Get Your SaaS in Gear by Talking to Your Peers

They’ll Tell You What Your Customers Won’t…

Ask anyone working on a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) product what’s most important, and you’ll hear many variations of the same thing: customer interviews, customer development, getting out of the building, surveying, etc.

Customer development is the worst thing you can do for your early-stage SaaS product.

It’s gone too far. For anyone getting into the business, they couldn’t help but assume that customers/beta users should be driving the direction of their product. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In building HookFeed and Minimalytics, we’ve developed our own little process for reducing risk and it goes like this:

  1. Think of a problem we really want solved. Others will want it too.
  2. Hire a designer to design a style guide/simple logo for the product.
  3. Put up a (not half-assed) simple landing page that shows our vision, not our current prototype/features.
  4. Start writing about the process/collecting email addresses
  5. Build the foundation of the app — login, logout, reset password, templates, emails, etc. You know, the stuff that isn’t going to change. Ideally, you pull this from a template (we started HookFeed by copying the Minimalytics folder and deleting like hell until we reached the core of the product).
  6. Share the idea with others who are building/have built similar SaaS products.
  7. Build out a small piece of the core functionality of the product

Repeat steps 6 and 7 until you have a solid V1 of your product — something *most* people will happily pay for which you don’t have to preface with, “features x, y, and z are coming soon — I promise!”

At some point prior to V1, you’ll want to release a beta and onboard users one-by-one. The product should be valuable to a small set of people at this point, but not everyone.

The day we launched Minimalytics, we broke-even on our (not-cheap) hosting costs, even though the product was far from complete.

This marked the first time we considered doing customer interviews, inspired by Michael Sacca/Tiny Factory’s hustle getting Brandisty off the ground.

We learned an incredible amount from these interviews and it’s definitely driving V2 of the product.

But before you have your beta ready, you need other experienced SaaS folks to collaborate with. You can’t be on an island.

Having the customer’s voice be the only one in your ear can be damaging to your product.

FreshBooks, Campaign Monitor, Intercom, Basecamp — they all changed the way industries work. They simplified workflows and delivered products which their customers would never have described as solutions prior to experiencing them themselves.

Customer’s idea of improving a spoon — a spork.

This isn’t to say that customers are wrong, or that their opinions aren’t valuable. I’m simply saying that they are often viewing a problem through their own lens, rather than the lens of your entire market.

Product person’s idea of improving a spoon — a fork.

Product people understand the difference there — and will give you better advice based on their experience (which likely includes many failures they can warn you of).

Ok. So how do I find experienced product people to talk to?

Start by talking to your heroes. It’s easier than you think, and the connections will continue to help you the closer you get to launch.

Then, you should organize or join a small chat community where you can hang out online with similar folks. We hang out in a small chat full of self-funders and it has brought us closer to folks like James Deer, Brennan Dunn, Andrew Culver, Josh Pigford, and many more who never hesitate to share awesome, critical feedback on every move we make.

Every part of our products from pricing to marketing to code has been influenced on a significant level by the folks we’ve met online.

And in exchange, we do our best to give back that value to anyone we can help with straight-up advice. It’s really an amazing industry we’re living in, and if you’re not taking advantage of it…you should start today.

Seriously, post something like this on Twitter right now:

Anyone know of a hangout/chat online full of smart SaaS folk? I’d love to get to know more people building awesome stuff.

Or you could go checkout one of the following:

  1. by Ian Landsman and Andrey Butov
  2. JFDI by Justin Jackson

I’m Matt Goldman. I’m building HookFeed and writing a book about how to build a SaaS rocketship with my partner Joelle and Michael Sacca.

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