4 Things I Look for in New SaaS Ideas

18 September, 2019

I'm entering the next phase of product development with a different perspective on what I'm going to build. Here are 4 of the criteria that I'm looking at.

Disclaimer: I'm not suggesting you follow this advice! This is merely where my head is at right now. View this through the lens of a guy who has built a bunch of stuff, some of it was successful, some of it most definitely not, and I'm now trying to formalize my perspective on what ideas are best for me to work on.

1. NOT something innovative and new

Often as a founder you are looking for a unique and exciting idea, something that people have never seen before.

New is so attractive to founders because it brings with it a guarantee of some attention from the market. The problem with really new ideas is that they are risky. You'll need to spend time educating users on what this thing actually is, before (if your hypothesis was correct) some finally grok the idea and decide that they want it. This is inefficient for the solo dev or small team.

The good news is, you don't have to create some wacky AI/ML-based Uber for Pet Therapists just to capitalize on new. New can also mean:

  • repackaging an existing idea for a different target customer
  • recycling an old idea for today's market
  • making a 10x simpler version of an existing idea
  • making an unexciting but clear solution to a well-known problem

When the idea is familiar to users, or better yet addresses a pain point that they already acutely aware of, you'll be in a much more efficient space in terms of your acquisition costs.

2. Value prop can be described in plain language

When you describe your SaaS product to customers and you use the phrase it helps you to… followed by something like work more efficiently or collaborate effectively, you're in a broad, expansive space I call solutionware.

There's nothing inherently wrong with this space and there's heaps of tools and a lot of value being created, but similar to above, to be successful it's going to require a lot of user education and a lot of messing around with different product positions. It's an inefficient place to be as a solo dev or small team.

In my opinion it's more efficient to be in a place where your product is much simpler in scope and the description can be more direct and emphatic, avoiding the use of soft language like helps you to.

Better, plainer language might be:

A software service that does XYZ every day

A software service that turns FOO into BAR automatically

That's the level of simplicity in product that I as a solo dev am now aiming for. The marketing language I end up using may ultimately differ from the emphatic approach above, but the idea needs to at least pass this sniff test first.

3. You know where to get your first 10 customers

As a solo dev or small team, it's inefficient to spend time marketing in different channels trying to get your first customers. That energy is better spent on your product or engaging with existing customers.

The channel where you acquire your first customers should be blindingly obvious. Whether it's a network of clients from a lifetime of consulting, a subreddit that you're heavily involved in, selling to a previous employer etc - the point is, it shouldn't be an inefficient guessing game.

If you've had an amazing SaaS idea but have zero idea of where the first customers might come from, then that's an indicator of poor product-founder fit.

4. Low maintenance for the customer

Some products are intended to weave themselves into the fabric of a users' life. Think communication software and productivity software - these are apps that a user will use multiple times a day. If you're able to weave your product into a user's daily routine, it's a huge achievement.

The barrier to acquiring a user for this type of product is very high. Users may already be using another solution (i.e. there's a switching cost), you'll need to keep reminding them to come back, and you might even need to onboard their team members before any one user can understand the value.

All of this makes growing a product like this incredibly challenging for a solo dev or small team. These challenges are better handled by funded startups who can spend money on hiring growth teams to onboard / winback users.

SaaS ideas better suited to the solo dev or small teams are ones that require minimal ongoing effort from the user / customer. Ideally, the value proposition should be clearly understood at the time of signup (or minutes after) and from that point the product continues to deliver on that value prop without the user needing to interact with it on a regular basis.

The closest colloqial term for this is set and forget. I want SaaS ideas to have a certain set and forget factor - easy for the customer to set up and just let it do its job quietly in the background.

The perfect type of set and forget SaaS business is an API-only business. Think of companies like IPinfo, Clearbit, Mux - these are tools that you integrate once at the beginning of your customer relationship with them, and then just leave to work their magic in the background.

About the author
Jon Yongfook @yongfook

Jon is the founder of Mojosaas. He enjoys coding in Ruby, writing about startup life and has built and sold several startups while living as a digital nomad. He dreams about one day owning a warehouse full of motorcycles.

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