Building vs. Buying Software for Your Business

By Brian Harris

You’ve heard the phrase “if you break it, you’ve bought it.” But, what happens when you’ve bought it and then it breaks?

If, for example, your company’s software isn’t working properly, do you have the capability to fix it on your own?

In the realm of SaaS (software as a service), the building vs. buying debate comes down to cost, skill and time. However, customization is the overriding issue that is oven overlooked.

Chuck Cohn, the CEO of Varsity Tutors, writes, “The vast majority of off-the-shelf software will not allow you to modify its functionality in a meaningful way. It may be difficult to add or subtract built-in features leading to either too many or too few functions for your company.”

Cohn raises a valid point. That’s why the key to buying an off-the-shelf solution is to look for the exception. Select a customizable platform that fits your needs and look for exceptional customer service.

Software as a Pizza

Categorizing off-the-shelf solutions as rigid or inflexible is like saying all pizzas are made with just cheese. That’s certainly not the case.

Is it easier to buy a pizza or to make one yourself? That depends, but think of some of the advantages of buying a pizza rather than making your own.


By the time you’ve purchased quality ingredients — dough, sauce, cheese and other toppings — your grocery bill is adding up. You might as well have purchased the pizza!

Similarly, many companies set out to create their own app or software without realizing the exorbitant costs of hiring an in-house developer or outsourcing the project.


You’ve never made a pizza. You’ve researched how to make dough, or maybe even watched an instructional video, but you lack the finesse to make the quality pizza you could get from a pizzeria.

It’s like lacking the technical knowledge for maintaining your software. If you don’t have an in-house team, you can outsource tech problems as they arise, but this tactic will prove costly in the long run.


It’s getting late and you have work to do. You’re hungry and you just want to eat the pizza already!

Creating custom software can take several months, if not a year depending on the size of your team. You’re looking at more time if you need to add extra features and capabilities. As you know, time is money.

Software is not a personal pie

Your entire organization will share it, so the final product must be flexible and customizable across your organization. This is especially true for franchise management.

Choosing the right software is just one of many challenges in operating a business. So, don’t become chained to the kitchen or stuck shopping for talent just for the sake of creating proprietary software.

Three tips “to go”:

  1. Determine whether or not building custom software is worth the time, effort and resources needed. Remember, stuff breaks!
  2. If buying software, select a flexible platform and one you can customize to your business’ needs.
  3. Ask questions and look for great customer service. Your software provider should be responsive to your needs.

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