In the first part of this series, we discussed how analyzing SaaS industry demand could help you come up with useful solutions for users who are unsatisfied with the current options on the market. This time around, we want to delve a little deeper into the actual process of developing, launching, and fine-tuning a SaaS (software as a service) product, assuming you already have an idea of what platform, app, or solution you want to develop and release.
Bear in mind that releasing a SaaS product is not always a linear journey, which is why we also added the fine-tuning aspect of the process. More often than not, SaaS companies will develop and launch a Beta version of their solution, observe user response, and make the appropriate changes. Here at Ucraft, we're currently following this release model: although we recently launched the Beta version of our new intelligent eCommerce platform, Ucraft Next, we are now focused on gathering feedback in order to meet customer expectations for the final launch. And we're not unique in this - many SaaS companies go through this process.
Remember - when it comes to software as a service, your customers come first. The more information you can gather, the better you can meet user expectations. So without further ado, let's go through the steps of developing, launching, and improving a new SaaS product.
Developing a SaaS Product
Over recent years, especially in the post-pandemic environment, the SaaS model has become a highly popular software delivery model. According to Eastern Peak, the SaaS market is estimated to be worth around $307.3 billion by 2026. With that in mind, now is the perfect time to consider the SaaS model as a startup business idea.
Once you have an idea, developing a SaaS product isn't necessarily difficult as long as you follow the right steps and prepare everything in advance. If you've read the first part of our series on analyzing industry demand, it's likely that you already have a product idea or two in mind. If not, make sure you know what you want to do before following the steps mentioned below.
Now, let's go through the steps of developing the first version of your SaaS product.
1. Develop a Business Plan
Of course, a business plan is not just native to SaaS enterprises - it's the first stepping stone for any business. If you're just starting out, your initial business plan for your MVP (minimum viable product) should include the following:
• Company mission/vision
• The essence of your SaaS product
• Competitive advantages
• Pain points/problems you are solving
• Marketing strategy
• Monetization strategy
• Expenses and how you plan on sourcing funds (more below)
• Fundamental goals
Remember, this is your first launch. Although you want to be concise, don't overcrowd your initial business plan with too much information, especially if you are planning to outsource funds and attract investors.
2. Decide on a Pricing Model
There are several monetization models to choose from when it comes to the SaaS industry. Below, you'll find some of the most popular ones:
1. Freemium Model - your product or app is free, but premium features can only be unlocked for a fee (think OneDrive or Dropbox).
2. Flat Rate - one price for one product, with the same features available to all. Users can choose between paying a monthly fee or an annual fee, with annual fees often being cheaper.
3. Usage-Based - also referred to as "pay as you go", this model charges customers for specific transactions such as requests, money transfers, messages, data used, posts, invoices, calls, or any other transactions.
4. User-Based - charging your clients per active user operating your SaaS platform. You can choose to charge for the total number of users or just active users - many SaaS companies use the latter since it's more fair and convenient.
5. Feature-Based - charging a flat rate for the most basic version of the product and monetizing subsequent features. This and the tiered pricing model are often seen as interchangeable.
6. Tiered Pricing - combining features into predefined packages and pricing them accordingly. This is good for both B2C and B2B SaaS companies since users/enterprises can pick tiers that best suit their needs.
7. Combination - as suggested by the name, some SaaS companies decide to combine several strategies depending on their business model.
3. Choose Your Technology Stack
When it comes to SaaS, the right technology stack is as important (if not more) as a well-defined pricing strategy. There are many options, and many combinations of technology stacks for SaaS products, but some of the most commonly used options include:
This is where you store essential information related to your software/application. MySQL, PostgreSQL, and MongoDB are popular for databases.
It's necessary to choose a secure and reliable cloud service provider like Google, Microsoft or Amazon (AWS).
If programming isn't your strongest side, we suggest you wait until you have a tech team on board to discuss the details mentioned above and make the right choices for your particular product. Consider this list as a framework, not a strict blueprint.
4. Find Investors
Unless you're willing and capable to pay for the development and launch of your MVP out of pocket, you're going to need a dollar or two to get your business up and running. Thankfully, there's a wide variety of resources available in the sphere, from Angel Investors to start-up incubators and programs to bank loans. Consider researching options in your area to see if there are any fundraising activities or programs you can attend in person. Likewise, consider raising money on crowdfunding platforms like IndieGoGo.
Raising money doesn't have to be a long and tedious process as long as you've got everything in place, including a killer pitch deck. Check out Ucraft’s fundraising case study for some helpful tips and tricks.
5. Hire a Team
When it comes to launching any product, digital or otherwise, teamwork is key. You don't have to hire a whole office's worth of employees - even a small-ish team with all of the key figures is more than enough for a beginner launch. So, who should you hire? Here are some roles to consider:
• Business analyst
• Software developers
• Scrum master
• Product owner
• Project manager
• UI/UX designers
• Web designers
• Quality assurance (QA) engineer
• Customer support team
• Sales expert
• Marketing manager
It's up to you whether you want to have all of these roles fulfilled in-house or through other means, such as outsourcing or hiring freelancers. However, we suggest fulfilling at least the roles mentioned above in-house, and potentially outsourcing services like content, SMM, SEO, etc., if it's too costly or impossible to have them on-site at the moment.
Likewise, when building your team, it's important to ensure that all employees occupying high-level or managerial roles have the experience and skills to ensure your launch is successful. You don't want someone getting off-track halfway through or becoming unsure of what to do when common challenges arise.
6. Develop an MVP
Also known as the minimum viable product, an MVP is essentially the trial or Beta version of your SaaS solution, packed with all of the basic features. Although it's not the final product, an MVP is what you need to entice users, build an initial customer base and impress your stakeholders. Obviously, if all goes well, you'll be launching more sophisticated versions of your product later on, but at this stage, an MVP is all you need.
Here is where you gather everything you've prepared over the last five sections and merge them to produce your MVP. Your business plan, pricing model, technology stack, funds, and team should all smoothly come together to create a valid MVP for the first release.
As soon as the development kicks in, make sure you consistently communicate with the development and design teams and ensure they share your vision for how the product is supposed to look and function. Likewise, hold regular meetings with the whole team to keep track of progress and answer any questions, and test your product throughout the development stages to pinpoint any bugs or malfunctioning tools/features.
MVP or not, it should function like a full product. This is where your QA team comes in to carry out the Beta-testing process and help you uncover any flaws.
Following the launch, think of your SaaS product as a rare houseplant. Just because you've watered it for a specific period of time doesn't mean you should stop once it's grown big and strong. Just like a plant, you have to "water” your product post-launch with maintenance, upgrades, promotional activities, and 24/7 customer support.
Launching a SaaS Product
Congratulations! Your MVP is ready, and you're about to launch.
Not so fast! You can't just launch your SaaS product into thin air. If you haven't already hired a marketing team, now is the time to get the marketers on board to announce your launch and run the necessary campaigns. You'll need a marketing manager, content writer, SMM specialist, SEO specialist, and even a web designer, if possible, to make this a launch to remember.
1. Announce Your Launch
For your product announcement to go smoothly, you'll need a landing page. Why not a full website? Well, for starters, creating a website takes time, and, unless you go for a website builder, you might not have that time to create a full-blown website right now. Moreover, you might not even need to yet.
If it's your first launch, a "Coming Soon" landing page is more than enough to gather leads, create a buzz around your launch, describe your product in a few words, and even include a countdown element. The main goal is to intrigue users, provide them with everything they need to know about your upcoming launch, and explain how your SaaS product solves their problems. Once the leads start coming in post-launch, you're definitely going to need a website, but focus on creating an eye-catching landing page first.
2. Promote Your Launch
Once again, your marketing team is crucial at this step, as well as your go-to SaaS marketing strategy. Assuming your launch date is pretty close, you'll need to set up accounts on all popular social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and maybe even TikTok depending on the type of product and how much you want to appeal to younger consumers.
Other platforms to consider include Product Hunt and Beta List.
Marketing Activities for the Pre-Launch and Launch Period
Marketing may not be the bread and butter of this post, and we'll definitely be covering this in more detail in the third part of our series, but it's essential to briefly mention some marketing activities crucial to a successful SaaS launch:
1. Social media marketing
2. Email marketing campaigns
3. Lead generation
4. Influencer marketing
5. Paid advertising and PPC
6. Product demos
7. Gift cards and discounts
8. Exclusive insights
9. Affiliate marketing
10. And more!
Stay tuned for the third part of this guide, where we'll be going into further details about how to successfully market a SaaS launch.
3. Launch Your MVP
Once you've announced your launch and carried out some promotional activities, it's time to actually launch!
Given you've created a landing page with a countdown, it's safe to say that the countdown is over, and the time has come to launch to the public. Some SaaS start-ups choose to do a private launch to friends and acquaintances to test first, but if you've got a strong QA team on board that conducted full Beta-testing and uncovered any bugs, you're safe to go public, given that all bugs have been fixed.
If you've already gathered leads and sign-ups from your landing page, sent out emails informing your future customers of the launch, and considered giving them a discount or even a free trial to test out the Beta version of your product, it's time to launch. Likewise, ensure your customer support team is up and running to help newcomers with any questions or queries. As mentioned above, you're going to have to maintain performance and ensure everything runs smoothly - from the technology stack, to support, to user communication. Likewise, remember to have an onboarding process in place for customers.
If the above-mentioned points have been taken care of, hit the release button!
Post-Launch Performance and Fine-Tuning
You've successfully developed and launched a SaaS product. Great work!
However, it's only just the beginning. The post-launch stage is incredibly important for tracking progress and making necessary improvements and adjustments to your SaaS solution. Let's look at some of the most important aspects of the post-launch period.
1. Gather User Feedback
Attracting users is not enough. You need them to stay, and you need them to feel valued and heard if you want to convert one-time customers into loyal ones. This is why you need to ensure you have a feedback mechanism in place for early-bird customers to provide useful suggestions. This can be achieved via email, forms on your website, or even internal pop-ups or forms that ask users to rate their experience.
2. Track KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
Another efficient way to track progress includes paying attention to key SaaS performance indicators. Some KPIs you should pay close attention to include:
1. Visitor-to-sign-up rate – the percentage of page visitors that turn into leads.
2. Lead-to-customer rate - the percentage of leads that have turned into paying customers.
3. Sign-up-to-customer rate - the overall percentage of users that have turned from free trials to paid versions.
Other metrics you can pay attention to include customer lifetime value (CLV), net promoter score (NPS), monthly recurring revenue (MRR), and annual recurring revenue (ARR).
3. Start Making Improvements
You've gathered feedback and tracked your KPIs. Now it's time to take that information and start making necessary changes. Relay user feedback to your development and UI/UX design teams so they're aware of what needs to be improved and can start working on this ASAP to ensure your current customers stick with you. Likewise, your KPIs will give you a good idea of what needs to be improved in both your internal functioning and external promotional activities.
4. Create a Website
This should be done shortly after a launch if you've relied on a sole landing page. You can choose to hire a team of web developers and designers or go for a website builder like Ucraft. If you want to save money while not compromising on your website quality, we would definitely recommend going for a website builder (and not just because we're in the industry, but because it's a quick yet quality option for those who don't have the time or money to develop a whole website from scratch.
Consider using ready-made templates to give your website that pro feel.
Launching a SaaS product is an exciting time in any IT professional's career, and it doesn't need to be excessively challenging or complicated as long as you tackle each stage step by step. Let's refresh our memories:
During the development stage, you need to: develop a business plan, decide on a pricing model, choose your technology stack, find investors, hire a team, and develop an MVP.
Likewise, when the time to launch approaches, it's essential to announce your launch, promote your launch, and - obviously - launch your MVP.
When you reach the post-launch stage, you can successfully start fine-tuning your SaaS product by gathering user feedback, tracking KPIs, and making necessary adjustments. Also, don't forget to create a website!
We hope this guide was helpful. Stay tuned for the third part, which will be addressing the marketing side of things.