As anyone who’s ever experienced the process will know, building an online marketplace involves finding the ideal balance between two seemingly opposing poles: speed and simplicity at one end, and control and customization at the other.
If you have little or no limitation on time, money, or both, you might consider building your marketplace from scratch: this way, you’ll be able to put everything together precisely according to the needs of your business. But for all the advantages this approach can offer, for the majority of projects, it’s simply not realistic.
At the other extreme, when you need to get a marketplace project moving ASAP, with minimum capital outlay, it can be tempting to look towards a solution that requires little or no custom development. But attractive as this minimal approach may be, too many compromises early on can create costly problems down the line.
One of our main goals as marketplace builders is to help our customers find an ideal point between these two extremes. And while we’ve used and loved many different solutions over the years, a name we keep on returning to is Sharetribe>.
At present, Sharetribe offers two marketplace solutions.
Sharetribe Go is a fully hosted offering, which the company says can be implemented without the help of developers. It’s designed to get your project off the ground quickly and inexpensively, and does that job admirably. Unlike many of its competitors, it doesn’t lock you in – so when the time comes, it’s relatively easy to move on. Nonetheless, though, a solution like this does naturally have its limitations in terms of how much customization it supports.
The company’s other offering is an open source version of Sharetribe, distributed via GitHub. Time and again, we at Roobykon have migrated marketplaces over to the open source version of Sharetribe – often from the hosted version of the company’s platform. Going open source means much more control and customizability – and while technical demands naturally increase, they’re still substantially less than for a custom build.
Sharetribe’s new kid on the block, Flex, remains a slightly mysterious character – it hasn’t yet been released, and so far, only a limited amount of information is available. What we do know is that sites that have been built using a pre-release version of the new platform, such as studiotime.io and swimmy.fr, are highly impressive.
But how does Flex fit in among Sharetribe’s existing offerings?
Well, like Sharetribe Go, it’s a subscription-based, SaaS product. Accordingly, it’s geared towards painless setup and minimising both the financial and technical challenges of taking the first steps towards building your marketplace.
But what could really set Sharetribe Flex different, as far as we can see so far, is the level of customizability that it enables – while at the same time still placing much lower demands on developers than its open source sibling. Highlights look to include the ability to create custom listing fields, which can be marked to indicate whether those fields will be filterable and/or searchable. It also allows greater control over the structure of your payment workflow.
Of course, from a customer’s point of view, the look and feel of your marketplace is just as important as the discrete features it offers. And while while we can’t yet make a first-hand judgment of how Sharetribe Flex performs in this regard, the examples we’ve seen and the words we’re hearing from those in the know suggest that once again, the company has produced a platform capable of yielding beautiful results.
There will never be one solution that combines total simplicity with total control and customizability – to some extent, the two will always be mutually exclusive. But there is the potential to bring together huge parts of the best of both – and we have high hopes that Sharetribe Flex will represent one of the best attempts at this so far. We can’t wait to get our hands on it and have a go for ourselves.