Building a SaaS business is 20% code, 80% ...
As I am a developer first and foremost I can testify for myself falling in the trap of thinking naively: “I’ll just code up that great idea that would solve my current pain, 50 hours later, launch it and there it is, I have a business! Recurring revenue, here I come.".
Sadly, this is quite far from reality, and, I hope that by going through, even just the marketing material, of educational content like The Lean Startup, Traction, Starting and Sustaining, 7-day startup, Good to Great, Zero to One, Hooked, …, you get a sense for the size of the task at hand and the diversity of skills required to bring a SaaS business to profitability.
I think, having read many resources at this point, that the key factor to success is to start with the long term in mind.
Forget overnight success. Setting the expectations so that when times get rough you will double down and keep on holding to your roller coaster cart’s handlebars. This has the nice side effect of making you forget about investing time in those “smaller with less potential” ideas or ideas that don’t really interest you personally.
So, about that blog post’s title, what else is there to do except code in building a SaaS business?
Well, we could start with audience and validation, maybe one of the most critical part to a startup doing well. Plus, that step should be done before starting to invest too much time in building an actual solution. If there is no customers willing to pay for what you are planning on building then, unless you are doing all of it to solve only your specific problem without caring for your product becoming a business, then, read up a little on techniques to validate is a big enough market of willing to buy customers for your SaaS. Keep in mind that “big enough”, here, could mean many different sizes. It all depends on the size you want the business to be, maybe you aren’t interested in hiring and 10,000$ MRR is plenty for you.
What else? Well these days thinking about your users experience and crafting a delightful interface for your customers to interact with is almost a must. Maybe not for launch but as soon as you can. These days, in many industries, making design a priority can give you a huge edge on the competition, or, in more crowded markets, is a requirement.
That’s it right? Sadly, no, an other fairly important subject you have to deal with is building an audience and constantly growing your customer base. Here the book previously mentioned called Traction will be of great help. It introduces what the author calls the “Bullseye framework”. A framework aiming at building traction for your startup. In one sentence it consists of: benchmarking many acquisition channels at once, selecting the best performing, focusing solely on this one, when it stops giving good returns, go back to step 1 in order to find a new user acquisition channel. Put like this it seems simple enough, but, it’s real hard work that will take away many of your “coding” hours if you take it seriously.
Ok, and now, well there is a lot I didn’t touch in that blog post, but, I’ll leave it to you to read up on them as they don’t necessarily apply to all SaaS businesses. Examples include: analytics, infrastructure, hiring, investment seeking, product management, team leading, SEO, bug fixing, tool shopping, …