3 Things We Wish We Had Known Before Starting Our SaaS
We had no idea what we were in for.
Nearly two years ago, we had a GREAT IDEA! We had come up with a custom solution for a content-driven website and thought, "Others would want to use this too. Let's make this its own product." We were obsessed with our idea and couldn't imagine not making it happen. So, we started on our journey to make our software as a service, Cardsetter, a reality.
Fast Forward about two years later, and we look back and realize how naive we were. Don't get me wrong, that naivety isn't a bad thing. Our overwhelming entrepreneurial enthusiasm is what pushed us to make our dream a reality. We've had our challenges, but we've never regretted our decision.
However, in the spirit of helping others who are thinking about starting their own SaaS, we feel compelled to share what we've learned. Keep in mind, we're not speaking from some fantastic level of success...we're still pedaling uphill, but hopefully, our insights are helpful to those just getting started.
3 Things We've Learned About Starting a SaaS
1) It will cost more than you think, in both time and money.
It will take longer than you think. It will cost more than you think.
Software development is a long process of "figuring things out," especially if what you're creating hasn't been created before. A software engineer can give their best-educated estimate on what it will take to complete a development sprint on the product, but there will always be puzzles that will pop up that have to be worked through, throwing off your timeline.
In our case, we quickly built our MVP product, added a handful of beta customers onto it, and based on what we learned we determined that we needed to "start over." Now, this learning process was required to get us on the right path, to help us determine a better strategy for our general release product. Regardless, at the time, it was disappointing and added a significant delay in growing our company.
Fortunately, my Co-Founder, Josh is a Software Engineer, and so we haven't had to outsource the technical piece of developing our product, saving us what would be a considerable expense. However, time is a limited resource with value as well. Either way, development is expensive.
2) Building a SaaS is a process of continuous iteration.
Iteration is a good thing, but it can test your patience. You'll develop a feature and then determine that there's a better way, or that it needs to work differently with another piece of the software puzzle.
Iteration applies to all of the pieces of your business. Our marketing and messaging has gone through iteration as we've dug deeper into understanding our audience. Our pitch and how we present our product to investors and other audiences, has gone through several rounds of adjustments as well.
This was frustrating at first. After spending hours defining our audience and crafting how we thought we would market our product, for example, we'd discover that we weren't on the right track. We'd have to go back to the drawing board. Now, we keep an open mind accepting of the iteration process. We just know that that is part of making this business a success. Many parts of our business are very fluid, allowing for new feedback and data to guide us.
3) You're Going to Be Wrong.
Be prepared and be okay with it. No matter how much planning you do for the product, or for the business, or for any part of the business, you'll need to do it wrong before you do it right. This is tightly intertwined with numbers 1 and 2 above.
A lot of development time is spent solving problems, and one problem fixed over here can cause a new challenge elsewhere in the product. It can't all be predicted, and that's what makes timelines so difficult in development. However, what you can predict is that THERE WILL be problems. Just prepare yourself.
The same goes for your pricing, marketing, on-boarding process...everything.
Just know you'll be wrong but prepared to iterate. This mindset will help you go far.
All in all, it's HARD. So much harder than you will first think. However, in the end, we can't imagine doing anything else right now. Our work so inspires us, and we look forward to each new challenge and each new bit of progress.
We hope these things we've learned can help you prepare your mindset for the long journey before you.