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March 21, 2022

The challenges of building a digital platform

Digital platforms are widely considered to be critical infrastructure in today's world. However, turning one into a successful business is not as simple as pairing your concept with a developer and watching profits fly in.

“If you build it they will come” might work well as a movie quote, but it’s not a great strategy. Getting this right requires a good understanding of the many challenges involved.

Playing the long game

Digital platform models have dominated the markets for years. In almost every sector, there’s an Uber or AirBnB equivalent making headlines. This has sparked a ‘gold rush’ mentality, where people believe that you can simply create a space to connect customers to third-party goods or services, sit back, and wait for your name to pop up on the Forbes list.

Thing is, this isn’t even true for the market leaders. Though ‘uber’ is now a verb for catching a rideshare, they didn’t see a profitable quarter from their conception in 2013 until late 2021. Considering how quickly they rose to prominence, that’s a long time operating at a loss.

The Uber story can and will be spun positively, but it comes with a warning. Even the best ideas aren’t guaranteed to be financially successful. Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way either. Chinese company Ping An have 11 distinct platforms and their market value quadrupled 2013-2019.

Finding digital talent

A great concept alone is never enough - a platform’s success relies on meeting key recruitment challenges. In particular, hiring the right tech team to build it and the right marketing team to push it. A unique idea with a lot of growth potential is one way to attract those people, but it’s unlikely to be enough to compete with every other company vying for the attention of those same devs and marketers.


The high candidate demand in tech is no secret - from developers to data scientists - a candidate who codes usually has an inbox full of open vacancies. So if you want them to turn their skills towards building your product, you need to stand out.


If you’re a startup who’s yet to make a splash in your sector - working with specialist recruiters is a must. The best person for the job is likely already employed elsewhere, so sparking their interest takes more than a well-placed job ad. A good recruitment partner will have existing networks full of great people, and they can help build your employer brand in the right circles.

Prioritising customer experiences

Making the customer experience central to everything is vital to the success of any digital platform. If users have a hard time trying to access the things a platform is supposed to connect them to, they’ll go elsewhere. Back to how they’ve always done it, or to a competitor who’s only a few swipes and screen taps away.


Customers expect a slick, personalised experience, so a well-formed UI and UX team is not simply a nice-to-have. It’s central to your success. The needs of your user base will change as time goes on - an innovative new function becomes an expected feature soon enough. Remember, at one point in time hashtags only existed on Twitter.


This concept goes further than tech, for example, delivery and supply chain issues can also contribute to the customer experiences that make or break a brand’s reputation.


Rules and regulations

Data compliance requirements grow stricter every year. The days when digital platforms could brazenly hoover up customer data to sell are over. Cambridge Analytica and similar scandals put data security firmly in the public sphere of concern, and governments responded by passing new laws that reflect this. We all remember the impact GDPR made, with digital businesses hit hardest because customer data is a functional necessity.

Other key regulatory battlegrounds for digital platforms involve anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws. Many critics of the likes of Uber and Amazon argue that their business models have created first-come, first-serve monopolies over entire markets (or across many, in Amazon’s case). But then again, was Amazon actually first when it came to delivering ecommerce or web services?

Still, there’s pressure on governments to write laws that curb what’s commonly seen as an unfair competitive advantage - the full scale and impact of which has yet to be seen. Could it be that these laws eventually spell an end to the potentially limitless growth of these digital platforms?

A world of potential

Despite the many challenges, the rise of digital platforms continues to gather pace.

Society isn’t moving off screen anytime soon, and people are always ready to embrace the next thing to make life easier. The ability to access virtually anything via a digital medium is no longer seen as a convenience, but is expected as standard.

Digital platforms are a business necessity, and the time to meet these challenges is now.

Do you need to hire exceptional people in the digital world? We can help.

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