Should I build my app from scratch or use a low code or SAAS platform?

Building from scratch offers full control over design, code, and functionality, but requires more time, budget, and expertise. Low code platforms are quicker and cheaper but limit customization and ownership. SaaS platforms provide pre-built solutions but may be expensive at scale and lack flexibility. Should I Build my App from Scratch or Use a Low Code or SaaS Platform?

Let’s explain the language.

Building from scratch means we start from bottom up and literally write the code line by line. (Actually, even with this approach developers will always be using certain standard packages or libraries provided by third parties.). This means we have total control over the design, code and therefore the functionality (within the limits of what is possible) and you also exclusively own the code and intellectual property. This is how we used to do it.

Using a low code platform means we (sometimes in conjunction with our clients) use a platform that is designed for non-developers. So it’s typically simpler, quicker and therefore cheaper to build the app but you are constrained by what the platform can do and you often don’t own the code or intellectual property. People also talk about “No code” platforms – these are even simpler versions of low code platforms or they can also be SaaS platforms…

SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms are solutions developed by third parties to allow people like yourself to launch your own product without building it – you configure (which can include your own branding typically) and license their technology. This is increasingly popular for popular types of apps (such as on-demand, data collection or workflow apps) that are expensive and complex to build from scratch.

Which approach is best?

There is no simple answer to this one. We normally make a recommendation with our clients after understanding their idea, strategy, timelines and budget. 

In an ideal world with unlimited time and budget it’s best to build from scratch where you can export and customize the code and don’t pay license fees. This is because:

  • You have total control over design and functionality;
  • You don’t pay license fees;
  • There’s no limit to scaling;
  • You exclusively own the code and intellectual property.

Why We Use Low Code

Let’s just clarify how and which low code platforms we use. For a long time we didn’t use low code or SaaS platforms at all because of the concerns above. There were a few exceptions where there was a very good fit with the client requirements (for example building an eCommerce website or a data collection app) and we were explicit with them that we were using them and why. Many developers don’t do this and it’s only much later the client finds it out when they want the source code or a feature the platform can’t support.

Today we do use Low Code tools but only very selectively. We love FlutterFlow because it brings the best of low code (for example a simple design interface, third party integrations) but we can always export and custom code anything the platform can’t do. And our clients exclusively own the code and don’t pay license fees.

There are some other Low Code/ SaaS platforms we sometimes also use:

  • Firebase is a kind of a low code cloud database for apps.
  • Bubble is a low code platform which is really good to design workflow and management tools/ integrations for websites. But you don’t own the code and the license fees can become prohibitive at scale.
  • Shopify is a great no code tool to build eCommerce websites and apps.
  • WebFlow is an awesome low code platform to build proper websites. It’s so good, we built this site with it.
  • We also use some low code tools to develop chatbot flows such as Typeform, and Landbot.
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