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The Pros and Cons of building a startup on a platform

One of the biggest challenges that many software startups face is acquiring early users.  In the early stages, feedback and information is the most important asset you have as it's this initial feedback that drives how your product and company takes shape.  By building on platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams you get access to their built in userbase giving your startup a huge leg up in getting these crucial early users.

However there are risks associated with building on a platform like Slack.  Let's go into some of the pros and cons.

Pro: Increase traffic from the app directory

Slack's website receives a lot of traffic – no doubt, more traffic than your tiny early-stage startup does.  Getting an early boost from such a large, credible website gives you an obvious leg up than building a site from scratch.  Getting to market quickly and cost effectively is crucial to test the viability of your product and a platform gives you early users to test with at a fraction of the cost of other channels.

Pro: You get around platform/app/software fatigue

When we started to build Eliot we shopped it around to small businesses, accountants and bookeepers and one frequent objection was "It's cool, but I don't need another piece of software."  This made sense to me, because when I owned a small business I hated new software too.  It's another login, another thing to fix when it breaks, another thing to learn and another thing to train the team to use.  We wanted Eliot to be clean and simple and we needed everyone in the team to be able to use it, otherwise we couldn't in good conscious sell it to people.

By building on a platform people are already familiar with, we knew it could seamlessly fit into the team workflow.  As customers are demanding a less fragmented user experience, more startups are building with this in mind too.

Pro:  You get to own a certain category

If you are fortunate enough to carve out a piece of the Slack Directory with a niche product you can work to own this category and become the app of choice for that need.

Troops.ai has done a great job with this strategy.  By owning the category of Salesforce and Slack integrations, they've made it the first choice for businesses that use both pieces of software and made it difficult to build software that rivals theirs.  Although Troops.ai is only useful if you use both software, this strategy is still a great way to carve out a lucrative niche for a startup.

Con: You run the risk of the platform changing

By building on another platform you do run the risk of that platform going out of business or significantly changing their platform that negatively affects you.  At the very least you are betting that Slack's influence and userbase will grow, but you are also betting that they keep allowing you to use their third party developer ecosystem over the long term.  

At Eliot, the best way that we have found to mitigate this risk is to be flexible and plan to build on multiple platforms.  By integrating with platforms like Microsoft Teams or even email, startups can leverage the benefits of these platforms while mitigating their risks.

Con: You don't own the whole experience

If you build your own SAAS tool, the sky is the limit in terms of what you can build.  Building on the Slack platform, you are always stuck with how Slack wants to do things – and that might be limiting or frustrating over the long term.  Remember though – what you lose in flexibility, you gain speed to market and cost as Slack is doing a lot of the heavy lifting as the foundation for your product.  Also by building natively on the platform, you should be able to build a better product than a Startup who only uses Slack as an extension of their main product.

The Bottom Line

It's important to be aware of the risks of putting all of your eggs in the Slack basket and building your product to mitigate those risks as much as possible.  Many startups are choosing the Slack platform because of it's a simple,  frictionless, low cost way to get to market and acquire early customers.

Ultimately every startup lives or dies based on listening to their customers and executing on their feedback.  In a world where there is a SAAS tool for almost everything, look for tools that use existing platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams to grow in popularity as customers increasingly demand that their new software works well with what they already use.