Is Flex the right fit for you?
The purpose of this article is to give you a general overview of whether Flex is a good solution for building your specific marketplace idea.
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Flex is a software solution for building marketplaces. Marketplaces are platforms that match supply and demand and typically facilitate transactions between them. The operator of the marketplace typically doesn't own the inventory but instead invites a large number of providers to offer their services to their customers through the marketplace.
Flex is not the right solution if your idea is to build an e-commerce store for selling products. Flex is also not the right fit if your concept is a discussion forum or a social network.
Some marketplace types are faster to build with Flex than others. We're going to look into this next.
Flex functionality has been built with specific focus on for marketplaces for selling services, renting products or spaces, or offering various experiences.
These marketplaces can be either C2C ("Customer-to-Customer", also called peer-to-peer – individuals selling to other individuals), B2C ("Business-to-Customer", businesses selling to individuals) or B2B ("Business-to-Business", businesses selling to other businesses), or any combination of them. Your Flex marketplace can be a website or a mobile app or even have both.
With Flex, you can build your own marketplace that is similar to, for example, one of these popular platforms:
- Airbnb – short term apartment rentals (C2C, B2C)
- EatWith – book seats to dinner parties organized by home cooks (C2C, B2C)
- EquipmentShare – rent construction equipment (B2B)
- Fiverr – hire freelance designers, developers, or other knowledge workers (B2C)
- Getaround – rent cars from people around you (C2C)
- Handy – find a home cleaner or a handyman (B2C)
- Rover.com – find a pet sitter or a dog walker (C2C, B2C)
- Storefront – rent retail space from other businesses (B2B)
- Treatwell – book appointments with hairdressers and beauty professionals (B2C)
- UrbanSitter – find a babysitter (B2C)
Building such a platform with Flex is very fast, as you can start from example templates – either from FTW-daily, an example of a rental marketplace, or from FTW-hourly, an example of a service marketplace.
You can use Flex for building a marketplace for selling physical products today, but it will probably take a bit longer for you to get your marketplace running, as Flex has less product marketplace specific functionality. For example, there are example templates for rentals and services, but no template for selling products yet. If you're building a marketplace for selling products, we recommend you to use FTW-daily as a starting point.
Features specific to marketplaces for selling physical products, like shopping cart, multiple shipping options, inventory management and product variations, can all be achieved with Flex, but you need to do some custom development to build these. Similarly, it's possible to build a marketplace that sells digital products, but you will need to do some custom devleopment to integrate a system for storing these files.
A typical service, rental or event marketplace has the following workflow: first, the service providers build their profiles and list their service offerings. The customers search the site, browse and compare different providers, choose the one they like, book a slot from their calendar, and pay. Alternatively, the customer might contact one of the providers (or several of them) and start a negotiation process to determine the final price. This is how all the 10 popular marketplaces listed above work. Flex works great for all these use cases.
In these marketplaces, it's the providers who do the searching. The customers start by creating a post that describes their requirements. The service providers browse these posts and bid on some of them. The customer then chooses one of the bids and starts working with the provider in question, eventually making a payment based on the invoice they provide.
If you're building a reverse marketplace, it's possible to achieve it with Flex, but it takes a lot more custom development work, compared to building a regular marketplace. The reverse workflow is quite different from the regular flow, and it affects the entire design of your platform.
To learn more about the differences between regular and reverse marketplaces, take a look at an article on how to design the booking flow of your service marketplace.
You can use Flex in any country around the world. However, if you want to use the Flex default payment system to process online payments, your platform and all your providers need to be in one of the countries supported by Stripe Platform Accounts. You can have customers in countries that Stripe doesn't support, but if providers need to receive money from your platform, they have to be in a Stripe-supported country.
If you or some of your providers are not in a Stripe-supported country, it's possible for you to integrate your own payment gateway to Flex. However, this requires quite a lot of custom development work.
If you've read everything above and concluded that your marketplace concept matches the focus of Flex, there's one more thing to consider: are you currently at a stage where you need Flex?
You need to do some custom development work to launch your marketplace with Flex. If you're a developer or have one in your team, you can do this yourself. If that's not the case, you need to hire a developer to do this work. In this case, the minimum budget for building your MVP (Minimum Viable Platform) with Flex is around $5,000 (and depending on your exact requirements, the cost could be a lot more – for instance, for product or reverse marketplaces the minimum is probably closer to $10,000). Typically, it takes 1–2 months from the day you start development to launch your MVP.
If you're not ready to invest in hiring a developer, Flex is not the right solution for you. Instead, you could try out Sharetribe Go, which is free to test for the first 30 days, and after that its pricing starts at $79 per month. With Sharetribe Go, you can build your MVP in one day, without technical skills. It doesn't have the same flexibility than Flex, but in many situations, it can be a good way to get started quickly and to validate your business idea.
If you have already tried Sharetribe Go and concluded that it's not enough for your needs, then it might be time to get started with Flex. In that case, you can continue by reading about how to build and launch your marketplace with Flex.
If you have more specific questions on whether Flex can support certain features or workflows before getting started, contact Sharetribe support or book a call with one of Sharetribe's founders to discuss your concept.