August 8, 2022

How One Marketplace Abandoned Its Home-brewed Chat App to Prioritize Growth

Karen Kelty

How One Marketplace Abandoned Its Home-brewed Chat App to Prioritize Growth

“Build or buy?” is a question technology managers and business leaders ask themselves all the time. Sometimes one approach holds a clear advantage, but more frequently the question invites investigation and deep thinking. Making a decision is even more difficult when you’ve already started down a path that may have been more demanding, time-consuming, and less worthwhile than you’d initially imagined. 

Nathan Heber, founder & CEO of Boatyard, an online marketplace that connects boat owners with service providers like mechanics and marinas, discusses how his team learned that building chat yourself isn’t as straightforward as it initially seemed.

About Boatyard

Fast Facts

  • Named the Top Product of 2022 by Boating Industry Magazine
  • Boatyard’s mission: Give boaters more time to enjoy boating by making it easy to book marina slips, mechanics, and more from marine-industry service providers
  • Services thousands of boat owners in the U.S.
  • Founded in 2014; acquired by MarineMax in March 2020

Boatyard is the first customer experience platform designed for the marine industry. The app connects boat owners with service providers like mechanics and marinas, allowing them to easily book service appointments, schedule fuel deliveries, request a boat wash, and more. At the same time, service providers save effort, find new customers, and ultimately earn more revenue. 

“​​We saw how many of our friends weren’t using their boats because they didn’t want to deal with the hassle of maintenance, cleaning or taking the ride to the fuel dock. Some couldn’t find a good mechanic or enough free time to keep their boats seaworthy, while others shared horror stories about their experiences with unqualified and unreliable service providers,” said Boatyard founder & CEO Nathan Heber. “We knew there had to be a better way, so we built one.”

Seamless in-app communication is a critical component to the value Boatyard delivers, as it enables users to send and receive updates throughout the service process, as well as photos and videos.

Before partnering with CometChat, Boatyard relied on its own chat solution. 

In-app chat is table stakes for an online marketplace like Boatyard. Today, users have high expectations of the messaging experience driven by sophisticated platforms like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. 

For a lot of companies, a common misconception is that the cost of building chat yourself will be less than investing in a ready-made solution. But before long, many founders, like Heber, realize that keeping messaging current with the latest features and functionality becomes a huge drain on resources, and in-house developers easily become distracted from advancing their own core product.

“The longer you have your home brewed chat the further behind you fall behind from the (expected) experience because you’re not doing this full time.” - Boatyard founder & CEO Nathan Heber

As Boatyard’s user base grew, they found themselves requiring a more reliable and scalable chat infrastructure.

Their priority was finding a chat provider that could function seamlessly and at scale. 

The most important factors they considered when evaluating chat providers were: 

  • Ease of use for Boatyard’s engineers to implement 
  • Platform stability their users could rely on
  • A best-in-class end-user experience
  • Solid support should any issues arise

The companies they evaluated included PubNub, SendBird and Stream. The first step was contacting each of their sales teams. “If reaching out to sales was a painful experience, we discounted them right away.” PubNub did not provide the level of sales support they were looking for, so they moved on. 

They went on to build a proof of concept with Stream, SendBird and CometChat. The engineers ruled out SendBird, because they lacked a UI Kit at the time. “Stream claims to have a UI Kit for React, but it wasn’t as good as yours,” Heber said, adding “CometChat’s UI Kit is a real differentiator…the devs loved CometChat more than the others.”

He was equally reassured by CometChat's robust documentation. “You can tell a lot about a company by how clean the documentation is,” he said. “If a non-technical founder can navigate and understand the documentation, we’re in good shape.”

Ultimately, Heber’s instincts proved correct:

“One of the main reasons why we chose CometChat is because chat is crucial to our platform, so it had to work well and fulfill the needs of the users. The support was instrumental in why we chose CometChat. ComeChat's fully-featured SDK, UI Kits, and robust documentation compared well with competitors. From the initial deployment to the release of our platform, we didn’t see that level of support with any other chat solution.” - Boatyard founder & CEO Nathan Heber

Boatyard’s partnership with CometChat has fueled business growth and scalability. 

Through best-in-class in-app messaging functionality, boat owners can now get in touch with available professionals faster than ever before, thereby improving customer satisfaction, increasing engagement, and gaining more leads for Boatyard’s network of boating professionals. 

“CometChat has allowed us to scale quicker than ever — and do it in a way that’s going to serve a bigger purpose - Nathan Heber, Boatyard Founder & CEO

“CometChat has helped us to deliver best-in-class customer experiences — and do it in a way that’s going to serve our mission of building connections between boaters and the marine industry that services them. CometChat allows us to focus on developing an innovative platform without having to invest a ton of time and effort in building chat,” Heber said.

Since implementing CometChat, Boatyard has seen....

  • 152% increase in user engagement quarter over quarter
  • Up to 4.2k messages exchanged between buyers and sellers monthly 
  • Sellers have saved an average of 10 minutes per work order

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