Developing a product on someone else’s platform is trying at times. Platforms don’t always provide a lot of flexibility for developers and their knee-jerk reaction is often, “Hey, let’s not use this at all, let’s just write our own.” But, this could mean you are missing an opportunity to use an app ecosystem to your own benefit. It is essential that you do your due diligence and evaluate the platform before you start building your new company off of another company's platform.
I’ve learned this from nearly a decade of building different products off someone else’s platform, and there are a lot of challenges to consider when building an app on another company’s platform. If you can learn to work with a platform, you’ll find a remarkable way to turn your product into a thriving business.
Do you know which tech giant’s platform is for you? Here are a couple things to think about as you evaluate your options.
Creating a Symbiotic Relationship
As you evaluate the pros and cons of various platforms, you need to recognize that you’ll be working with your host platform, but you will have to cede some control over your plans at first, but you will also gain access to a suite of resources because you are aligning yourself with an established platform.
Having startups build on a tech giants platform not only creates a service that builds the ecosystem but also fills a void that the larger company doesn’t have to worry about addressing. In turn, the platform company provides resources to the startup, includes them in important conversations about the company’s next wave of development, and listens to the startup’s feedback. Platform providers have reason to take what startups say seriously if the startups are productive partners offering constructive criticism, and not just whining about any problems they may have.
Thousands and thousands of companies have built their business off another. According to the Harvard Business Review, when big companies support smaller companies they both win both in success and in value. The same article finds that more than 72,000 small business have been built off of Microsoft’s BizSpark platform and more than 1,500 have spawned from SAP’s Hana platform since it launched in 2012.
Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) partners should come with features that make it easy for startups to leverage and include when they are building their product. Some features companies need to look out for include multi-tenant, an elastic database with built in security, declarative UI and workflow engine, and application packaging/distribution mechanism. Be smart about when you join a platform and thoughtful about what category you enter. If you manage to get in at the ground floor, chances are the categories will be wide open. While that’s no longer the case for some of the established platforms, there are lots of emerging cloud platforms to explore, including NetSuite, Workday, Rackspace, and Microsoft Azure among others.
Know what you’re getting into
Take the time to make sure you really know the platform on which you’re building. Dedicating some time to experimenting and working on a platform will help you design your app the right way from the start. It helps to see the platform as a brand new toy -- you should play around with it and do small projects on it to get a feel for what’s possible. Become an expert. Get to a place where you understand the platform, its capabilities and limitations. That way, you can learn how to work around any challenges early in the development.
When learning about the platform, don’t just master the specifics features that apply to your singular app. It will set your app apart from others on the platform if you have an understanding of the ecosystem as a whole. Plus having the expertise about the platform gives your company extra credibility. Tons of people come in and build on this platform, and they can end up rewriting a lot of things that don’t need rewriting because they didn’t have the bigger picture in mind while designing it. Not only can you leverage a platform to its fullest potential when you really understand the platform’s functionality, but the knowledge will also give you credibility with clients. They will appreciate the way your app seamless ties into their chosen ecosystem, and trust your recommendations about how they do business on it.