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Ask HN: What’s helpes you build a successful SaaS business?
97 points by deeplearningphd on May 11, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 18 comments



I agree with what @codegeek has said, and would like to outline a few more pointers:

- It's important to solve a problem you've either deeply experienced or passionate about. Having a deep passion will help you build something that others will more-than-likely use. This passion also lends itself well when it comes to selling (people tend to buy _you_ just as much as the product).

- If you don't know what to build, go to your favorite open-source project and do some sorting (comments or reactions). This is likely an indicator of a larger issue, which means people are looking for a solution.

- Definitely listen to your customers. Sometimes it's a simple bug that needs fixing, other times it's a feature that will not only make them happy, but help make your business more attractive to future clients that might be facing similar.

FWIW I'm running a successful (by my terms) side-project called https://browserless.io. I've also done an interview on IndieHackers and you can see more about it here (https://www.indiehackers.com/product/browserless)


For your service, browserless.io, can I bring my own proxy? In other words, can I pass a proxy IP/credentials to your Headless Browser to visit a webpage?


Definitely: https://docs.browserless.io/docs/chrome.html#launching-with-.... I still need to write some form of docs on how to handle the auth window properly in puppeteer, but it's definitely possible


To build on what everyone else is saying:

- Make sure your tiers make sense: The features each tier unlock should be logical, with the goal being to build a "value ladder". Give your customer just enough value to be successful and show them how the higher tiers will make them even more successful

- Charge money ASAP: I've talked to a lot of SaaS startups which are in "beta" and don't want to charge money until they've built up a user base or "finish" the product to be "sellable". What they don't realize is that the quality of potential customer goes down because people don't take free things seriously. Another thing is there is valuable data around how to price your SaaS. Free trials will give you all the "beta users" you want, with a potential to convert if they find value in what you are providing.

- Get Onboarding right: The process of a customer seeing the pricing, subscribing, getting started, to the eventual goal of the customer finding value in the product and converting should have a very clear path. When a customer signs up for a free trial you need to be able to show them that your product provides the value they were looking for quickly or they will most likely wont convert. Step-by-step forms as well as actual meetings with customers can go a long way to improving conversions. A/B test this process for best results.

(I started a SaaS which makes it easier to manage a SaaS, https://servicebot.io )


I second the comments about charging money ASAP. Really the success of your SAAS is going to be managing your recurring revenue (and once you get subscriptions, managing your churn).

A second thing I would encourage is never to be pricing information in marketing e-mails, and instead link back to your website. On the start of my SAAS I thought how much I would pay for the service as baseline pricing.

Really that type of thinking is incorrect as you want to price relative to your market, meaning how much your customers are willing to pay.


Beneficial and reliable software, and spend as much effort on marketing [1]. Also listen to your users (by talking to them or tracking their behaviour through different tools [2]).

1: https://www.sideprojectchecklist.com/marketing-checklist/

2: http://webdevchecklist.com/


Depends on the definition of "success". For a bootstrapped business, it is mostly about profits. For high growth startups, not so much at least for first few years where growth is a bigger metric than profits.

I run a moderately profitable bootstrapped SAAS business so I will share my thoughts based on my own experience:

- Product Market Fit: This is huge because if you cannot prove the market fit, you cannot build a successful business of any type

- solve one main problem: If your product does not solve one main core problem, it will ultimately lose out either to bigger players or just fail. A SAAS with too many features which does a little for someone is always less than a SAAS with few great benefits that does a lot for most.

- Cashflow In > Cashflow out: Simple math. If you are not able to make more revenue than your costs, you will eventually fail. So the goal is to not only maximize revenue but also reduce costs as much as possible.

- Listen to existing customers: Keep an eye your customers and where their struggles/issues are if any. Don't ignore them.

- Ability to sustain good customers: Very important. There will always be churn but as long as you are able to keep and sustain your good customers, that always helps.

- Make more from existing customers/up-selling: I realized that a lot of existing customers who are happy with the product are willing to pay more to get a few custom features from time to time. That adds to the revenue as well.

- Fire the bad customers quickly: Bad clients take more support time and expect to pay less. Fire them if needed. You can never grow your business with bad customers.

- Sales, Sales, Sales. Learn how to sell and go sell the thing. Without sales, there is no business.

- Marketing and Branding: Important but I put this after sales at least in my case. You need to spend time working on your branding even if small.

- Most importantly, learn to build a small team and delegate tasks. 1 person cannot do everything.Yes there are 1 man indie hacker type SAAS out there but they cannot scale beyond a certain point. But with a team of 2-5 people, you can do a lot more scaling.

EDIT: I realized that most of these points are applicable to any business so let me add a few more SAAS specific ones :

- Customers should be able to upgrade or downgrade their plans without much friction. A lot of SAAS businesses miss out on ability to make more because their upgrade process requires human touch. For enterprise, I can understand but for most regular SAAS businesses, make it easy to upgrade or even downgrade

- Grandfather the good clients if you are taking away any key features or raising prices significantly. Be careful about pissing off good customers. If do you have to take away something, please communicate in advance and set the right expectations. Nothing pisses me more than a sudden email that says "sorry bro. gotta pay more and we are doing this next week to you"

- Backups, servers, monitoring: Get the technical stuff in control and automate the hack out of things as much as possible.

- Cancellation and feedback: If a client is cancelling, try and get as much feedback from them as possible. A lot of times I have been able to win back cancelling clients because we addressed something they needed and did not know that they could ask us for that extra help/work.


I’m going to be cheeky and call out one of your edited points as something I focused on from the start.

As a bootstrapped SaaS owner myself, automating almost everything has been key, giving me time to go and work on other things that simply aren’t easily automated (I’m looking at you sales).

Somethings I have automated:

- Onboarding should be hassle-free with very little interaction needed from myself, unless they are after something bespoke. - Infrastructure is handled by Ansible, so I can easily (manually) scale up should I ever get a hug from HN. Also means I can rebuild from scratch relatively easily - just a few ansible commands. - Silly things that are easily forgotten like LetsEncrypt renewals, backups etc.

I’m sure there are other things but they evade me currently.


Regarding DR, have you actually tried rebuilding your entire infrastructure? Do you do that regularly as you add more playbooks?

If not, I'd say that your DR is more of a wishful-DR that real DR. Not bashing on you, it's just that we're all prone to believe that everything will work but most of the times it doesn't because <reasons>.


I've been super happy with http://www.fairpixels.pro (had seen them around here a few times). I've been engineering my way up, but never realised how key design can be in converting traffic into users and turning users into fans.


I suppose if growth hacking via false social proof is a service you're in need of, that's your team. I recall way too many Ask HN threads with that link in one of the first or only comments recently.


2/5 comments by OP are plugging this site.

Nobody minds you plugging your service, just don't pretend you are a customer.


Not pretending


That link was dead for me. Is it this one? https://www.fairpixels.co/pro/


I have found spark.laravel.com to be a great template for a SAAS business. I am looking for a good serverless SAAS template, anyone know of any?


Cult like following. Infection like marketing. Biggest thing: Not trusting people from other business.


Make sure you're feasible. Build a Financial Model:

https://medium.com/the-mission/simple-saas-financial-model-f...


Media Rule: All media assets are hosted on AWS S3 buckets so your servers can scale to tens of thousands of users.




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