Rosa labs launched in 2013 with a one-person engineering department and off-the-shelf e-commerce apps: one for subscription orders and one for single orders. But then the company’s product -- Soylent, the soy-based meal-replacement drink that’s huge with techies -- became a hit, and Rosa Labs’ convoluted app setup began hindering growth. So cofounder and CTO John Coogan decided to start from scratch. He hired a three-person development team and gave them their first task: Decide which development platform to use to build the company’s new, completely customized ordering system.
Coogan’s team researched many systems, looking for one that matched their needs -- and their resources. Rosa’s IT team would remain small, but the company expected to grow and would want to update its software regularly. That led them to the cloud-based Heroku platform, which is known as a “platform-as-a-service.” It allows clients to develop their own integrated e-commerce app, back-end database and other systems -- but without paying for servers, or locking them into something that could become outdated. “It’s extremely good at removing the grunt work of getting servers set up and having code executed on a reliable basis,” Coogan says.
Rosa Labs now has a fully custom -- built system that can handle customers’ orders, offer new upsells and push surveys to collect customer feedback. Since it was installed last spring, the company’s site runs markedly faster and its subscription conversion rate spiked 84 percent. That led to a 24 percent increase in meals shipped. And because Heroku’s system can always handle updates, Rosa Labs’ developers roll out new code an average of 2.97 times per day -- instead of once every couple months, like before.
The Second Opinion
Before you go the same route, consider your IT needs: Does investing in customized tech make sense, given where your company is in its growth cycle? And if it does, do you have the resources, talent and attention capital to do it right? “A custom approach tends to drain money and time,” says Chris Locher, VP of software development at the Minneapolis-based web-development firm Nerdery. But the resulting gains can quickly offset that drain.