Categories: Business / Mobile Apps

One of the early questions your mobile app startup will face is whether to build or buy your backend. The answer is that it depends.

Let’s take a look at what a backend is, and why you might choose to build vs buy it.

What’s a mobile app backend?

There’s more to mobile apps than what you see on your phone screen. After all, all that behind-the-scenes data that fuels your app has to live somewhere. Namely, a server backend system, or what we usually call “the backend”.

A backend can be something you build from scratch, or it can be something you buy (or rent) from an SaaS provider.

A Macbook computer with a pink screen.
Should you build or buy your mobile app startup backend? It depends.

The pros and cons of buying a backend

For a mobile app startup that wants to get started with minimal outlay, buying is a popular choice. You can get up and running quickly, which means that your go-to-market can be drastically reduced. If time is of the essence, buying makes sense.

Buying a back-end also requires less developer skill and manpower. You get full-stack ability off the bat, and without the need for specialized resources.

But while buying a backend can be cheaper and easier when getting started, it’s less so down the track. Most SaaS backend products are cost-effective with a small user base, but if your startup scales rapidly, you could be in for some serious sticker shock.

Not only that, but you’ll be tied to your vendor and reliant on their services and support. Additionally, moving away can require major code and application re-architecting. And the costs can add up.

Woman at a computer
Building your backend can be more costly upfront, but may make sense in the long term.

When to consider building a backend

There’s no getting away from the fact that rolling your own backend costs time and money. But depending on your business model, it can be the wise investment.

If your mobile app startup is software-based or could be pitched as a platform, then you might want to consider building your backend. Doing so gives you the power to leverage your own API. This means you can encourage other developers to integrate with your product and monetize accordingly.

Additionally, if your startup is highly technical or complex, then you might need something more tailored than an off-the-shelf product. The same applies if you want to maintain control over your technology stack – and avoid the risk of running your app on a service that may change directions or no longer be supported. You might also want to build your own backend if your startup heavily integrates with other systems in a way that standard SaaS platforms can’t readily support.

Finally, if you have plans to scale rapidly, building your own backend can end up being a cost-saver. With buy-your-backend, the bigger your system demands, the bigger the costs – and not in a linear way. A high-growth startup can easily end up reaping better ROI from a custom backend system, while still maintaining the flexibility and control you need.

One and then the other?

A final option is to start with an off-the-shelf service and then migrate over to your own. While this may reduce costs and risk up-front, aim to make the migration as easy as possible – and don’t forget to factor in the time and expense of shifting over.

If you’re a mobile app startup trying to decide whether to buy or build your backend, get in touch! Our team is happy to advise which is the best approach for your particular business model.

Touchtap is a digital agency specializing in mobile-first development.We can build your mobile app for you.

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