Building commercial grade SaaS is expensive and challenging

Making something engaging is even more so

And keeping them happy is a never ending battle

In the early days, it’s a bit like playing with a Rubik’s Cube

You see all the pieces, and you might even have a sense of what the solution looks like

But getting everything in order seems impossible

Get one thing sorted, then a small move messes up other bits

But for those in the know, there’s no mystery

It’s just a puzzle

And like all conundrums, it has rules and boundaries

Apply the right techniques and you can watch the answer appear as if by magic

A twist or two here and a turn or two there

A development STRATEGY to get you to market

The FUNCTIONALITY your customers need

A LOOK AND FEEL that encourages engagement

EDUCATION tools to get your customers off to a good start

Contextual HELP and reference materials so they can solve their problems

And SUPPORT for the times when they can’t

These are the software six

The primary areas that all software projects should focus on

Do you have anyone on your team to help you solve the software puzzle?

You might think you can’t afford to engage someone like me

But the real question is can you afford not to?

#MrSaaSSays

New to creating SaaS?

It’s thought over 90% of SaaS startups fail within 3 years, and many for the same reasons –

Focussing on technology rather than human needs.
A failure to find enough A-grade customers.
A failure to keep them happy once they find them.

But the first S, the #software, nearly always does the job, so fixing these issues doesn’t require more technology.

It’s all about the second S and the SERVICE you provide.

So if you want to get ahead –

Put your customer needs front and centre.
Create laser focussed marketing that talks directly to your niche.
Build them a home they won’t want to leave.

REMEMBER, if you’re looking at the technology, you’re missing the point.

It’s just an enabler, a tool.

Something we humans invented to make our human lives easier, happier, healthier and wealthier.

Customers don’t care how you store data, or the brilliance of your algorithms.

They’ll even turn a blind eye to a bug or two

They just want a tool…

That solves their problem.
Is fairly easy to use.
And helps them when they need it.

They don’t expect perfection.

They just want to know you’re looking after them.

Do that, and they’ll gladly pay for the pleasure of using your software, year after year after year

If you’d like some help, just ask.

#MrSaaSSays

New to creating SaaS?

Think of it a bit like going to a new country.

Though not a familiar, friendly one!

The people you meet there are different.

They have different customs and do things their way.

They may look like you, but they speak a different language.

Some words are familiar, but they seem to have a different meaning.

A few of the locals speak a bit of your language, but few if any are fluent.

Being there isn’t as you’d expected.

You’ve read a guide book or two and you’ve done your research on the internet, but once you arrive, the reality is far more -confronting.

Everything seems so expensive, and with the language barrier, you’re never quite sure if you’re being ripped off.

Still, you’re having a great trip and you can deal with the enormous credit card bill later.

Of course, the savvy traveller would pay for a tour guide.

A native who knows the locals and their customs.

Someone to translate for you, to show you the best places.

Someone who’ll help you find the best vendors, and make sure your souvenirs and mementos are worth the price tag.

If you’re thinking of going to SaaSland, it might just be the trip of a lifetime, but many find SaaSland to be no place for tourists.

Have you considered hiring a guide?

#MrSaaSSays

The Cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS) markets were expected to be worth $220 Billion by 2022.

But Covid-19 and a global pandemic have drastically changed our perception of the modern working world, and products like Zoom have become ubiquitous and part of the lingua franca almost overnight. Conservative industries such as the legal profession that had hitherto avoided the drive to adopt modern technology have suddenly found themselves implementing digital solutions. Home schooling for everyone is now a thing, and working from home, something that was previously the reserve of a select few, is now the day to day for many. And there’s little doubt that it will be a part of business as usual for years to come.

Amidst the chaos and misery that this virus has unleashed, SaaS has been a major beneficiary, and our understanding and use of technology will never be the same again.

A Big Gamble

But for all the successes we see, SaaS has a dark side, and wannabe software entrepreneurs are taking extraordinary risks as they try to stake their claim in this modern gold rush, and many are risking it all for a slice of digital paradise.

Family homes are being re-mortgaged and retirement nest eggs wagered as budding software entrepreneurs endeavour to finance their future. Literally hundreds of thousands of dollars and more, often of their own money, are being gambled on a digital dream.

But for some, it becomes a recurring nightmare, leaving them with neither their initial investment, nor a serviceable software solution. Often they’re left with little more than thousands of lines of code that are all but worthless. And sadly, this is nothing unusual.

SaaS is a brutal world with an estimated 10 out of 11 businesses failing to survive much more than 3 years, and of the approximately 10-15% that get to series A investment, only around 2% get to the next stage. Yet a myriad of new offerings are created every year.

Like any “gold rush”, some will strike it rich, and dreams of being the next unicorn, no matter how rare and mythical, are enough to tempt many away from their day to day. But with no experience making commercial software the likelihood of failure is greatly increased.

Horror Stories

All too often, I hear tales of massive personal investment, both emotional and financial, that are simply staggering, and stories abound.

An estimate for $20,000 to build a simple platform that turned in to $160,000 and a looming legal battle.

Another where $400,000 was spent on inexperienced developers who weren’t up to the rigorous task of building commercial grade software. They couldn’t fix their own bugs or complete the brief, and another $500,000 and a new development team was needed to get to market.

A third example where $1,000,000 was invested to create an MVP (minimal viable product) that still didn’t work because the complex algorithms in the software were riddled with bugs. The entrepreneur is now back in the corporate world, licking his wounds and working to fund the next iteration.

And just recently, I spoke to yet another founder whose efforts have been mothballed while he searches for additional investors. His biggest challenge, to get his target market to move from their existing systems to his shiny new offering.

These are just some of the stories I’ve encountered this year, and they share a set of common problems. Entrepreneurs are often experts in their industry, but they’re not software developers. Conversely, the development team often lacks domain expertise. The result is a mass of communication problems, unclear specifications, vague project criteria and a lack of focus. Throw in an inexperienced client and it’s all too easy for the scope to drift and the project to go off the rails.

With a developer costing at least $150,000 per year, any delay or extension to a project will hit very hard. Even a few weeks heading in the wrong direction will cost many thousands.

Combine all of that with a lack of marketing skills and a focus on the technology and its features, rather than the customer and the problems that the platform solves, and it’s a recipe for impending failure, regardless of whether the platform is up to the job or not.

A Busy Market

And then there’s the fierce competition, with most vendors likely having around 10 major competitors in their space. This may well be a sign of a healthy market place and an excellent opportunity, but it makes it very difficult for new players to gain a foothold.

Not only are they fighting bigger and far better financed foes, they’re also battling the power of incumbency. When it comes to a straight features and benefits fight, most products look much the same, so finding a way to differentiate themselves is difficult.

Weathering The Storm

So, what can prospective entrepreneurs do to help avoid the many pitfalls? There are three key areas to focus on.

The first is to invest significant time and effort documenting the vision, understanding the needs of the project, learning about the rigours of commercial software, identifying client avatars and so on. Put simply, the better and more detailed their explanation of their dream, the easier it will be to for a development team to turn it into code. Many fail to make this basic investment, yet it lies at the core of all future work, and without it, the project is likely doomed from the start.

The second is to find a development team with experience in the right domain and to ensure that there is effective communication. Picking an appropriate development partner is absolutely crucial, yet all too often, entrepreneurs buy on price. But as ever in life, you get what you pay for. Mistakes in the early stage of a project are amplified, and it’s all too easy for a 6 month project to take 9 months. Additional costs like this can be crippling or even fatal to a project.

The third is to understand that if you build it, they will not come. You have to go out there and get them. Success in SaaS needs you to play the long game and focus on the second S, Service. And step one is to complete your MVP, with all the necessary extras like help and training, and then get it to market, even if it’s far from perfect. As co-founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman said, “If you aren’t embarrassed by the first version of your product, you shipped too late.”

If you can do all of that, you have your entry ticket to the world of SaaS.

Silver Lining

With the SaaS market growing at 30% or more year on year, it is still very much the land of opportunity for those prepared to have a go. Many will fail, but some will get it right, and the rewards are excellent.

And while the outlook for SaaS wannabes may appear bleak, the market is growing, adoption rates are growing and so is consumer confidence in the online world. The technology revolution is in full swing and it’s never been easier or cheaper to build a software platform.

But easy and cheap it isn’t.

If you fail, you may go home empty handed.

But with the right idea and the right execution, your Cloud may have the most silver and brilliant of linings.

#MrSaaSSays

I wrote my first SaaS system in 1998

A rudimentary browser based HR platform

I’ve trained professional developers, sold software and consulted in industry and government

I spent over a decade designing and building high speed development tools to help others build their own SaaS platforms

In 2013, I conceived Visual LANSA‘s web product

I brought it to life, leading a team of brilliant developers

Today it’s my pleasure to share my knowledge and experience with other SaaS leaders

Throughout my 30 years, I’ve been in pursuit of one thing

The simplification and democratisation of software development

I dream of the many having the tools to build high quality, commercial grade platforms

With capabilities far beyond today’s No Code offerings

When we build physical structures, we use bricks, mortar and more

Pieces of Lego we can use to create whatever we can conceive

Similar patterns exist in software

There are constructs that repeat time and again

More “bricks” that designed correctly will simply lock together

Just before Christmas last year, an agreement

A chance to live my dream

But alas, Covid-19!

C’est la vie

Perhaps tomorrow

Until then, my story will continue

Let me know if you’d like to be part of it

#MrSaaSSays

There are 11 parties in a typical SaaS project

The client, the techs, and a 3rd

Hang on, didn’t I say 11?

Yeah, it’s a binary gag

Poor I know, but look at what I’ve got to work with!

The first 2 require little explanation

The client’s the one with an idea and some money

And the techs turn them both in to code etc

The 3rd is the translator

Their role is to turn a customer vision in to something techs understand

Translators come in 2 VERY DIFFERENT FORMS

The first looks just like me

An experienced IT professional with a background in commercial software, capable of speaking both human and nerd

The other looks just like a big pile of cash

Primarily because that’s exactly what it is

The tech team generally doesn’t care much for a translator

Because communication issues make a project take longer

KERCHING!

But the customer has a choice

Invest in a human or speak slowly and loudly, and pelt the tech team with wads of cash until they get it

Some clients are smart enough to see the need for an intermediary

Others pay extra for an A-grade tech team with its own translator

But the rest?

Well, that rarely ends well

It’s why so many say things to me like, “I wish I’d known about you 12 months ago”

#MrSaaSSays

No parent ever says they have an ugly child

They’re always beautiful

It’s human nature and we all do it

Our emotional attachment transcends such superficial judgments

Because love is blind

But other people’s kids though…

Funny how our objectivity returns when we have no skin in the game

So let’s think about software for a moment

Many #SaaS leaders are similarly enamoured with their digital progeny

And their love is just as blinding

So they fail to see the obvious flaws

They fail to understand its inadequacies

They think everyone should forgive its shortcomings

But the harsh reality of #SaaS is that is simply doesn’t work that way

You’re baby is being judged, and very harshly

The good news is problems can be fixed

Provided you know what they are

So, before you spend any more money on your very expensive developers

Why not have an objective viewer give your offering a once over?

For less than the cost of a couple of days development

I’ll review the 6 critical areas of commercial software

Your STRATEGY, FUNCTIONALITY, LOOK AND FEEL, TRAINING, HELP and SUPPORT

I could well find places that can save or make you tens of thousands

And if I don’t, you’ll have peace of mind

Are you SURE you have a beautiful baby?

#MrSaaSSays

And Mr #SaaS is here to teach you how

So, no more mystified entrepreneurs wasting tens of thousands of $$$

No more developers just tinkering with tech

No more business leaders pulling their hair out

And no more shattered dreams

There’s too much at stake!

Whether you’re a coder, project manager, client or whoever

The time for excuses is over

We’re all in this together

So, if we want the best results, and my guess is that we do

We ALL need better understanding

Understanding of the needs of the user

Understanding of the problem being solved

And most of all, understanding of each other

Because this isn’t about technology

It’s a human endeavour

It demands COMMUNICATION, EMPATHY and TEAMWORK

So let’s ditch the us and them nonsense

Let’s turn

Technical twaddle into easy English

Gibberish and jargon into the meaningful and mainstream

And complexity and confusion into the orderly and the obvious

If we can do that, we all win

Because it’s better for the customer

Better for the developers

And better for the end user

And that is money in the bank

All you need now is to learn how

#MrSaaSSays

…because basically, you get what you pay for

It’s one of life’s fundamental truths

And it’s called a fair exchange of value

Every now and then, something truly remarkable turns up that feels like you stole it

But mostly, if something’s expensive, it’s because it has massive value

That said, STAY TUNED!

I have something in the pipeline for the coming weeks

#MrSaaSSays Q&A sessions

A simple forum where software entrepreneurs can ask questions up front

And I, and a panel of experts, will do our best to answer them for the benefit of the audience over Zoom

We’ll get to geek out on all things #SaaS

It should be fun

But more on that later

Back to the expensive software pros

Think for minute what’s on the line

Your brilliant insights into your domain

Delivered to the right people via the magic of modern technology

Could literally be worth millions

Do you really want a such a valuable commodity to be administered by rank amateurs?

The cheapest people you can find?

Your vision, your dream, deserves better than that

It demands the rigour and experience that only serious professionals can provide

And of course that will come at a high price

Because basically, you get what you pay for

#MrSaaSSays

SaaS businesses can get user and customer experience confused

Some may even think they’re the same

But one is part of the other

User experience deals with the way software works

How the user interface acts

Its features and aesthetic

User experience is tech-centric

Customer experience starts with user experience as its base

And then builds on it

It’s all about how we treat the customer

How we look after their needs

The conversation we have with them

And how we make them feel

Customer experience is human-centric

And this is why I was chatting with #CX expert @Alex Allwood, understanding the importance of empathy

It’s something #SaaS businesses often get very wrong, because they focus on their tech rather than understanding their people

Vendors in the same space have similar features and benefits

So the user experience will likely be similar

But get to know your people, and you can deliver a very different and far superior customer experience

Not only will it reduce your marketing costs and help you close more sales

It will also increase your customer lifetime value

And whether you’re in this for the long haul or planning to build and exit

That is one metric that you want to be as big as possible

#MrSaaSSays