10th June 2021
What does bootstrapping mean to you?
Arguably the most important stage of your SaaS development journey, ‘validating’ your SaaS proposition could save you from an 18-month road to nowhere.
After spending some time embedded within the SaaS founder community, one genre of post kept cropping up. It was generally typified by a multi-paragraph breakdown of why the writer’s venture into the unforgiving SaaS marketplace failed to materialise into a six-figure ARR…
Whilst reading through a lot of these posts, you’ll often pick up on which of the decisions, or lack of, cost them the most before you read their concluding thought. You’ll invariably find a post-mortem taking place in the comments, with the most hotly contested thread being the one that asks – ‘How did you validate this before you went all-in?’
At which point, answers vary from a humble acknowledgement of the oversight, to defensive half-truths. What becomes clear reading through the dozens of others sharing their experiences is that those who approached the validation stage pragmatically and with focus the managed to find their space on the market.
We’ve fleshed out the different aspects of idea validation that you will want to consider during the earliest stages of your SaaS development, but if you’re looking for a quick bottom line; this process is all about giving shape and structure to that torrent of ideas that gave you the inspiration to begin in the first place, and try to find a place for them in the real world.
Reacting and pre-empting your competitors will be an ongoing part of your business strategy throughout your career as a SaaS entrepreneur, so understanding how best to adapt and learn from your competition from the get-go will give you an early advantage.
Your key focuses should be picking out weak points to refine your own USPs and market angles. A great way to go about this is to find where your competitor’s users are airing grievances, which is where online reviews and conversations on social media can prove useful. Check to see what people are saying about your competitors, and spend some time on industry-relevant forums to see what gripes your potential customers might be airing to their related communities.
You may find that your SaaS product doesn’t have that many obvious competitors – and the reason for that is that customers aren’t using a SaaS product to meet that end. For example, Slack wasn’t competing with a comparable software – it was competing with an internal phone network in an office, internal email server, or a trip up to the next floor to speak to a colleague.
From this stage, based off your market research, you should be asking yourself the following questions –
1) How vulnerable, complacent, or dominant are my competitors?
2) How satisfied is their potential customer base with the services on offer?
3) Where does your USP fit in the existing market?
As you research your competitors with the approach outlined above, you’ll probably also start to know a little more about the people you are looking to draw away to your own offering.
Start to build up a picture of what your customers are looking for, as well as what their potential red flags will be. This will let you craft a winning message that you’ll be able to promote to prospective buyers, that will eventually form the subject headings of outreach emails, the opening lines of a phone script, or the tagline of a social media blitz.
Working out your validation pitch will be invaluable in the early stages of developing your SaaS product. This will essentially be an ‘elevator pitch’ – a way that you can quickly and efficiently explain your idea to prospective customers, as well as investors and collaborators.
It’s not uncommon for start-up founders in the early stages of idea development to get caught up in the potential for their product, which in reality can sound like a breathless onslaught of ideas to anyone who hasn’t been living inside your head whilst you’ve been brainstorming.
Once you’re ready to start pitching, you’ll want to be able to concisely describe your idea as one feature, regardless of how wide the eventual scope of it will be.
The final step is to consolidate the feedback you’ve accumulated from the steps outlined above. At this point, there should be a sense as to the viability of your product.
Positive signs to look for
The most valuable potential for feedback will come from any contacts you have been able to make within your target industry. Hopefully some of them will react positively to what you’re offering, and could make their own suggestions based on their experiences which will help you focus in on what defines your USP.
What shouldn’t put you off
As part of your validation research, it is very likely that you will find that your idea has already been implemented, in some form or another, by another company. This does not mean that there is no place for you in the market.
The first iterations of your product will be unrecognisable compared to what it looks like 18 months down the line after prolonged development, consumer feedback, etc. Most successful SaaS businesses are not the first of their kind – they likely entered a market with significant competition. The idea itself is only half the battle – execution, timing and preparation is what will make-or-break your launch.
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