From CRMs to time-tracking software, there are thousands of pre-packaged tools and software programs you can use to run your business. But sometimes, those tools don’t measure up and you need a custom solution. Every business has its unique pain points.
But how do you decide what’s worth spending the time, energy and resources on to build on your own?
To find out, I asked 13 entrepreneurs from YEC to answer the following question:
What’s one platform, app or software you recently decided to build in-house rather than using third-party tools and why?
1. A CRM for efficiency and personalization
We have over 2,000 people a year apply to join our international trips. That creates countless steps for us to take, from booking housing and coordinating airport arrivals to making sure we’re receiving fees on time. We’ve built a CRM system from scratch that allows us to process all that workflow in an almost fully automated manner. The result is that our people can focus on giving personal service to our clients instead of getting bogged down in paperwork, and we have a system that is perfectly customized around our very unique workflow, which in turn is one of our competitive advantages. – Cedric Hodgeman, UBELONG
2. Visualization tools
At Kvantum, our IP revolves around our marketing analytics engine. We realized that existing dashboarding tools were complex, expensive or limited by their feature set. Our engineering team took the task of taking open source visualization frameworks and libraries to put together a visualization tool that is now integrated into Kvantum’s marketing platform. We internally use it as our social media tracking tool that integrates with Facebook, Twitter and other channels, and helps us track the social media trends. We are in the process of moving our business dashboarding onto this tool, too. – Shilpi Sharma, Kvantum Inc.
3. Marketing automation built into our CMS
We began adding marketing automation functionality into our website management platform, BannerOS, instead of using third-party plugins. We are able to collect data from our e-commerce activities to our blogging and email marketing efforts easily and in a single location, without needing to combine data or add tracking to many different systems or maintain multiple different websites. When integration can help streamline operations, improve lead generation, increase profitability and is core to future success, it makes sense to develop those tools in-house. – Mark Cenicola, BannerView.com
4. A traffic scoring and decision platform
In 2015 we developed a custom decision and quality management system for evaluating and reacting to web traffic. The platform allows us to score traffic quality at a more detailed and accurate level than any third-party offerings. And the decision engine makes it possible for business users to make dynamic, real-time choices about where traffic goes, without developer intervention. Overall, it has saved us time, effort and has improved our user strategy and user experience. – Zach Robbins, Leadnomics
5. A membership and gamification platform
We built our own membership plugin called AccessAlly with a gamification add-on called ProgressAlly because there weren’t any off-the-shelf solutions that delivered the customer experience we were looking for. We didn’t initially plan to release the membership plugin to the public, but so many of our clients come asked what platform we were using that it became a no-brainer. This, in turn, gave us valuable feedback on how to improve the technology, and it’s become one of our best sellers, too. We built it for ourselves and I think that’s why it’s so intuitive. – Nathalie Lussier, AmbitionAlly
6. A content and project management tool
After using myriad tools to track projects and various editorial calendars, we decided it was time to invest in our own technology. The system allows us to control content required for marketing strategies, as well as project owners and product statuses. Through the system we handle external freelancers and invoices, the status of their projects, and can collaborate with our in-house project managers and content creators including writers, video editors and designers. This application has streamlined our entire workflow and made various processes scalable. – Marcela DeVivo, Homeselfe
7. An online layaway system
We built our own eLayaway system to allow our couples to pay off their Trio Wedding Ring purchase over time. Invoicing tools we used in the past just didn’t provide the experience our couples needed to manage paying off their purchase. So we designed our own platform to allow them to schedule and manage weekly/bi-weekly/monthly schedules. Brick and mortar stores used to offer Layaway Programs, but now purchasing on eLayaway makes more sense because there’s no credit required. Once paid in full, our system automatically triggers their order to be shipped out for a seamless customer experience. – Punit Shah, My Trio Rings
8. A daily dashboard
We have quick daily meetings to go over the previous day’s income, costs and our priorities. We created our own dashboard that displays on the big screen during daily meetings. The dashboard indicates very clearly if our income is in the positives by the colors in which the numbers are shown, which helps our team to be completely transparent. In addition, we created the daily dashboard in-house in order to personalize it with our own data and style, even adding funny phrases to give us a good laugh in the morning. – David Tomas, Cyberclick
9. Project management tools
We built our project management and workflow in-house. Being a manufacturing facility, we could not find software out of the box that was customizable enough. We hired a full-time coder in-house, and we’ve been improving the tool for seven years. It’s a very expensive jump in business, but the overall automation reduces our labor by at least five full-time employees and also reduces lead time to the customer. We look at this as an investment, not an expense. Having this software will also increase your multiple in the event of an exit or sale. – Brandon Stapper, 858 Graphics
10. Analytics and tracking tools
We began our business by licensing attribution and tracking software from another company. Eventually, our clients began requesting more customized solutions. We found that building these solutions on top of technology that was not ours was very difficult. We decided to undertake the project to build a very complex attribution platform. Our business immediately increased as we were able to quickly build out complicated solutions for our clients. If a piece of a technology is a key component of your business, I would definitely recommend looking into building it internally. – Dan Sapozhnikov, AdGate Media
11. An internal sales CRM
We opted to build our own internal sales CRM rather than use an off-the-shelf solution such as Salesforce. Products on the open market didn’t do exactly what we needed, so it made sense to build something that did. While it is a more costly and time-consuming process, it will add value to the company in the long term and also allow us to continue customising and improving our processes around our clients, rather than being at the mercy of software updates from companies where we would not be a priority. – Thomas Smale, FE International
12. A task management system
There’s a ludicrous number of task and project management apps out there. There are a lot of great ones that work well for most people; however, we’ve got a very particular way of staying productive, and none of these tools quite fit our workflows. Essentially, we always felt we were fighting the system rather than letting it fight for us. So, we spent a few nights and weekends building a Chrome extension that was tailored exactly to our workflow. It may not work for many others, but it has been a fantastic success internally. – James Simpson, GoldFire Studios
13. Content calendars
There are lots of content calendar software platforms out there, but very few for agencies. When you’re writing content for multiple clients, juggling multiple calendars, social handles and editorial calendars for placed media, you crave organization. But we couldn’t find anything that would work for the agency model at a price point that made sense (or any price point, really). So we made Google Drive work for our purposes. The benefit is now we understand our content funnel better than ever before and have built out a very robust SEO and repurposing side service from it. – Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media
Read next: Building a medium viable product
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This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.