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Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

When you’re looking for a company that is developing software for web & mobile apps, you can bump into many different descriptions of what the company does.

You have a right to be confused.
It can feel like you're in a Minotaur’s Labirynth.

Most likely, you came across 2 essential terms: a software company (aka software house) and a digital product studio.

Which one will be better for you? What’s the difference between them?
Or maybe those 2 names stand for the same thing, just like Snoop Dogg and Snoop Lion?

You’ll identify the tree by its fruits

With the Untitled Kingdom's 13 years of experience in the software market, we see that there can be many differences between the work of a software company and the work of a digital product studio.
How to notice it with your naked eye?


Put less attention to the name or a description of a company. You can be as recognized and as talented as Jack Nicholson and say that you’re still learning. But you can also be a Regular Joe and claim that you’re the best.
The truth is, you’ll identify the tree by its fruits.

P.S. As Untitled Kingdom, we usually use the term "software company" since it's more clear to others and it answers the search engine questions.

It doesn’t matter what they do, but why and how they do it

Let me be clear: I can’t tell you that "software house" is a bad choice or that "digital product" studio is an excellent choice and vice versa.
It depends on different factors and, most importantly, your mindset.

I will present the most common differences between the 2, but YOU need to decide what’s the best for your business. Please keep in mind that this article is based on a fair share of generalization and approximation.

I will do my best to be objective, but at Untitled Kingdom we have actually walked the path from the software house to a digital product studio.
We know the differences very well. We have lived through them.

How to choose a software company that fits your needs?

When comparing the 2, I’m going to introduce the simplest comparison tools: workflow, methodology, and approach differences, according to a brief.


I will focus on the most essential points: money, people, time, engagement, quality, result, relationship, and vision.

 

Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

Money

SOFTWARE HOUSE

The software is not the core of your business. To work with an average software company, you don’t need much money (relatively). You fill the brief and wait for an estimate.

DIGITAL PRODUCT STUDIO

Web or mobile app is essential for your business, so you treat the development process as an investment. You expect the best possible quality and teamwork.

 

Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

People

SOFTWARE HOUSE

You pay for a developer who does what you hire him/her to do. Don’t expect many suggestions or added value from seeing a bigger picture. You may expect junior developers assigned to your project who often have little experience. Ask about it.

DIGITAL PRODUCT STUDIO

You pay for a collaboration of the whole interdisciplinary team, e.g., including senior developers, a project manager, a product owner, a product designer, CTO, QA, etc. They look at the project from different angles, and they all have experience from several dozen shipped projects.

 

Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

Time

SOFTWARE HOUSE

It’s difficult to say whether deadlines are even real. Since it's just one or two developers working for you; no one is questioning what they do. Speed matters most because time is money. If the quality of the code is not essential to your project, it could be the solution for you.

DIGITAL PRODUCT STUDIO

A team starts with strategy workshops to level up the knowledge, validate the idea, verify market fit and design an architecture roadmap. Then we code and test as a team daily to give you the best possible result. It lasts, but it's a productive and very crucial time.

 

Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

Engagement

SOFTWARE HOUSE

You don't need to devote much time to the software project. You filled the brief, so you expect the results. Yet, by proxy, you find yourself spending time on conversations that don't matter. Planning your time gets tricky.
It's not a principle, but that's usually the case.

DIGITAL PRODUCT STUDIO

You need to be prepared to share some time with a product studio - daily. There will be a strategic workshop and effective daily calls to check if we're on track. There will be "lets' get to know each other" meetings and time spent to value one another.

 

Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

Quality

SOFTWARE HOUSE

It's a lottery. You don't know what quality you should expect, especially when a person working on your project is a junior. Or when everyone is busy developing other projects.

DIGITAL PRODUCT STUDIO

You work with professionals, and you sleep like a child. Teamwork translates to the quality of the code. It's all well-prepared and well-tested.

 

Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

Result

SOFTWARE HOUSE

Software houses often have little flexibility, so they rather stick to the plan. Everything is prepared according to the brief. Even if new circumstances arise, the project is evaluated just as it was at the beginning. Don't expect... unexpected results.

DIGITAL PRODUCT STUDIO

Digital product studios tend to be more flexible. The final result may differ from what you originally expected, but it's because the product company brought value: they tested and experimented; they failed and they learned. But in the end, you're not surprised — it has all been consulted with you on a daily basis.

 

Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

Relationship

SOFTWARE HOUSE

You prefer a client-supplier relationship. You're the boss, you know better, and the supplier is afraid of losing you. You're busy, so you don't have the time for a supplier, and you don't pick up your phone that often. You expect the implementation of a particular task. You finish cooperation with no hard feelings.

DIGITAL PRODUCT STUDIO

It's more of a partner-partner relationship. You work arm in arm with your product studio. You share time for quality meetings and to get to know each other. It's win-win cooperation. You invest your time in a relationship, so you want to cooperate and partner permanently.

 

Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

Vision

SOFTWARE HOUSE

A software house's purpose is just to make money from each project. It often translates to a "ready-to-go" approach over the search for imaginative and creative solutions. Revenue is the most important thing, so your project may be one of too many that the team can handle.

DIGITAL PRODUCT STUDIO

A digital product studio wants to create something of lasting value. To work on something important, different. A world-changing project. That's why money is a side effect of work, not the aim.

Summing-up

If you have an undemanding project that is not the core of your business and you don't have a big budget, a simple software house may be a choice for you. It may be exactly what you need when developing an MVP quickly. But be aware of the quality of code. A software house will have limited possibilities to change the code or to evolve along with your project.

If you have a challenging project and want to have a well-thought-out MVP to start a business, a digital product studio is a better choice. You've got the budget, so you expect the best possible quality and support of the team consisting of interdisciplinary specialists. You don't need to worry about developing a web or mobile app. The code is well prepared and tested for it.

What questions should I ask a software company to check if it’s a good fit?

We have covered the theory. Let's put it into practice.

Here's what to ask when you're talking to a software house OR a digital product studio. And what their answers may suggest about the company.

 

Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

Money

  • How much does my project cost?
  • How reliable is an estimation?

If a company gives you a fixed price and estimates rather quickly, it's most likely a software house (but, of course, not always).

A product studio will probably ask about the details of your idea to check how many people and how much time it needs to develop your project.

 

Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

People

  • How much experience the developers have?
  • How many projects one developer has?
  • How many people do you employ?
  • How many projects are you developing right now?
  • How many developers are assigned to a single project?

If the company omits or generally talks about their experience, it's probably it employs mostly juniors. If one developer works on a few projects, the projects cannot be challenging. You're talking with an average software house.

A product studio will assign one or two developers to just one project to ensure continuity of knowledge. It's a team that has nothing to hide and may ask you plenty of questions. They choose to work with you too.

 

Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

Time

  • How long does the development take?
  • Can we accelerate it?
  • How long will my app be tested?

If the development is quick and you hear that a software house can do everything to accelerate the process, be aware.

When quality is the primary value, developers need time to code correctly, to review and test the app. When your idea is bad, you'll hear it from a product studio. A software house couldn't have the courage to say it.

 

Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

Engagement

  • How much time do I need to devote to you in a day/week/month?
  • How many meetings do you plan in the development process?

If you're not asked to be engaged in the development process, if the daily/week calls are not productive - be aware of that software house. The result may be very accidental, not planned.

A digital product studio doesn't start its work without good knowledge of you, your product, and your goals. That's why it leads strategic workshops, and the process of getting to know each other is longer than the average.

 

Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

Quality

  • What’s the quality of the code?
  • What if I possibly would continue the work with another company?
  • Who is watching the project?
  • How many people will be involved in a project?

Wait for examples of well-done or transmitted projects. Ask what the process was.
In a digital project studio, the project is maintained by an interdisciplinary team that adds value to your software and your product.
In a software house, the whole process is usually less structured.

 

Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

Result

  • What if unforeseen circumstances will appear?
  • What if I’m not happy with the effect?

A software house mostly wouldn't care about new possibilities, especially when working on a fixed price. The value lays in quantity, not quality.

In a digital product studio, you work daily, side by side, so there's no possibility of being surprised about the effect.

 

Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

Relationship

  • What do you expect from your client?

An average software house won't be demanding because it wants to have you as a client no matter what.
A digital product studio wants to work as a partner, so it also chooses you and focuses on a long-term partnership.

 

Software company vs. digital product studio. What’s the difference? What questions should you ask?

Vision

  • What are your mission, vision, and goals?
  • What’s most important for you as a company?

When all you can about is money, raising revenue, working with leaders on the market... you're talking with an average software house.
Working on your project is their dream, not a direction they want to take.

A digital product studio will tell more about values, people, and challenges.

A software company or digital product studio? What the heck should I choose?

You now know the differences between the mindset of a software house and a digital product studio in every detail.

For the naked eye, they do the same, but their 'why' and 'how' could not be more different.

Ask simple questions. Pay attention to their answers. Know who you're talking to. And then... make your conscious decision.

_________________

If you’re looking for a software partner, you can contact us to create a unique product together.

Check our services.

 
Klaudia Raczek

By

"The State of FemTech" ebook co-author. FemTech enthusiast, copywriting, content marketing, strategy pro. Culture geek, addicted to learning new things and self-development. Bad jokes therapists and a French leave enthusiast. A creative mind that no one has ever managed to control.