The correct answer to this question, for any WordPress agency, is that, it depends. Running an agency which delivers quality products and services can be daunting. While many are looking for the answers to be able to balance both, very few agencies actually can manage both successfully.
A good example in the Indian WordPress community is rtCamp. Asia’s first WordPress.com VIP partner agency has two popular products: EasyEngine and rtMedia. It is interesting to note that, both these products were born out of requirements the company had at those respective times. The statement by Rahul Bansal, “You should only develop on platform which you use,” rings true here it seems.
rtMedia was born when Bansal, suggested that his college use BuddyPress to build their own social network. His professors pointed out that a popular social network at the time- like Orkut, had images and videos and without that students might be bored. BuddyPress didn’t have the option to add media at the time and rtMedia was born to solve that problem. While the plugin was released 2 months after rtCamp was formalized, the product was being worked on before the birth of rtCamp itself, Bansal recollects.
In the case of EasyEngine, Bansal used NGNIX to reduce the budget for hosting his blog network which at that time used to get half a million page views. He found the solution to be efficient. However, being the only one in the company at the time to offer this solution, he refrained from making it their USP.
Over time, requests from Bansal’s friends in the blogging community resulted in moving their sites, over NGNIX, one by one. To avoid repeating the same task EasyEngine was created.
The success of both these products, coupled with the recent success of rtCamp as a WordPress.com VIP partner agency may paint a rosy picture of a company balancing both service and products. However, Bansal, would be the first to dispel you of such a notion.
There cannot be greater proof of the difficulty in delivering quality on both fronts; products and services, than when Bansal says that if he could travel in time, then he would kill either products or services on day one of rtCamp.
His reasoning is simple: unless a company has a manager dedicated to ideation, and development of the product, life can get very tough. As Bansal states that being the only person to head both products and services means that person may end up becoming a bottleneck in their own company; as all the approvals have to go through one person.
It may not be a satisfying answer but smaller or younger companies will do well to take note of the experiences of Asia’s premier WordPress company. Running a WordPress agency can be stressful at most times. Learning from each other’s experiences extends the feeling of community which is so inherent to WordPress, while helping us make smart choices too.