I’ll start by just calling out the elephant in the room: we’re obviously biased.
At LaunchNotes, we aim to build the world's best tool for tracking, sharing, and communicating product change. So it’s no surprise we believe strongly that our offering is a superior solution to anything that could be built in-house.
With that in mind, we’ve had countless conversations over the years about build vs. buy. We’ve seen how hundreds of different companies operate, what factors go into the decision making process, and why some companies end up going one way or another. Plus, we’re obviously pretty familiar with what goes into building a tool like this. So in this post I’ll try my best to take off my sales hat and lay out, as objectively as possible, what we’ve learned through these conversations and what we see as the major categories every team should consider when weighing the pros and cons of build vs. buy.
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Buy: With LaunchNotes, no engineering work is required to set up and run your account. It’s completely plug-and-play. Most of our customers are even able to explore some of the more technical features, such as our embedded widget and other integrations, without having to involve devs.
Build: Typically, when a prospective customer of ours is considering a build, they face a tricky question: can we convince our org to pull our engineers — the highest paid team in the building — away from their core work to tackle what will likely be considered a side project? If the answer is yes, and the conversation moves forward, it then immediately turns into a discussion of how to minimize the scope of the project as much as possible in order to protect valuable engineering resources.
Buy: With LaunchNotes, zero design work is required on your end. Our in-house design team will match your marketing website 95% pixel for pixel (we'll even get to 100% if you share your font package with us!).
Build: Again, this becomes a resource allocation question: Do you pull your design team – often the second highest paid team in the building, and always the busiest! — away from their core work? Again, what’s the scope? Will you need a web designer or a product designer? Do you need a web developer too?
Buy: With LaunchNotes, if something breaks, we'll fix it. Since our platform is literally our business, any service issues or bugs need to be a top priority for us.
Build: If something breaks with an in-house build, devs are needed to help debug. They’re almost guaranteed to always have other, more important priorities to take care of. Which means a long wait for support and maintenance, and a very subpar experience for your users.
Buy: Just like bugs and support, service reliability and uptime is something our business depends on. In fact, one of our founders was the founding engineer on Statuspage, the industry standard for communicating downtime. So to say we invest heavily in our reliability and infrastructure is an understatement. 😎
Related to this, scalability is another priority. So as your customer base and audience grows, you don’t have to worry if the page can handle increased traffic or load. You worry about your customers, let us take care of all the back-end challenges that come along with scale.
Build: With an in-house build, typically minimal thought is given to hosting, uptime, or scalability. And any (or all) can easily bite you… and almost always when you least expect it!
Buy: With LaunchNotes, you'll have granular product-line and category-level audience and message segmentation out-of-the-box. You can build as many categories as needed. This becomes critical as your product matures, your user base grows, and new offerings are brought into the fold.
Build: Typically, from what we've seen, in-house builds have no more granular audience segmentation than an average web page. And so these in-house builds end up being no more powerful or personalized than any other “pray and spray” tactic that results in low to no viewership or engagement. In other words: It quickly becomes one huge feed of scrollable content that may or may not be relevant to the visitor.
I know what you’re thinking: “But our company blog has some segmentation!” And it very well may have some kind of tagging feature. But there are a whole host of separate reasons why product change comms don’t belong on your blog. Not to mention all of this assumes you have free rein over the blog and it’s not run by a content team that will want you to file a ticket two weeks in advance every time you need to communicate about a new update.
Buy: With LaunchNotes, you'll not only have preloaded Templates, but the ability to create and customize your own. This consistency creates a better end user experience for your audience.
Templatizing also speeds things up for your communicators, giving them back valuable time to spend on higher-value activities. It also gives you the ability to publish faster and assign release note publishing to even the most junior team members; you set the guardrails, they publish freely without creating a headache for you.
Build: Typically, from what we've seen, in-house solutions don’t include any concept of templates. So teams end up slowing down work and shipping inconsistent updates because they’re starting from a blank canvas and writing a brand new update every time. And for the few companies we’ve seen who did leverage templates, they end up creating and storing these templates in a separate tool. This of course leads to the familiar run-around of: “Where are the templates? Is this template up-to-date? How often is this template being used? Has anyone approved this template?”
Buy: With LaunchNotes, advanced features like Roadmaps, Feedback, and Voting are a natural extension of the release notes functionality. In fact, we believe these features play an important role in closing the vendor-customer communication loop! This empowers teams to turn their release comms and product updates into a dialogue with customers, rather than a one-sided monologue.
Build: From what we've observed, an in-house build typically offers only the basic, initially-outlined functionality (picture the most basic changelog you’ve ever seen) and certainly doesn’t come with a product team engaged in ongoing product development and new features. Even just allowing your users to subscribe to receive email updates (something that’s a core LaunchNotes feature) is missing from 95% of in-house builds.
Buy: With LaunchNotes, easy-to-access analytics come standard. You can track activity analytics on any post and email analytics of every notification. Having analytics on the release notes platform is a game-changer. You can get better every time using real-time insights into how updates are performing in the wild, which comms are driving the most engagement, and more.
Build: From what we've observed, there's no in-house build that gives you Announcement-level performance metrics. And typically if data is available, it’s not presented in an easy-to-access way; you may need a developer or data analyst to write SQL queries whenever you want to check performance data.
Buy: Many companies support more than one product line. With LaunchNotes, you can enhance the end user experience by stitching together multiple product line changelogs into one seamless, branded experience. Every changelog can be targeted at a different audience, segmented using unique categories, set up to collect relevant feedback and ideas, run its own voting campaigns, and live alongside Roadmaps aligned with each specific product-line. And managing multiple product lines with different shipping cadences isn’t a problem.
Build: From what we’ve observed, both in-house builds and the company blog aren’t built to support complex, multi-product portfolios. There are little or no categories or segmentation. There is no distinct dedicated channel for a repository of product communications to live and breathe chronologically. And there definitely aren’t interactive features like Ideas, Voting, or Roadmapping on the blog.
To build such a comprehensive experience in-house would be a gigantic undertaking and certainty outside the scope of any developer signing up for a quick “build us a changelog” ticket. Having built LaunchNotes from the ground up to do all that we described above, we can assure you it’s years of custom dev and design work to do well. 😎
Buy: With LaunchNotes, you can set specific release notes to be available either publicly or privately. A changelog can be targeted at a customer-set, a specific customer, or an internal audience like a customer success team who needs to know everything in advance.
Build: To our knowledge, the only private way to communicate release notes to target customers without LaunchNotes involves using other generic communication tools like Zoom or email, and transposing messages across multiple platforms. To build all four security protocols in one product (like we offer): SSO, SAML, JWT, and Approved Address, you would need an entire team exclusively focused on securely protecting a DIY page.
Buy: with LaunchNotes, we meet you and your teams where you work today. By typing /Feedback into Slack, you extend your reach into the systems where most deeply detailed conversations about the product take place, rather than forcing someone to open yet another tool, log in, and add feedback in from a customer.
Build: We’ve never come across an in-house solution that even offers basic feedback, let alone this depth of functionality across other platforms.
Buy: Thanks to SaaS pricing, you’re typically only committing to pay for the month or year you’re currently using the product. The full cost of the tool is spread over the lifetime of your usage, whether that ends up being three months or six years. That usage lifetime can be whatever you want and you don’t have to know what it is upfront.
Build: With build, most of the expense is up-front. If you end up going a different direction or changing your mind down the road, you’ve got a very significant sunk cost on your hands.
As I said at the beginning, we’re biased and clearly think LaunchNotes is the right solution for you. It’s certainly more advanced, feature-rich, and usually cheaper than any DIY page we’ve seen. And we’ve seen a lot of them.
By buying LaunchNotes, you can quickly and continuously showcase product momentum and grow your revenue accordingly. This growth is purely driven by everyone having a voice as you transparently, accurately, and precisely make and communicate change.
Your team invests a lot in building, designing, and shipping new features and functionality. Why skimp on the communication of so much value? Ensure it lands properly and is adopted by giving your release notes the marketing-grade attention they deserve.
Don’t let your most important customer communication become an afterthought. Transform each and every release into a revenue-driving asset today!