Idea generation is super important to coming up with the right SaaS business. Instead of coming up with one idea, you should come up with dozens of them, and then attempt only your best and most feasible ideas. Here are the nine most successful SaaS idea generation methods that have worked for us at Smarter Labs.
If you do any freelance or agency work, you probably encounter all kinds of problems on behalf of your clients. Keep an eye out for the most frequent problems that you hear multiple clients talk about. This is a good hint that there might be an under-served market for a SaaS that solves that problem.
If you aren't doing any freelance or agency work, you should consider it. You can come up and test a lot of great SaaS ideas, and it's a great way to keep yourself financially covered while you work on your SaaS projects. If you don't want to commit much time, you could try selling your services on Upwork.
Take note any time you see an issue go unresolved on a support community or forum for another product. It might be a good opportunity to create a service that layers on top of that product that solves the problem for them, or even a brand new product that competes by solving this problem that they can't.
From time to time you might try to start problem solving something with a Google search. Occasionally nothing comes up. This can either mean there's no product that solves this problem, or there are products that solve the problem but they aren't marketing to your wording/framing of the problem.
If there's no product on the market, you can use Google's keyword planner (no credit card required) to see if other people are coming up empty on Google too. If a lot of people are searching for the same thing, you may be able to turn it into a good SaaS idea.
If there are other products, but they aren't covering those search terms, you might be able to create a similar product that is more niche to that specific problem. Make sure you write copy so you come up as the first result on Google when people search for that term. This should be very easy if nothing relevant came up for you.
Go to any app or plugin store on popular platforms. Shopify apps and WordPress plugins are two we search around on a lot. You can usually search by category. Find apps/plugin that get lots of bad reviews. The more bad reviews the better. Then try to find an alternative app/plugin. If you can't find an alternative, or all the alternatives also have bad reviews, there's probably a market for building a better version of the broken one you found. Pay close attention to what people say in the reviews, so you know which features to focus on.
Sometimes it's best to not overthink it. Even if you think the tools and resources you have available are lacking, you might be surprised.
Nintendo popularized a methodology of creating products referred to as "lateral thinking with withered technology". The Game Boy wasn't exactly a groundbreaking piece of technology when it came out, but it still sold insanely well. Look for ideas that others may have missed with what you have available. You can often assemble old, mature parts into something new and useful.
You also shouldn't assume that just because the parts have been around for a long time that everything possible would have already been done with them. Suitcases have been around for hundreds of years, and wheels have been with us longer than recorded history. Yet no one thought to put wheels on a suitcase until the 1950's.
Search for job openings within an industry that you're very familiar with. Do some research on common job titles and required skills. This can give you an idea on the types of things that people in that industry are struggling with, and give you some indication on what you might build for a SaaS targeting that industry.
This method is great if you already have already launched at least one other SaaS. You can repurpose the same technology of your other products to serve new markets. Sometimes this can be as simple as adjusting the marketing copy and user dashboard copy/layout, and might not require reworking any of the business logic of your app.
For example, if you have a form building service for booking events, it might not take too much effort to duplicate it to create a new service that books sales calls instead.
While working on your SaaS projects, client work, or anything else, you are probably generating things to sell that you don't even know about. A few examples:
- Blogs can be edited into a book you can sell.
- Code from previous projects can be tweaked to serve a more general audience, and you can sell the source code.
- Sell keys to a useful API you wrote for another project.
- Turn widgets from previous projects into WordPress plugins.
Just make sure you can actually legally sell your work from your clients, and you're not in violation with any of your contracts.
If you have a good track record of predicting trends in the industry that you work in, you may be able to leapfrog competition just by building the thing that you know the world will need next. However, you will still want to validate your idea and make sure there's actually a market for it.
Just a few notes on common ways people come up with SaaS ideas that I don't recommend:
- Don't just go with your gut. Gut calls are fine, but make sure you also do your research before you start the work.
- Don't just come up with only one idea. I used to be an indie game dev, and the best advice I ever heard was from Jesse Schell's "Book of Lenses": "Your first 10 games will suck — so get them out of the way fast." This quote also works very well in the SaaS world. You're going to fail. So expect it the first few times, never repeat your mistakes, and always have new projects to move on to.
- Initially, only come up with ideas that will take you 4 months or less. If the idea is too big, try to split it up into a smaller version of the product, so you can still launch in 4 months and iterate over time. You should be growing your features based on customer feedback, not creating everything you think your customers will need. You might be surprised when the feature that took you months to build doesn't even get used.
Often, we will use a combination of these ideas. For example, CryoLayer was born out of our need for better performance for our agency clients, and because we noticed many public support threads of Webflow's other customers having the same problem we did. We then launched DesignSync.js, which contains some of the source code (aka byproduct) that went into creating CryoLayer.
Of course, coming up with an idea is just half the battle to even get to the starting line of building your SaaS. Now that you've come up with a bunch of (hopefully) great ideas, you will also want to validate your ideas before starting to make sure you're not wasting your time building a bunch of products or features no one wants. I'll discuss validation tips that have worked for us in another post very soon.