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Vira Vashkovska
July 13, 2020

Sharetribe Backend Development For Marketplaces: Is It Worth It?

If you are considering marketplace development, you’ve likely heard about Sharetribe backend, a ready-to-use builder for marketplaces. As a marketplace development company, we certainly hear about it a lot. A lot of product owners go through the stage of deciding between Sharetribe and custom development. 

What do we think about Sharetribe?

Let’s cut to the chase: what does an experienced marketplace development team think about the ready solution? Our experience with Sharetribe is contradictory. A lot of our marketplaces clients are companies that started with Sharetribe but then hit the ceiling – either the subscription became unreasonably expensive, or it didn’t have crucial features, to begin with. We know firsthand all about marketplaces and how to improve them you can read our guide on how to build an online marketplace.

In our opinion, Sharetribe backend does the job well at the validation stage. When you are building an MVP and verifying user interests, a fast and ready-to-go go builder speeds up the process of release. 

This is why our team does help companies to get started with Sharetribe – we don’t mind lending a hand in customizing the interface and a codebase. However, it’s not a reliable long-term solution. For sophisticated platforms, like HLPRS, product owners chose to hire our custom marketplace backend developers.  

The concept of Sharetribe is misunderstood 

The primary intent of the platform is making building peer-to-peer development easier. For P2P marketplaces, it more or less works, but not every multi vendor platform is peer-to-peer. Here are some business models that aren’t well suited for ShareTribe. 

  • E-commerce business models: Sharetribe doesn’t have the most powerful e-commerce functionality. Order tracking, personalized feed, cooperation with vendors – those features are highly crucial for e-commerce, and in Sharetribe, their customization is superficial.
  • Service business models: Sharetribe interface uses listings to display items or services for sales, and doesn’t emphasize much on a personal profile. Think about popular multi-vendor marketplaces like UpWork or Monster – you have detailed individual pages with a lot of information, reviews, interactivity, contact options. On Sharetribe, you are purchasing services in a “product” way, with no personal connection to the provider. 

Booking platforms. Reservation platforms require in-depth profile settings and communication features. Just to give you an idea, here’s our booking service with the full functionality description. Also, if you’d like to implement sharing economy functionality – like Airbnb – Sharetribe is not the best option.

sharetribe layout

Sharetribe is, as the name suggests, great for sharing and renting businesses. The service is actually open about that – even the success stories mainly feature rentals and shared-economy startups. 

What are the pros and cons of Sharetribe backend?

The central concept is already clear: Sharetribe is meant for sharing. Let’s expand this definition a bit further and discuss some practical use cases. If your business idea is on this list, you can go ahead and try the platform.

  • Local rental businesses: Sharetribe works for platforms that unite local communities to share and rent goods;
  • Niche-shared economy businesses: if your business covers a narrow field (like offering to share old furniture), Sharetribe functionality will suffice;
  • MVP development: for rentals and shared-economy platforms. Sharetribe is a go-to tool to check the validity of the idea;
  • Auctions: Sharetribe has an intuitive listing and bidding system, especially fitting for small businesses. 

 If your business falls into one of the described categories, you’ll discover many advantages of Sharetribe backend – mainly the speed of development and cost-efficiency. However, if you aspire to build a broad international platform, Sharetribe functionality will limit you. 

sharetribe types of marketplaces

Challenges of Sharetribe marketplace development

We already discussed the main one – the wrong choice of the tool for your business model. However, even if a builder fits your business model like a glove, it’s not necessarily the best option. 

Problem #`1 – Choosing a subscription

sharetribe costs

Sharetribe has a lot of subscriptions. The development starts with a free plan: you can try out the platform’s look and feel, build service, and understand if it fits your business model. 

The free plan doesn’t allow getting a domain, remove the Sharetribe logo, and receive emails. For actual growth, businesses need to get a paid subscription. 

CostOpportunitiesLimitationsOur opinion
Hobby$79The expiration date is canceledNo domain, no email feedback, Sharetribe logo, up to 100 usersA hobby plan works during the development stage. The lack of feedback options limits actual promotional and commercial activity. Just as a name suggests, it’s fitting for a hobby, but not as much for a business
Pro$119Access to all Sharetribe functionality,a custom domain name, no Sharetribe brandingOnly up to 1000 usersPro plan works for MVP validation, but the low number of allowed users makes it a bad fit for serious promotional activities. However, you can start selling with this plan.
All features of the Pro, but more allowed usersUp to 10 000 usersThis marketplace builder plan is already pretty expensive, so the advantage of cutting costs isn’t evident anymore. On the other hand, 10 000 users are already enough for decently scaled businesses.
Scale$239All features of the Pro, but more allowed usersUp to 100, 000Pro, Growth, and Scale plans differ only in the number of allowed registered users and costs. You don’t get additional bonuses for such drastic price increases. 
Hold$79Freezing the projectYou can save all the development progress but discontinue the support of advanced features.

Only Growth and Scale plans are suitable for a scaling-oriented marketplace backend, but here, the main competitive advantage of Sharetribe over custom development – reduced cost – starts to blur. 

Problem #2 – The platform dynamically changes its pricing and creates limits

As Sharetribe becomes more popular, the need to attract customers with lower plans decreases. The team cancels previously available comfortable plans, forcing business owners to switch to more expensive options. 

Perhaps, you heard about a Starter plan, an intermediary option between Hobby and Pro. With this plan, developers could remove branding and expiration date from their page. This plan was canceled; users can still work under their current pricing. Yet, in the future business owners might have to put up with other policy changes of a marketplace builder.

Problem #3 – Self-hosted Sharetribe vs official version

We can’t talk about ready-to-use development without mentioning marketplace backend issues. Sharetribe offers two editions for backend: official and self-hosted. In the first one, the service takes responsibility for all computing operations and backend functionality – but also keeps intellectual rights for it and full control for its performance. 

The open source backend is published on GitHub and isn’t supported by the official team. 

Drawbacks of a hosted-version

  • All the backend design patterns is the intellectual property of ShareTribe (quoting Terms of Service, “any and all intellectual property rights to the Service remain the sole and exclusive property of Sharetribe or third parties”).
  • It’s more expensive: versions that provide domain and hosting that with Pro and higher;
  • Sharetribe, according to the Terms of Service, might or might not be held responsible for outages and technical issues that were out of their control. While they have a compensation program, receiving it will require legal negotiation.
  • You rely on Sharetribe security methods, certifications, and protocol protection. 

Drawbacks of a community version

  • You need technical expertise: an in-house team will be responsible for updates, safety, backups. Assistance from Sharetribe is carried out only as paid consults. 
  • Only community support: self-hosted solutions are cut off from any official support, you will be using GitHub community and forums on the official site and your primary sources of assistance, which is obviously not the most reliable option. 
  • Not all features are accessible: the self-hosted version doesn’t support PayPal and functionality that uses non-open-source code, like advanced GPS search
  • Costs: community edition, unlike the official one, is technically free. However, Sharetribe itself warns users that the setup of servers and maintenance might turn out to be more expensive. 
sharetribe questions

The official version is all-inclusive, but you rely on the resources of Sharetribe and have limited editing permissions. It’s not just the Sharetribe’s problem – any alternative backend tools have similar issues. he The community-based version requires consults of development and testing teams anyway, which undermines the primary motivation for using a ready tool. On top of that, it doesn’t support popular payment gateways

Problem #4 – Limited customization

If you are working with the official package, your editing permissions are limited only to editing necessary JavaScript and CSS. You can work in the command line, too – but that already requires software development expertise. The GUI allows changing templates, listings, colors, and images. Ultimately, you are limited to Sharetribe backend

functionality. Plus, if you don’t make changes, your multi-vendor marketplace will be mainly their intellectual property. 

Companies that opt for a self-hosted community version have more flexibility. You will be able to change JavaScript, edit admin panel, modify source code, and redesign backend. At this point, the level of required technical expertise is similar to custom development. 

There’s another “oops”, stated in Terms of Service. If you change source-code too much, you likely won’t be able to update Sharetribe anymore. You can open Pull requests on GitHub, but the team is highly selective about pushing them into production. 

sharetribe marketplace

Problem #5 – Scalability

It’s not just a ShareTribe issue, rather, a problem with all ready-to-launch builders. If your application is to host more than 100,000 users, the platform will have a hard time accommodating such a request. Even if at the beginning of development, 100 00 users might seem an unlikely goal, some multi-vendor marketplaces hit those numbers in months. 

  • When you use ShareTribe (as well as other marketplace builders), you are limiting your business to becoming local or too niche;
  • The functionality is not adapted to accommodating large communities, which is why you might have difficulties with maintaining one inf the first place;
  • The performance will deteriorate as you come close to the limits of your subscriptions. 
  • Not a good idea for seasonal businesses: if one day your site hosts 200 000 users and 50 000 in the next months, you still need to pay for the full subscription. Jumping back and forth between plans maks budget planning a lot more complicated. 

ShareTribe isn’t designed with large communities in mind. It’s a ready-to-use solution for MVPs and small businesses. Ambitious companies will quickly hit the ceiling. 

Is ShareTribe Flex a solution?

If you know a little more about the Sharetribe ecosystem, you likely are interested at this point: what about Sharetribe Flex? For those who don’t know what that is – Flex is a fuller version of the platform that allows developers to build a custom front-end instead of relying on ready templates. You can build the functionality, interface, set up interactivity, configure access, etc. 

The main selling point of the Flex plan goes like this: developers only need to worry about the front-end, the backend is fully handled by Sharetribe. You can use a template, if you want to, but you don’t have to. Sharetribe documentation features a detailed comparison of a Go (standard) vs Flex plan, if you are looking for more details. 

The problem with Sharetribe Flex is that it doesn’t solve the main issues of the platform. You are still dependent on security protocols, updates, API integrations, and functionality updates. If you are interested in expanding beyond built-in functionality, you need the team of developers and testers. At the end of the day, it’s a hybrid version between Sharetribe Go (the ordinary built-in version) and custom development. 

Perhaps, the only dramatic benefit of Sharetribe Flex is flexible pricing. Instead of a flat monthly fee, business owners pay a price, related to the number of purchases. You’ll have to pay more in busy seasons, but at least there’s no need to overpay on slow days. Even with that in mind, Flex still remains a temporary fix – its alternative backend versatility is still not sufficient. 


Marketplace building platform alternatives to Sharetribe?

Although Sharetribe is the only popular platform dedicated specifically to online marketplace development, other popular solutions are Shopify, Magento, and WordPress.

What do you think about Sharetribe marketplace development?

Sharetribe development is a convenient option for MPV development and local business.s However, business owners who consider scalable business models, might face a lot of backend issues. 

What marketplaces work on Sharetribe?

Local businesses, rentals, Minimal Valuable Services, and platforms that unite local communities tend to be the most successful on Sharetribe. 

Has anyone used Sharetribe to build a marketplace?

Our team helps businesses migrate from Sharetribe, and we sometimes use it to build minimal valuable products. Here’s our opinion on backend development and customization issues of Sharetribe.

How to choose between Sharetribe and custom development?

It depends on your scale, budget, focus. Sharetribe shines most in small platforms and across local communities. As for scalable platforms, backend issues make it difficult for multi-vendor platforms to grow past 100,000 users. 

The bottom line

If your ambition is to build a robust and scalable marketplace, Sharetribe likely won’t offer enough functionality. The marketplace builder might work as an MVP development and hosting platform, but a ready-to-sell product requires a more powerful architecture. 

Syndicode’s team is an expert at building marketplaces – take a look at our portfolio with work examples across many industries. We are happy to build a powerful and sustainable marketplace for you – just drop us a line. 

The bottom line

If your ambition is to build a robust and scalable online marketplace, Sharetribe likely won’t offer enough functionality. A platform might work as an MVP development and hosting platform, but a ready-to-sell product requires a more powerful architecture. 

Syndicode’s team is an expert at building marketplaces – take a look at our portfolio with work examples across many industries. We are happy to build a powerful and sustainable marketplace for you – just drop us a line.