrown solution to a problem. This same philosophy led the company to also dedicate development resources toward proprietary messaging tools.

“One of the businesses that we're in is creating conversations between people and giving people permission to talk to each other,” says Trush. “There had been series of experiences that had existed for a while that were a bit disparate and siloed, and so there's a team that's been working on making those much simpler and making those available across all platforms.”

According to Trush, Meetup had considered using off-the-shelf solutions for their messaging tech, but all the solutions surveyed would have proved extraneous to Meetup’s core competency of conversation between people.

So they would build their own. It would take time, but that’s an upside to Trush—he holds that one of the perks of developing your own homegrown solution to a problem is having the leeway to “rope off what level of functionality we want to introduce and to what subset of a network we want to introduce it to.”

For Meetup, it’s a logical rationale—iteration is a conversation between a product and its users, and a fitting one given that Meetup is in the business of conversation. And, Trush adds, the data supports it. Just like Meetups that involve some sort of payment are more successful, so are the Meetups in which members communicate with each other before and after.

To that end, Trush and his team are working on tools and services that facilitate conversation in two spheres: public and private. In the public space, with tools set to roll out this summer, Trush describes something that looks less like the service's currently endless comment stream and more like a robust forum, with tools that will help organizers and participants become more engaged.

Similarly, in the "private" realm, Trush and his team plan to replace the current system—which works through email—with something more like a built-in chat system that most other networks offer, with the given Meetup serving as the nexus of communication.

Despite the investment development of such tools and services require, Trush and his team don’t ever see them as risky endeavors, because they are all natural extensions of Meetup’s core service. Choosing to build a solution over buying one, to hear Trush tell it, is a simple choice.

“We had something out there,” says Trush. “And determining whether or not you want to continue to invest in that by making it easier and making it a new normal for people—it was seen as kind of a no-brainer for us.”

[Image: Flickr user David Goehring]




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