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Nilkanth Patel
Nilkanth Patel

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Why starting a SaaS business is hard for developers AND non-developers

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Starting a SaaS business is hard.

If you're a programmer, there's so much to learn about sales and marketing. The coding should be relatively easy (unless it's hard tech), but even then, it can takes weeks of plumbing to put together the basics for your SaaS app.

If you're not a programmer, I imagine you've got the sales and/or marketing piece down, but without a technical co-founder, you're stuck in deep, deep outsourcing hell.

My friend Jay and I fit very firmly in the former group. We are devs. He is a backend engineer, I do frontend. We get excited by problems that can be solved with software (really excited), and have a tendency to jump too quickly to writing code. We often overlook the right go-to-market strategy for the product we're imagining. And once the code is written, we find ourselves in a rut. In fact, for our first project, we made 616 real commits to our product before even finding our first 10 customers.

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We made this mistake twice, and then realized a timeless lesson about building product: de-risk your biggest shortcomings first.

Marty Cagan's consulting group, a renowned product think tank in the tech world, accurately describes the challenge that startups face as a combination of four risks:

  1. Value Risk (do you deliver enough value for people to try it?)

  2. Usability Risk (can your users figure out how to use it?)

  3. Feasibility Risk (do you have the technical chops to build it?)

  4. Business Viability Risk (will you make enough money from the product?)

We're good at writing code. We're pretty good at talking to customers and iterating too. And that means we can probably figure out usability and feasibility for most products we work on.

What we're not great at is marketing and finding a growth channel that will consistently work for us. We're also not great at evaluating how to make the most money off the product. That means we need to start by de-risking the value and business viability of what we're building.

The best founding teams have members who can answer all of these questions right out of the gate, but that's probably a tall order for the vast majority of startups.

So instead, we're starting here by understanding how we can generate the most value for our customers first. Pretty meta, but our customers are other people looking to build SaaS products we want to generate that value for other developers (or non-developers) looking to start SaaS businesses themselves.

We want to help people build and launch SaaS products without sacrificing long-term scalability. We're working on a backend for SaaS that takes minutes to start using (with code or no codeβ€”thanks Webflow!), but can last you much longer than Firebase or outsourcing the whole project. Something like this would've helped us spend less time on engineering so that we're de-risking the parts of our business that are most questionable.

What is the hardest part of the SaaS-building process for you? What can we help you with?

Top comments (2)

andrewbrooks profile image
Andrew Brooks πŸ‘¨β€πŸ’»

It's very easy to jump straight to coding instead of making sure the project is a viable saas in the first place. I'm guilty of this myself. Great tips!

nilkanthjp profile image
Nilkanth Patel

Thanks! It's a painful lesson that's too difficult to learn without making the mistake yourself.