Using Off-the-Shelf Solution or Custom Software?

Very recently we came across a lead that wanted to build a tool around learning and was not sure whether building custom software is the way to go, or using the off-the-shelf solutions and then using APIs or tools such are Zapier to connect them to make them work as per your requirements (more suitable for workflow type applications).

If you google your problem set, more often than not, you will end up finding a product that fits 60-80% of your requirements (you can juxtapose your 80-20 rule here to get a better understanding of what we mean).

This dilemma is a tough one. You do not want to be bothered by nightmares by creating something that already exists after investing your time and hard-earned money.  A better way to lose money would have been putting all of it in Red (or Black) on the roulette table.

In this blog post, we explore the pros and cons of either approach so that you can make an informed decision when faced with such a situation.


Off-the-Shelf Solution

Meaning: you find a product (or products) that is/are in the SAAS (Software as a service) category and you use it/them to solve your business problem.

While the meaning may sound pretty straightforward, finding this solution can prove to be extremely tricky. Let’s explore:


  • Low or no capital expense – There could be some setup fee, but in a lot of cases there could be 0 setup fee depending on the product
  • Operational Expense – You pay on a monthly basis.
  • The product is based on feedback from hundreds or thousands of potential users like you, hence you can assume the product is as per the standard
  • You do not have to get involved in giving our specs or requirements
  • No need to hire Developers or Business Analysts to assist in making a product
  • You do not have to worry about the infrastructure
  • Just punch in your credit card details and get started!

Sounds simple enough, right? Let’s look at the other side of using Off the Shelf Solutions. Here are the…


  • There is a difference between creating your own product vs leveraging a solution to solve a business problem
  • No 2 businesses are the same, therefore the 80% rule applies, solving the remaining 20% would be extremely difficult – if even possible
  • You want a new feature. Forget it. Time taken to ship a new feature takes multiple cycles, and it might be possible that you no longer are even part of the company when the feature is actually pushed to production
  • Data – A very important piece; this is your data, and you should be extremely uncomfortable opening it with anyone else. Yes, every company has terms and conditions and privacy policy vetted out, but we have seen the biggest companies not take them seriously and rather sheepishly apologize after breaking things. With new data policies in different parts of the world, you need to be 100% sure before jumping in for a SAAS model
  • What is the point of saving money on something, when its usefulness is limited?
  • Deriving insights – Analytics is everything and again it’s not one size fits all.

Let’s try to focus on the next category.


Custom Software Development


  • You are in the driver’s seat, drive anywhere you want.
  • You own the data, therefore better outcomes as you can leverage the same ML (machine learning) going forward (assuming you are able to generate a lot of it).
  • Want some new features, great! You just have to plan for it
  • Have a team on standby literally 24/7 to take care of any issues or improvements
  • You can create a world-class product and be the owner of the same rather than a consumer of another product.
  • Make the product an integral component of your business strategy


  • There is an upfront cost
  • You need to wear a product development hat, and it’s not for everybody. We usually are not patient enough to see the best results but want to get into the market as quickly as we can.
  • There will be a lot of groundwork that you would need to do (and have trusted partners who can assist you with this)
  • Without prior experience or an experienced team, this process can be daunting.

In a nutshell, custom software development is more involved, needs more expertise, and therefore has more value. Whereas in the case of off-the-shelf, you have not actually created any real value (debatable).


What advice do we give?

It depends, there is no single silver bullet and all boils down to the business requirement and the vision one has.  In case you would like to discuss your requirements with us and find out if custom software is better or if you can work just fine with a SAAS offering do get in touch with us at

Rishi Rais