Imagine the situation, you are an expert in your field, and to optimize the way you do your job, you’ve been using a subscription-based software that’s been on the market for a long time. But if you’re being honest, you’ve realized the platform does not satisfy your needs completely. You pay for services you don’t need, and you have to cobble together other functionalities that should exist, but don’t. Fed up with “making it work,” you decide that you have enough knowledge and experience to start your own business, creating the perfect SaaS platform for employees like you.
But how will you start? What’s the plan? How will you ensure your platform can gain a foothold in the market and not remain on the sidelines next to thousands of other startups? From one software developer to another, let us offer some suggestions as you get started. The steps below aren’t a guaranteed recipe for success, but they will ensure you start off on the right track.
Step 1: Start with a Lean Plan
You can’t foresee everything at once, so it makes no sense to write a thirty-page business plan right away. Start with a high-level description of your idea — fit it onto two pages, and pay special attention to the strategy. Include a problem you solve that clients cannot solve with other solutions. Don’t forget to indicate who you are doing this for: who are your customers, and which segments of the market or industry are you aiming for?
Step 2: Test Your Idea by Studying the Competition
Before you begin creating your new solution, carefully examine the market for similar solutions. After all, in order to offer something new to the market, you need to understand what already exists and which customer problems the existing applications solve.
If your idea is to create an ERP system for hairdressers to make it easier for clients to book appointments, trust my experience: there are thousands of those systems already operating successfully on the market. If you want to stand out, you’ll have to offer a truly unique interpretation of your own — and it needs to go further than simply changing the background color from green to blue.
Once you’ve spent some time creating your lean plan, you’ll need to answer the following question: “Can my idea make money?”
And you’ll do that by studying the market. Through this research, which includes not only learning about existing products but also talking to your ideal customers, you’ll want to find out the following:
- Have I correctly identified a problem my potential customers actually have?
- Does my solution solve that problem effectively?
- What are the differences between my product and products they currently use to solve their problem?
- What is the best way to sell to my target customers, and what’s the worst way to sell to them?
Step 3: Сreate Your Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
When you’re getting ready to launch your SaaS company, the most important thing is to start. Don’t tackle every facet of the application at once, because many of the features and details are sure to change as you build and test them. Instead identify and develop the most important features for your launch. Determine the main functionality of your application, starting small, with a solution for one company.
In the development process, use the agile development methodology, SCRUM. Its flexibility — as opposed to a scope-based build that’s preceded by a formal discovery phase — will allow you to change your work plan on the go in case you have a new idea or need to change requirements during the development process.
As you go through development and testing, you will accumulate many other feature ideas. Feedback from the first users is the most important thing in the MVP. This gives you a great opportunity to adjust the logic and functionality of your platform and really refine its value for potential clients before trying to find an investor to expand the application into a large-scale project.
And speaking of investors, you’ll also need to understand how much software development costs and what the time frame for creation will be. (A big factor in both is whether your team will be onshore, offshore, or nearshore.) But the most important thing is that, you’ll need to have your own funds to develop your MVP. It is not easy to attract investors when all you have is an idea without any implementation. But having developed an MVP with basic functionality, then you’ll be in the running for financing.
So how do you get the funds to develop your MVP? You could bootstrap your startup, investing your own money, whether you use savings or you continue to work another job while you’re getting started. You could raise money from individuals via a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter. You could also go for a larger sum of capital right from the start by pitching an angel investor or a venture capitalist for funding (but, again, this is difficult before you’ve established a proof of concept).
Step 4: Marketing. Brand and Differentiate Yourself
In the end, the application itself is only the basis for your business. The real work is just beginning. Figuring out how to brand and differentiate yourself is key to attracting and retaining clients in your (likely) crowded market. You may want to pull from the competitor research you did above to help position yourself.
A good place to start is with a landing page for your business, introducing your brand to the world, collecting contact information from potential clients, and beginning to build your credibility as a vendor through thought leadership and marketing content. Beyond that, there are many ways to bring a SaaS product to the market: paid advertising, partnerships with other sites, and media promotion are just a few. If you start locally, attract local celebrities and influencers to promote your brand, or work with a marketing agency to create a full-scale campaign. Experiment, look for ways to stand out, and figure out the best strategies for reaching your target audience.
Starting a business — and especially a SaaS business — is hard work. It requires dedication, patience, and gumption, and it can feel overwhelming at first. But these four steps will help you put your best foot forward as you’re preparing to launch.