How to Build a SaaS Product from Scratch (With Expert Tips)

By Joshua Gross, 09 February, 2022

You have a brilliant idea for a new web-based software-as-a-service product. You're all set to go. Well, there's just one problem: you need to make it. The hard part is coming up with the winning idea, so you should start putting it together and get it on the market. How hard can it be?

The truth is, there's no shortage of ideas, and it's more complicated than most people realize to bring a SaaS product to reality. Even if you're operating on an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) basis, it's a lot of work. Here's how you can do it.

Step 1: Understand the Market

Before you can even begin bringing an idea to fruition, you need to understand the market you'll be entering. You need to answer critical questions, which will require some actual legwork and research.

1. What does your product do?

You have a business idea, but what, precisely, does it do? How does it do it? You can't just come up with an idea like "A service to facilitate the comparison of informatics reports between business systems" and expect that to be meaningful.

You don't need a deep understanding of how to code it, but you should at least know how it functions. You can pin down the details later, but your overarching processes and systems should have an outline ready to go.

2. Who are your intended customers?

No, we're not talking about demographics here, not specifically. Think about it like this. Do you intend to market towards consumers or businesses? That is, will your product be B2B or B2C?

If you're marketing towards consumers, are you aiming for those without much money to spend or those with money to blow? If you're aiming at businesses, are you looking to provide services for small companies, mid-sized organizations, enterprise companies, nonprofits? There are a lot of possible options.

You might notice that many SaaS platforms out there cover all of the bases with a graduated tier system for plans, ranging from limited personal plans to unlimited enterprise plans. You can certainly do this, but you should have a core focus to start with and grow from there.

3. Do other products performing the same task exist?

You might think your idea is unique, but there may be competitors out there who already offer the service, and you don't know about it. Maybe they call it something else, or it's part of a more robust, overarching product, or perhaps their service isn't quite the same, but close enough.

Do your research! Nothing is quite as awful as bringing a hot new product to market, only to find someone else already does it, and you didn't know.

4. What is your Unique Selling Point to overcome competition?

If there's competition for your SaaS product – and there probably will be – you need to have some idea of how you're going to out-compete them or find your place in the market. In other words, what's your Unique Selling Point, and how do you stand out?

Some examples of USPs include:

  • Your product is smaller, less bloated, and more agile as a unitasker.
  • Your pricing is lower to appeal to a broader market of customers on a tight budget.
  • Your marketing focuses on appealing to a segment of the population typically not interested.
  • You emphasize premium quality and luxury over the mass-market appeal.

You can read more about developing your own USP here.

5. What is your business model going to be?

With SaaS, you're already going to be operating on some recurring charge business model. That's the "Service" part of SaaS, after all. The question is, how?

Are you charging monthly fees? Are you charging license fees for assets as Canva does? Are you charging on a credits system? Your monetization will need to be built in from the ground up, after all.

6. Have other companies attempted to do this and failed?

When researching the competition, one thing to be wary of is if it looks like you've found a completely untapped market. Your idea seems utterly unique, something no one has tried. Unfortunately, the reality is probably much darker.

The idea might be, well, bad. Maybe, with the proper marketing, you can push it through, but often it's just a waste of time.

The idea might be way more complex or more complicated than you imagined. Others have tried and failed, which is why you don't hear about them.

This is a warning. You might be able to succeed where others have failed, or you might end up just another parched skeleton in the desert of ideas. Give some serious thought to which is most likely.

Once you've answered these questions, you have the beginnings of a business plan. Formalizing all of this into a tangible document is helpful, but at the very least, you want to have the answers available in mind.

Step 2: Get to Planning

Once you have some idea of what the market looks like, it's time to turn your gaze inward and start figuring out what your product will look like. It's SaaS, right, but what else?

1. What stack will it use?

You'll need to make a significant decision deciding on the tech stack you'll be using to develop. Sometimes, this doesn't matter all that much.

Sometimes it's a critical decision that determines what environments you can operate within and what APIs you can interface with.

  • Pick your core programming frameworks, like Python, Java, or Node.js.
  • Pick a front-end, like Jquery, React, or Angular.
  • Pick a back-end database platform, usually some variation of SQL.
  • Pick a cloud infrastructure such as Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud.
  • Choose between monolithic or microservice architecture.

If all of this sounds pretty technical, that's because it is. You can do some research by reading guides like this one, or you can reach out to a product developer (hint hint) and see what they have to say.

2. What will the user experience entail?

Before you start writing a paper or a book, you build an outline. Before you leave on a trip to Point B, you plan on the route from A to B. You map the journey.

Software is no different. Whether you're making a desktop program, a mobile app, or a web SaaS product, you need to map out the user journey.

You have a core pitch for your product, which the user will come to your product to do. Now you need to determine how they do it. They start at an authentication page and are taken to a dashboard. What menus are on the dashboard? What about the sub-menus and the data that is displayed? How will a user proceed through your app to complete tasks? How much hand-holding will you give them?

Often, an app's flow can make or break users' feelings about using it. They won't necessarily care about how nice it is to use your service if the user experience is terrible or it takes too much work to do what they want to accomplish with it.

3. What will the pages and interfaces look like?

Once you have a user flow down, it's time to flesh it out, and that means one thing: wireframing.

Wireframing is basically sketching out how you want the app and its pages to look and feel to use. Where will certain elements be? How will they be laid out and formatted? You can do this in all manner of different ways. We've seen people sketch them out on paper, and we've seen advanced, multi-layered layouts in Photoshop and even interactive graphics whipped up in pure HTML and CSS.

Importantly, wireframing is not functional; it's made to demonstrate layout and design, which the code will replicate.

It can be beneficial to explore the SaaS apps that already exist. What design conventions are your users expecting? How will they navigate your app intuitively? What elements should you incorporate in your design to make it feel effective? Here's a guide.

4. What integrations, APIs, and other data will it need?

This lays the groundwork for development for certain SaaS apps, particularly those that serve as middlemen and aggregators. If you're going to be combining data from different platforms to generate reports, you need to be able to access that data.

That means API access from those companies, so they need to offer it, and you need to be able to afford it. You'll also need your app designed to pull in and use that data, so your developers should know ahead of time what APIs they need to work with.

5. Will you have any specific security concerns?

Depending on the kind of data you're handling, you may need to put some serious effort into cybersecurity.

Other SaaS platforms don't have to care about it beyond the usual billing and authentication security. Just make sure you keep it in mind.

Build Your Dream Team

You're the company owner, CEO, and idea leader, but you can't do it alone. Now you have a decision to make: who will be making your app? Typically, you have three options.

Option 1: Freelancers

For the first option, you identify what you need to be done, break it into specific tasks, and pay freelancers to do it for you. You will need to wear many hats and operate as your own project manager. You need to know enough about what you're doing in order to correctly assign tasks, guide development, and keep freelancers in communication with you and one another, as necessary.

This is the cheapest option, but it's also the most work for you, personally, by far. It's also the riskiest option, as freelancers might have something come up and need to drop out mid-project, which you might not always be able to afford.

Option 2: Hiring a Team

The second option available to you is hiring people to build your company. This is a more expensive and time-consuming option than managing freelancers because you need to know what you need and go through the interview and hiring process for your developers. And don't forget, you need more than just developers.

You need:

  • Front-end developers.
  • Back-end developers.
  • Product designers.
  • Business analysts.
  • QA and testing engineers.
  • Cybersecurity engineers.
  • Marketing personnel.
  • Finance managers.
  • HR representatives.

You can very quickly turn one idea into a 30-person team in a startup, and that escalates rapidly. Building your dream team is an unforgettable experience, but it's also a tall order, especially if you've never run a business before. It's easy to cut corners and skip something like cybersecurity hardening or QA testing, but when bugs show up later, it could cost you a lot of money, or worse, your app can fail.

Option 3: Hiring a Development Agency

Your third option is to hire an agency that handles SaaS product development.

This option is generally the most expensive, but also the fastest. These agencies (like us!) are packed with talented developers, engineers, and designers. They can take your business plan, your pitch, your wireframes and produce a working SaaS product much faster than the other two options. The trick is, you handle everything else, and you handle paying for it.

Most people don't have what it takes to build a dream team or wrangle a gaggle of freelancers. If you want to take an idea for a SaaS product and bring it to reality, working with a development agency like ours is the more effective way to do it. All you need is the vision and the funding.

If you're interested in a helping hand that can guide you through the full process from start to finish, please get in touch with us today. We're more than happy to help you get up and running, and we can work out the details on a one-on-one call.

And, once your product is up and running, then you're ready for the hard part: keeping it going, growing it, and turning it into a profitable business.