Today I’m going to answer a question from Rajesh, the co-founder of an activity marketplace. His question is…

What technology can I use for a marketplace?

Rajesh has already positioned his project. He figured out his target and has a small community on social media to start with. He has also defined the customer experience and the overall design of his marketplace app.

He is now moving forward to a development stage, and is wondering what technology or service provider to use.

Well, there are roughly five ways to build a marketplace:

  1. Develop it from scratch
  2. Use an existing SaaS (software as a service) solution
  3. Use an open-source solution
  4. Use WordPress, a CMS (content management system) or an e-commerce plugin
  5. Use a prototyping solution

Let’s analyze the pros and cons of each.

1. Develop it from scratch

Pros

  • Very customizable

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Requires experienced developers
  • Takes 3-6 months (minimum) to develop

Takeaway

I do not recommend developing a marketplace from scratch. I actually did it myself back in 2012. It took us more than six months without even considering mobile application development. It’s just not the way to go, in my point of view. Even if you are 100% sure that your platform will work, it will be a waste of time and money.

2. Use an existing SaaS solution

Pros

  • Can be ready in just a few weeks
  • Well designed
  • Can learn from others
  • Pay on a monthly basis

Cons

  • Can be expensive long term
  • Expensive setup cost
  • Can get locked in

Takeaway

Overall, the SaaS solution is definitely a good option. I do recommend it, especially if you want to test your market using an existing solution and without too much investment.

Just keep in mind that if you happen to choose the wrong one, you can consider migrating to another solution down the road.

Now, if your project is relatively complex, like an Uber app with geolocation or a specific algorithm, just skip this option. It will be too hard to tweak a SaaS solution at that level.

3. Use an open-source solution

Pros

  • 70 to 90% of what you need is ready to use and FREE!
  • Customizable
  • Access to source code (biggest advantage)

Cons

  • Often poorly designed
  • Complex setup
  • Needs customization
  • Rarely includes a mobile app

Takeaway

All things considered, building a marketplace with an open-source solution is a good option. This is what I would recommend if you have enough investment to customize it a bit. With this option, you will have the possibility to develop new features for future versions, as well as create APIs to build a dedicated app.

Get started

Some well-known open source solutions include:

You can find more than a few others out there. Just double-check that they are still supported and have been updated recently.

4. Use WordPress, a CMS or an e-commerce plugin

Pros

  • Very easy to install
  • Customizable theme
  • Combinations of plugins for extra features

Cons

  • Not sustainable for the long-term
  • Managing development gets complicated
  • Architecture difficult to scale
  • Bugs and conflicts between version and plugins

Takeaway

Overall, WordPress is a good prototyping solution. It can help you prove your market and start delivering your value proposition, and it’s not going to cost you as much as real development.

Just don’t think of it as a permanent solution. This is temporary. It will work for six months or maybe one year, maximum. You’ll eventually want more customizations or will have more users than WordPress can handle.

But you know what? That’s okay! It could be part of your journey. You can invest less upfront and raise more money later, and it’s also less risky to go that way.

5. Use a prototyping solution like Bubble.is

Pros

  • Quite easy to build
  • Very cheap
  • Looks very nice
  • Create your own workflow

Cons

  • Not designed to be a long-term product
  • Nothing will be reusable except designs
  • Difficult to add pieces of code

Takeaway

Bubble.is is a good option if you want to save money when building a workable prototype. Like the WordPress option, this will not be your long-term solution and you’ll definitely have to redevelop the marketplace later.

Conclusion

So in conclusion and to answer Rajesh’s question, choosing which technology to build your marketplace with is not only a technical question but also a matter of quality and strategy.

You will have to choose from developing everything from scratch, to using an existing SaaS solution, an open-source solution or even WordPress, CMS or an e-commerce plugin.

You can also just use prototyping techniques which will work too and save you more money. You will have a low-quality product for sure, but you’ll still be able to test your market.

It’s up to you to invest just a bit of money and go for prototyping or reusing existing solutions, or to invest a larger amount of money upfront and go with a real product development so that you will no longer have to redevelop down the road. Just keep in mind that the lean startup methodology recommends investing less, testing your market and then redeveloping things if it’s required.