How To Launch your SaaS or Web Startup?

So you have an idea for a product? I have good and bad news for you. The bad news is that it is not as easy as “build it and they will come”. The good news is that it is doable and it is doable on a budget. I have built several web apps in the past and continue to build new ones for myself and my clients. There are very repeatable steps that I go through every time I build a new one, so I have decided to create this guide/checklist to share with you.

I will try to break it down into logical and sequential pieces, but you can do many of these tasks out of order or at the same time.

The Idea

If you don’t have an idea, then good for you. You are done and can skip the rest of this article. For the sake of having a concrete example, let’s say we are creating a job board website for javascript programmers. I use this as an example because I created one a few months back and went through most of these steps.

Name it and get a domain

Naming things is hard. Finding a domain is harder. I use http://www.bustaname.com/ to come up with different domain names. I use Dreamhost for registering domains.

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Pre-Launch Landing Page

Sure, your mom thinks it’s an awesome idea and your wife believes in you, but let’s make sure it’s really a good idea before you mortgage your house and quit your job.

You can validate your idea without breaking the bank (or even writing any code).

Create a landing page that explains what your idea is and the problem it solves. Since you don’t actually have an app that users can login to and use, add a “request beta invite” or “get on the waiting list” form instead. This way, you will collect emails of potential beta testers and customers that you can announce the launch to.

Creating a landing page is not that hard, you can save time and use a landing page service like Instapage, Unbounce or others.

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If you want to save money or plan to launch multiple ideas or landing pages, then you can deploy a simple Wordpress site with a nice template for under $20.

My go to theme/template marketplace is Themeforest, but there are hundreds others, just Google “Wordpress themes”.

For hosting the Wordpress site, I usually go with Dreamhost since I already use them for domain registration and they have unlimited plans. I can host tens or hundreds of landing pages without paying extra. They also have 1-click Wordpress deployment.

Host unlimited Wordpress sites without paying extra.

Make sure you are capturing emails on your landing page. If you are using a landing page platform, they will have all the email-capturing stuff built-in. If you are using Wordpress or a custom site, you will have to connect Wordpress to your email list provider. I use Mailchimp but there are other options such as GetResponse, AWeber, Drip and many more.

You can also use checkout sumo.com for lots of tools to market your landing page.

Track traffic and conversions for free using Google Analytics. The landing page platforms mentioned above have built-in reporting and anlytics as well.

Write the content for the website — you can either hire someone to do it or write it yourself. Or you can write it and then hire someone to review and tweak it. I use Upwork to find writers.

Publish and promote your landing page. There are countless ways to promote your landing page.

  1. Email — if you have a mailing list, send out an email asking people to check out your new pre-launch website. If you don’t have a list, email your friends, family and contact list. You probably have over 200 contacts in your Gmail that you can email.
  2. Blog — write a blog post (or several) announcing your idea. If you don’t have a blog, reach out to other blogs and ask if you can guest blog. Or create an account on medium.com and publish it there. Promote the blog post to your network (email, social accounts, etc…)
  3. List your “startup” online at sites like BetaList, AngelList, Product Hunt (see this exhaustive list)
  4. If you have some money, run some ads. I personally prefer Facebook Ads. I usually set a budget of $5/day and run it for 7 days, then adjust accordingly. Your budget may be different, so experiment until you find something that works for you.

To summarize:

  1. Setup landing page
  2. Write Content
  3. Promote
  4. Monitor

Create an MVP

Create a Minimal Viable Product and launch quickly. Basically, don’t wait until you have a perfect product with every feature in the planet.

Priortize your features and launch with a minimum amount of features that would make your product usable.

This way, you will get it in the hands of users sooner, get feedback sooner and correct course sooner. Correcting course could mean shutting down the whole idea. It’s a lot cheaper to shutdown after a few weeks than a few months. You also eliminate building the “wrong” product and you can use your initial users feedback to build the “right” features.

You need some technical skills to build an MVP, so if you don’t know how to code and/or design, then either learn or hire someone to do it — we can also help.

Whether you build it yourself or hire someone, the steps are almost identical.

Design & Branding

You probably want to have a design done first (or at least in parallel), so you can use it across all your assets: landing page, app, website, email communication, social media accounts, etc… So, design your brand and app. Here are some of the design elements that you will need:

  1. Logo
  2. Color palette/scheme
  3. Landing page
  4. Website
  5. Web App
    User Interface (UI)
    User Experienec (UX)
  6. Miscelleanous assets
    Banner ads
    Social media avatars and cover pages — Facebook example, Twitter example, LinkedIn example.
    Email template(s)
  7. Optional assets
    Business card
    Letterhead
    Powerpoint template
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Tip: You can also use a service like Canva or Designbold to create quick graphics for your blog and website.

Home Page

Your homepage is your post-launch landing page. This is your sales copy, where you convince people to try out your app. Copy (content) is very important here, you want to explain to the visitor what you do, what problem you solve and why they should try your app.

Here are some basic tasks that you should perform:

  1. Write killer copy
  2. Add Google Analytics to track users
  3. Communicate/feedback — add a way for users to message/contact you. Use one of the many tools out there e.g. chatra, intercom, uservoice, etc…
  4. A/B Test — use something like optimizely to run experiments and a/b test different words, colors, images, etc…
  5. Add a Call To Action (CTA) e.g. create account, signup for beta, etc…
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Build Your App

  1. Create wireframes of all the screens in your app. You can do it by hand and take pictures of it to share with your designer/developer or you can use tools (see this list for the 20 best wireframe tools)
  2. Design the screens using the wireframes (or hire someone). I usually request the designs to be done using Twitter Bootstrap, so it’s easy for me and my developers to use in our code.
  3. Build the app i.e. write some code (or hire someone to do it).
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Web App Starter Template

We build a lot of web (SAAS/Software As A Service) apps. Every SAAS application is different but there are many common features among them. We actually created an application template to use for all our apps, so we are not re-inventing the wheel. You can see a demo here and you can see an app built using that template at omnihabits.com.

We plan to open source our starter SAAS template, but if you cannot wait, let me know and I will email it to you.

The starter SAAS template has the following features that are pretty common across SAAS products — you can always disable the ones you don’t want:

  • User registration, login, password reset using:
    - Username/password
    - Facebook
    - Google
  • Subscription management
    - Subscribe
    - Unsubscribe
    - Upgrade
    - Downgrade
  • Payment processing using Stripe
  • Google analytics
  • Email list integration using Mailchimp.
  • Twitter bootstrap
  • Form validation
  • Transaction email using Sendgrid
  • Many other smaller features that are common among most apps

Marketing

Everything you have built is completely useless if you can’t get customers to pay for it. This is where marketing comes in. There is a lot to be done in marketing, so it takes time and there is no magic bullet (I haven’t found one yet). If you have a lot of money, you could just run ads and call it a day.

Here are a few things that I do (or hire people to do) to address marketing:

  1. Create Social media accounts
    - Facebook — if you had to pick one, pick Facebook.
    - Twitter
    - LinkedIn
    - Pinterest — I don’t use pinterest but you might
    - Instagram — I don’t use instagram but you might
  2. Content marketing
    - Setup a blog — for example.
     * Use a sub domain e.g. blog.hirejs.com
     * Use Wordpress
    - Hire writers on Upwork
    - Create a list of topics/articles and schedule them. I try to shoot for 1 or 2 articles per week
    - Leverage Medium.com
     * Create a publication on Medium.com
     * Wire your Wordpress blog to Medium.com so articles are cross-posted on your blog and in your medium publication
    - Promote your content, here are some of the tools/techniques I use to do that:
     * Quuu Promote (paid)
     * Missinglettr (paid)
     * Share on your social media accounts — use something like Buffer or Hootsuite to automate and simplify this step.
     * Share on other sites like: reddit, hacker news or whatever sites are relative to your product
  3. Use quora, reddit or similar sites to answer relevant questions and generate organic traffic — (good article: How to Get Thousands of Leads from Quora in Five Months)
  4. Create a lead magnet, you can use Beacon to put a quick lead magnet together.
  5. Email marketing — this is a broad term but you can do a few things here:
    - Setup a newsletter — you can even use a tool like curated to easily generate a curated newsletter — example.
    - Create an autoresponder series — there are many tools to help you with this step e.g. drip, autopilot and even mailchimp, ActiveCampaign and GetResponse
  6. Paid Traffic — if you have the money in your budget, you can pay for traffic
    - Paid Ads e.g. Google, Facebook, Bing, etc…
    - Sponsor newsletters
  7. And don’t forget all the other stuff mentioned above such as A/B Testing, tracking traffic and so on.

Management

Depending on your budget, you might do everything mentioned here or you might hire others to do it. I highly recommend outsourcing most tasks to free up your time for more important tasks. Potentially, you could be managing these people:

  1. Writer (or writers) — copy writer, blog writer, email writer, etc…
  2. A marketer (social media and seo) — could be 2 people
  3. A programmer
  4. A designer
  5. A virtual assistant — can help with many miscellaneous tasks

For management, I use Asana, which is very powerful and very affordable. I set up a project and create tasks for each of the workers. If I find myself repeating a task over and over, I just assign it to my virtual assistant and have him handle it. You will be amazed at the amount of stuff you can get done with little of your time by leveraging outsourcing.

I also use Asana to manage the blog publishing calendar. Basically, I come with a bunch of potential blog topics, assign them to writers and reviewers and shoot for a 1 article per week.

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For instant communication, I use Slack. You can get by with a free Slack account. It’s been a few years and I haven’t had the need to upgrade to a paid plan.

Tip: I occasionally use Fancy Hands in lieu of a dedicated virtual assistant — depending on the task at hand. Fancy Hands integrates in Asana, so you can create a task and assign it to Fancy Hands and they will take care of it.

Automation

Automation is your best friend and there are tons of tasks that you can automate. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Automate social media posts using Zapier and Buffer. For example, I use Zapier to share new blog posts to buffer.
  • Automate social media marketing using Quuu Promote — a quick and cheap way to get some traffic from your blog posts
  • Automate content re-use, I use missinglettr to automatically market each blog post for a year — cool tool.
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You could write a book about Zapier, it does so much and you can automate all kind of things you could think of. I plan to write a post about all the things I automate with Zapier.

Miscellaneous

Conversion Checklist — an excellent checklist for your website to make sure you have done everything to make your website convert.

The Ultimate Product Launch Planning Toolkit from UserVoice


Originally published at Dot Net Factory.