Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Evaluating Modest SaaS Business Ideas (greaterdanorequalto.com)
365 points by DanHulton on April 10, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 43 comments

Extracted the list for people's convenience and reference

- Is this an exciting product?

- Does this solve a significant enough problem that people will pay for it?

- Will customers regularly use and see value from this product?

- Does this product provide value to companies at broad stages of their life cycle?

- Does this product align with your values?

- Do you like your potential customers?

- Will you be able to stay motivated to work on this product?

- Can you build this product in a reasonable amount of time?

- What is your moat?

- Is this product easy to distribute?

- Is downtime a life-or-death emergency?

- Will you spend a lot of time doing customer support?

- Will this product be all-consuming?

- Does the person who gets the most value out of your product control the credit card that will be used to pay for it?

- Do your potential customers regularly pay for products, ideally for this kind of product?

- Is your market a large one with a lot of upmarket competition?

- Is there demonstrated demand for a downmarket competitor?

- Is the market still growing?

- Is it easy to reach your audience?

- Is there a powerful distribution channel available to reach this market?

(i run a paid creators community where we discuss this stuff)

This list is quite similar to what Amy Hoy talked about in her 30x500 course

Can you really answer "Is the market still growing?" with 90+% certainty?

I think it's something you have to intuit, which means you're going to be wrong sometimes. I wouldn't hesitate on an idea because I couldn't figure it out, I would treat it more like a sniff test for whether or not you're entering a dieing market. Just an example, you're a parts manufacturer and you're deciding between R&D on ICE or Electric, you can't prove that electric motors will be the winner with any amount of data, but it's a pretty obvious intuition that targeting OEM parts contracts for ICE is not a good long game.

It can sometimes be very clear when you sit in the right part of the industry or community to have some kind of intuition on the matter. If you are in such a position you may have a fairly decent upper hand, and you could squander it if you wait for data or some Deloite report to tell you you're in a growing market.

It's also going to depend on how big your scope is. Are you looking to enter the "Toys" market or the "Specific kind of fidget spinner toy" niche? If it's just toys, then there's probably some general data to go by. If it's a specific niche you're probably going to be flying somewhat blind by necessity as there won't be any data yet.

Yes. Growth is either positive, negative flat or in transition between those three. In transition is a negligible portion of any market’s life cycle and if you were wrong you can bail. Even if you thought it was growing and it’s really more flat you’re probably still good because we’re still in the early days of SAAS. It is unlikely that all market niches have been exploited to an inch of their lives. There are not many SAAS markets that actually exist that are clearly declining. If it exists it’s probably still growing. Many people are going to launch a new CRM this year and make a life changing amount of money off it. Maybe the first Polish language CRM for undertakers will be it.

The most important part:

Finding a customer category that regularly spends money on the kind of software you're intending to build can make it signficantly easier to actually sell them software.

Go to Capterra or G2 and read what actual paying customers say about your competitors and other SaaS products. It's eye-opening.

Not really. Most of those reviews are paid reviews these days, and you can't tell the real ones from the fake ones. I know because at my previous job the marketing team was responsible for "encouraging" customers to leave positive reviews by offering them various incentives and discounts. Resulting reviews were often times the total opposite of reality.

FWIW, a few months ago we had a prospect ask, and I partially quote, "We don't see any reviews on the AWS marketplace,".

We can see too that most of competitors' reviews are clearly inauthentic. Also, in the B2B space, a public endorsement is infrequently given for various reasons. Being in cybersecurity makes it an awkward ask too - especially after SolarWinds got a lot of flack for publishing their client list on the website [1].

However, it would have to be done - as that prospect has made it clear. We are sticking by our guns though and will get there eventually with genuine reviews. But TBH, the path is not clear.

[1] https://www.theverge.com/2020/12/15/22176053/solarwinds-hack...

Can confirm, I did a few paid reviews (until the reward was greater than the time spent).

I wrote genuine thoughts on the product but given it has been offered to me and not someone else, there is a clear selection bias.

Partially true. It takes some time to learn how to spot genuine reviews.

However, even in the "encouraged" reviews you can still discover what problems people solve with certain class of tools and how much money they're ready to pay for them.

Doubt it. I've worked for a SAAS company in the past that practices the incentivized review behaviour. Genuine (organic) reviews were indistinguishable from incentivized reviews. Poor reviews, which are the most valuable for this type of research, were always removed.

I was looking at a competitor's reviews just now, out of curiosity. They're so funny. The best one goes like this:

Pros: We love everything about this software! Especially A, B, C, D, E, F and G features!

Cons: It's always so difficult to wait for the next monthly patch! But it's so worth it!

Pinch of salt with these 2. I've worked with one on a full-scale, full year up front lead generation fee and it just didn't work. I knew it wouldn't based on SEO metrics but they insisted that it would. They were wrong.

The other just keeps harassing my for leaving a review on a piece of software that I was working for at the time. Never got a gift card either....

IMO look at how many 'competitors' are in a category on those sites. Finding a category with <50 competitors can provide some great opportunities, probably niche though.

I’m often amazed that anyone leaves an organic review given how many questions these companies want you to answer. My guess would be that 80% are incentivized but again it’s just a guess.

I’m an indie solo dev selling label printer software. The niche force is strong with me... my business is basically selling the software equivalent of colonoscopies.

I can only speak for my own experience, but Capterra offered me and my customers something like $20 gift cards for the first 100 reviewers and I sent 500 emails with this offer and maybe had 1 reviewer bite and then later said he never received a gift card.

But my app has 15 reviews and I asked maybe half of those users to write a review after they first emailed me with a testimonial/praise.


good luck competing with 1000 other companies on that existing category

I just added my SaaS there [1], have zero expectations but I'll be happy to report back if I notice any positive effects.


> Alternatively, if you run an Internet Of Things company that locks and unlocks doors over an API, if that API goes down, people could be locked out of their houses during emergencies!

Alternatively, don't develop an IoT door lock that will lock people out of their houses if the intern accidentally fucks up in production.

But how else could we make it LaaS (locks as a service) with a monthly subscription?

Don't forget selling users a new $300 device after 2 years when you decide to end support for the old version for absolutely no reason!

This is a good list of questions to evaluate. I am currently struggling with finding customers for something I hacked together to solve my personal problem.

A discord bot which warns users when they share links to pirated site and remove it. (I moderate a small discord server).

I extracted the API part and put it on rapid API to see if there is any interest because I have little idea where to look for customers and how to talk to them.


I have also been looking for alternatives. I searched for them before but nothing came up so I had to build a list and heuristics myself. Maybe there isn't much of a need otherwise I would find a product.

Yeah, if you don't find any competition, that's usually not a great thing. The world being as big as it is, you're _probably_ not the first person to think of this particular idea, and it's _usually_ that there's not a market for it.

That said, maybe this is an idea you can niche _up_ with? Instead of just one form of moderation, could you take the basic tech and use it to moderate a whole bunch of nasties that admins don't want to waste time dealing with? You'll want to make sure that the a _paying_ market exists for such tools first, obviously, but it's a potential option.

Agree. A one off tool that detects pirated links seems odd to pay for.

Either a monolithic tool for handling moderation automation in general seems good, or better yet a marketplace where I can buy automation plugins for Discord in general, both for moderation as well as other administrative or entertainment tasks.

It's easy nowadays to throw up a quick slash page with some SEO friendly pages to gauge market demand. Have an email wait list and if it gets large, you'll conveniently have the email of your first clients.

How often has this worked in your experience?

Maybe you could get an MPAA grant to develop it further. :)

Most problems with links on Discord are solved with a gradual expansion of new user permissions.

How much time, money or reputation does it contribute to a channel?

Does discord punish servers, which share pirated content?

This is an excellent list. FWIW these questions overlap a lot with questions VCs will ask if you decide to go the venture-backed route. (Source: I'm a VC.)

A product can still find success even if there isn't a great answer to "is there a moat?" or "is the person who benefits also the one who pays?" -- but the road is a lot harder.

What is your typical "moat perception" of a Uber-for-X SaaS pitch.

Yes, brand and reputation and credit card details and scale advantages and first mover.

But are these a "moat" or just "stickiness" factors?

I view those more as stickiness than as moats. They help you retain existing customers but don't make the product more valuable for new customers.

Scale advantages are the exception. If the costs of your product or service drop dramatically with scale, then you can lower prices to a level where you still make a profit but competitors can't compete.

The complicated most is the logistics network. That is definitely a moat against new entrants, but not against large existing logistics networks like Uber or DoorDash.

All seem like reasonable points. But the real test is the ability to survive the first couple of years and get paying customers.

Oh absolutely. These are questions to hopefully find an idea that lets you do that, or at least exclude ones that don't.

> Is downtime a life-or-death emergency?

This is a big one, after you get your project off the ground.

In my last startup, downtime of a few minutes led to torrents of emails and customer complaints, as the service was time sensitive.

This was easily the most stressful part of the job.

To be honest this puts me off the whole SaaS thing. The worst I can get right now is some Microsoft update impacting my software and that has happened once but even then that only impacted a small minority of my customers and was easy to resolve. I can't imagine worrying about my service going down whilst I'm on top of a mountain in the middle of Wales.

Devs should spend a lot more time on research to select the problem they want to solve. This is "top of the funnel" in the sense that it will affect everything else, from product to marketing, and has the highest impact on the ultimate success of the product.

> Finding a customer category that regularly spends money on the kind of software you're intending to build can make it signficantly easier to actually sell them software.

I want to point out that this applies to the market, and not necessarily the product. An oft-repeated suggestion is to charge more, but free products are great for lead-gen. Case-in-point: indiehackers.com is not a paid product, yet it sold for 7 figures. Traffic from a targeted, lucrative demographic is inherently valuable, and one of the easiest ways to get this traffic is with a free product.

When starting out, the biggest risk is 1. making something that no-one wants 2. making something people want, but not being able to reach those people. The easiest way to derisk these categories of mistakes is to simply copy the market (ie. what problem to solve) and acquisition channels of competitors, and differentiate on product.

On moats: Markets with moats are typically already dominated by incumbents with moats. For indies it's better to target markets without moats, precisely because you're in the position of a "fast follower"

These are good questions to evaluate, as the author points out there is no "right" way to do this. Making sure your idea solves real customers problems that align with your personal values and goals makes sense to me. Another tool I like to use in this phase is the Business Model Canvas, it makes you think about the business side, giving you a clear overview of your idea and the avenues to turn it into a real business https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_Model_Canvas

How important is a moat for a microsaas? Is it ok to do something easy to copy and think of the moat later? My moat would be a lack of interest from other companies to copy me!

If you demonstrate some success and a company with some other kind of unfair advantage (e.g. name brand, distribution) can just copy you once they realize.

Great list, I’m currently trying to better focus my side project time one things that can be viable businesses so I can het back to running my own thing again and this is getting bookmarked to come back to for every idea.

This is a really good post, how long have you been doing this for Dan? Look forward to seeing what you make next

Thanks! I've been building Nodewood in my spare time for the past couple years, but I've been keeping my hand in the bootstrapping community for about a decade now. I have a pretty solid history of _not_ considering these questions before launching something that seemed like a fun idea, so I figured I may as well share this and see if I can help others learn from my mistakes. =)

Recently I accidentally found a very cool SaaS project https://audext.com/

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact