11th May 2021
What is SaaS? Nine things you should know about Software as a Service
Launching a SaaS application in the current market and having it succeed is hard – it takes a hefty dose of grind along with a bit of luck to capture and sustain a paying customer base. As you’re probably aware, most start-ups fail within a year. But if you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance you think you’ve got what it takes to make it work, which is the best starting point you could have.
Now let us guide you through the hurdles that are most likely to derail your journey as a SaaS founder, and give you some pointers on how to build a shock-proof foundation for your ambitions.
If you’ve read any of our SaaS founder guides that we’ve posted this year, you won’t be surprised to see this one on the top spot – and that’s with good reason.
Idea validation is crucial to ensuring that you don’t waste lots of time, money, blood, sweat and tears developing something that just won’t take off. Of course, you’ll never be able to completely full-proof your concept until it’s in the hands of your customers, but there are steps you can take to make sure that you’ve given your SaaS project the best possible start in life.
For those still unsure, idea validation is the stage at which you try to collect as much ‘evidence’ as possible for a market need for your product. It is also sometimes referred to as finding your ‘product-market fit’, but we at Angle would incorporate that into the broader validation process.
Idea validation can be achieved a number of ways, and the most successful validation projects are those that incorporate it at every level of their early-phase development.
On the other hand, SaaS founders who go all-in without properly validating their idea almost always go the same way. In researching our SaaS Founder FAQ series, one of the most common post-mortem conclusions made by entrepreneurs posting their ‘learn from my mistakes’ essays was the failure to validate the target audience’s need for their product.
Validation goes beyond testing the market however – it should also involve your development team and what they think can be achieved in terms of functionality within your budget and time constraints. The final stage of idea validation is marrying these two halves – technical dev potential and audience demand – into something that looks likely to succeed.
Finally, the process of validating your SaaS product shouldn’t be seen as a chore – it should inform your early-stage planning as the feedback you get from your target audience can push you in certain directions you didn’t anticipate.
Launching an MVP is a key stepping stone in the SaaS development process. This ‘soft launch’ of your product is intended to go out to users on the understanding that the it’s a work-in-progress, and that their feedback will be used to develop the features on offer. It can in some cases be part of the idea validation process, depending on how easily you can get one off the ground.
After having validated their SaaS idea, building an MVP can become another stumbling block for SaaS founders. This seems to occur most commonly in one of two ways. Firstly, the founders failed to take into account how much development time and money it would take to actually build the platform promised to potential users they approached during the validation process. The second way is being too perfectionist in their approach to building their MVP. This often leaves projects abandoned as founders are overwhelmed by the high standards they have set themselves. This quote from the co-founder of Her Campus does a good job of describing the advantage you gain by getting your MVP out the door –
“You can plan and research forever, but the key is to just get out there, and then there will be natural feedback and momentum to carry you forward.”Stephanie Kaplan-Lewis, co-founder Her Campus
We’ve written extensively across our blog on the best ways to go about marketing your SaaS product, and one key theme that we return to is focus – a focus on where your audience is, what they want to hear from you, and where they’ll see you.
If you’re a bootstrapped founder with limited hours to put into building your SaaS, you’re going to want to make the most of your time. Firing tweets and LinkedIn posts into the void give poor returns compared to the time they take to craft. Instead, invest that time in researching your audience and where you can find them – whether it’s in the real world or online.
Some might also be tempted to throw money at ad placements, but this only works if you have a tightly-run system to capitalise on any potential leads you might gather. For the most part, this is the kind of thing you want to be investing in when you launch your MVP at the earliest – and even then, that might be better served by a tighter, focus-tested audience than a general scattergun approach.
Whilst this point has been touched on already, it bears repeating because of how fundamental a flaw it can be in a startup’s overall trajectory.
This is an issue that can often plague founders who already have a fairly extensive tech background, especially if they will be handling a lot of the development themselves. Often their ambition and headstrong belief in their own capabilities as developers leaves them blindsided by the less tangible realities of developing products for the market.
This can lead to feature-creep, or distract from what really matters – securing your product-market fit, or in other words, building something with an audience-first approach that is constantly informed by the needs of the target demographic.
This is especially important during the early stages of your SaaS’ development. Founders who can hone in on one single USP that has a direct appeal to a consumer group they have identified and engaged with are best placed to achieve long term success.
A lot of advice pieces similar to the one you’re reading now will attempt to put the breaks on the tech entrepreneur’s natural propensity to walk before they can run. The reckless ‘ideas man’ who struggles to contain their boundless creativity, ultimately running what tangible prospects they did have into the ground.
Equally dangerous is the opposite mentality – i.e. one that doesn’t think ahead far enough so that when that seed funding does come in, you’re caught off-guard without a properly thought-through longer term strategy.
As well as developmental planning, you’ll also want to make sure you’re not overlooking the less glamorous but still crucial aspects of your business as a whole. This includes things like legal cover, insurance, expense tracking etc.
This might sometimes clash with a lot of bootstrapper advice you might see elsewhere, where a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ approach is welcomed, even encouraged. It ultimately comes down to necessity; don’t cut corners where you don’t have to.
There are many more potential pitfalls lying in wait for the naïve or inexperienced founder, but hopefully this rundown will go some way to future-proofing your SaaS start-up. Be sure to check out our SaaS founder FAQs where we cover some of these points in more detail, or browse the rest of our blog for more tips, tricks and tutorials!
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