In the 21st century, the SaaS model has a reputation of the most beneficial one for almost any type of software. A SaaS solution serves as an ultimate tool to fix any issue for users, while for business owners, it is a profitable product.
Creating and launching a software as a service application takes time, money, and, of course, thorough research, just like in any business project. Between a clear concept of a successful cloud-based product and its execution, there lies a complex SaaS development process.
As a design agency for SaaS, we know that this process is not only about launching a good-looking website but about building a whole SaaS product from scratch so that the customers can make use of it right after it was introduced.
In this article, we will discuss how to make the most of each stage of SaaS development to produce a uniquely efficient solution for your users.
How do I develop my SaaS product?
Step by step we will discuss the SaaS product development process with all the important points you need to consider when building a cloud product from scratch.
The first thing you have to do when developing your SaaS is to define a clear concept.
The main goal of any cloud software is to make the life of its users easier. To reach this objective you have to research your target audience and define the problem your SaaS will solve (how it can simplify people's lives).
Usually, SaaS products optimize the work process, help to save space on the hard drive, or make it possible for customers to use an application with their smartphones from any location.
Let's take Zoom as an example here. Being a solution for video conferencing that combines ease of use and accessibility, Zoom has become a painkiller for ventures that required constant live communication during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The takeaway here is that every successful business idea is aimed at solving a specific customer's issue and you have to define this issue to create a clear concept.
As soon as you know what kind of SaaS you want to develop it's time to conduct thorough competitor research.
The analysis of your competitors includes evaluating the following features:
- UI/UX design
- Marketing methods
- Pricing strategy
As well, pay attention to the feedback customers leave your rivals. It will help you to understand what your target audience likes and dislikes, and what they expect to receive from the service.
It is worth paying special attention to the leaders of the market (e.g. Shopify for e-Commerce solutions, Salesforce for CRM, Jira or Trello for project management platforms, etc.). Learn what makes them successful and figure out how you can use their experience in your project.
There are several ways to cope with the competition. Some of them are to choose a narrow niche, consider pricing or develop a much better solution.
If you want to learn more on how you can beat the competition, check out our article on Red Ocean's Strategy for Overcoming Competition.
Now we move to a very important step in the development process of a cloud-based solution. You have to determine how to make money with your SaaS to be able to adjust your product to some particular pricing model later during the following stages.
Free of charge (advertising included)
The first method is to give your customer access to all the features of the software for free. Using this model a vendor makes money with the help of ads. You sell "space" on your page (in your app) to show ads videos, posters, etc.
Free of charge method allows you to reach a wide audience, so it gives a nice possibility to test your product. The disadvantage of this model is that it can make the UX worse.
Companies that use this method: Facebook, WeatherBug.
The Freemium pricing model involves offering the basic pack of features for free with the possibility to upgrade an account and get some extra functionality (become a premium user) or get rid of the annoying ads.
Companies that use this method: MailChimp, Dropbox, Grammarly.
On subscription (Flat Rate)
This model is easy to implement and sell. The user pays for a subscription (monthly or annually) and receives access to the whole set of features.
Companies that use this method: Netflix (up to 2020), Precog
The price your customer pays depends on the usage. The user is charged for the amount of data used, calls made, transactions done, etc.
Companies that use this method: Amazon Web Services.
A blended method of monetization is a combination of several pricing models. For example, a company can offer some free features with the ability to upgrade plus show ads in their app.
Companies that use this method: Spotify, Vimeo.
Remember, you don't choose a pricing model once and forever. As your SaaS evolves, you may change the way of monetization depending on your needs.
Design is probably the most important aspect that contributes to the SaaS success. Good SaaS UI/UX design can make the product addictive and impossible to give up. The experience customers get when interacting with your service influences the conversion and retention rates.
That's why when choosing a designer search for someone who has experience of working with SaaS products. Such a designer will understand what you want to create, have a clear understanding of a SaaS design process, and will help you to come up with all the requirements for the cloud product.
Here are some tips we want to share with you when designing a SaaS application:
- The sign-up process. It is vital to make the sign-up for your service as quick and easy as possible. The fewer information users have to fill, the more they are willing to subscribe. Collect only essential data first (sometimes the email address is enough).
Check an example of the sign-up process at Slack's website. To start using this cloud messenger you need to only fill in an email address or simply click “continue with Google” button.
- Onboarding process. Give your customers clear guidance on how to use your product. None of the app features should confuse the user. SaaS UX has to make the onboarding process easy and intuitive.
Take a look at the user onboarding in ClientJoy (former Gridle), a client experience platform. They hired our team to redesign their SaaS platform (read the case study).
We designed the onboarding process so that it gives the customer a clear understanding of what they should do first.
- Navigation. The correct implementation of navigation helps users intuitively find the needed feature or information quickly and easily.
Hootsuite has a side navigation bar that is minimal and intuitive. In case, the user forgets what an icon stands for, the navigation bar can be expanded to present labels.
Dashboard. A good SaaS design should present important information quickly to its users. The most frequently accessed data, updates, pending approvals, and a quick summary of the key events encourage users to keep coming back. That’s why when designing a dashboard try not to load it with unnecessary information. Make all the data easy to access and comprehend.
Here is an example of a dashboard designed by our team for Textmagic, a customer experience platform. Textmagic’s comprehensive dashboards allow managers to easily track the performance of their team and customer satisfaction rate. You can check the case study to learn more about this project.
As a design company, the Eleken team has worked with both existing solutions and helped designing brand-new projects from the ground up. You can see our case studies to find out more.
As we already mentioned high-quality design is vital for SaaS, to help you find a good designer check our article How to find a designer for your SaaS app.
Finally, we have come to the core part of SaaS development process and it is.... the development itself!
This stage includes many technical aspects, like choosing a programming language that allows you to keep up with the latest trends and modern technologies, setting up the database architecture that provides maximum security, and the ability to scale your business later, creating the architecture of the project, integrating the API to maximize SaaS capabilities, and much more.
The development stage requires the biggest spendings unless you can do your own programming (then it will cost 0$). If you need some additional help to cope with these challenging tasks we suggest you follow the next steps:
- Define technical aspects. The tools and technologies used in building SaaS products may differ depending on the project and features you want to include. Talking to experts will help you to determine the technical aspects of your project including programming language, tools, and platforms that may be useful when developing your cloud software.
- Find developers. To find a developer, you, first of all, have to decide if you want to hire an in-house team or a freelancer/agency. You can search for an employee at Upwork, an online marketplace that connects clients and freelancers (pay attention to the reviews and Job Success Score when choosing who to hire).
- Create an MVP. MVP - a minimum viable product or, in other words, the version of your SaaS solution that will be first introduced to the general public. It includes all the main features so that you can receive feedback from the first users as soon as possible. The main goal of an MVP is to find out if the customer is willing to pay for the product.
An MVP will highlight which features work well, and which aspects require improvements. Such a review on the strong and weak sides of your service will help to fix all the issues shortly and adjust to the customers’ needs.
After testing and debugging your MVP you will understand what features you need to include in your long-term product. And now we move to the last but not the least step in our development process - maintenance.
To be successful a SaaS company needs to constantly improve its product. It is crucial to keep your service running without any issues at any point in its life cycle. That's why to stay competitive you have to constantly monitor user's needs, research the market and latest trends, track innovations and optimize your product.
SaaS hosting providers
One essential point that differentiates the development process of SaaS apps from traditional software development is hosting. SaaS products do their computing in the cloud, so to give your customers convenient and stable access to the app you need to find a reliable cloud service provider.
Let’s take a look at the three most popular hosting services for SaaS:
Amazon Web Services is one of the biggest and probably most popular cloud providers. AWS is known for its performing consistently well, strong data protection, and network security.
The cost of AWS depends on your individual needs, you pay for the services you use, once you don’t need them anymore there are no additional costs or termination fees. That is they use a pay-as-you-go pricing model.
The main downfall of this provider is that the support assistance is not included in the plan and you’ll have to pay extra.
Google cloud provides a range of services for compute, storage, and application development for your SaaS solution. It offers reliable performance in any location, strong analytical tools, and the ability to scale your product.
Google cloud uses the same pricing model as AWS. So that, you pay only for services you use with no up-front price. The disadvantage of this provider is the costly life support service.
Microsoft Azure offers 24/7 availability, high security, scalability, and reliability for its customers. The major benefit of this SaaS hosting provider is that it is easy to integrate MS tools that are used in most organizations with Azure Cloud.
Azure also uses a pay-as-you-go pricing model and you will also have to pay extra for live support.
SaaS providers usually offer a wide range of capabilities for your software, but that does not mean you need them all. Analyze your business idea and determine which services you want to move to an external provide not to pay extra.
As well, discuss the future ability to scale your business and check if the provider can offer you fair pricing when you will increase your investments. And, of course, always check the reviews of other customers to make sure your provider has a good reputation.
To sum up
To develop a successful SaaS application from scratch you need to:
- Clearly define the concept
- Conduct the competitor research
- Define the pricing model
- Find a SaaS designer
- Find a developer
- Build and test an MVP
- Never stop improving
Lastly, when studying the question of SaaS development keep in mind that your SaaS product has to deliver value. The concept it represents should coincide with your customers' needs. Take care of clear navigation, human-centered design, and don’t overload your SaaS with unnecessary features to create an appealing and functional application.
In our other article, we've shared some gaining insights on how to build a successful SaaS product so if you're looking for some additional information, we highly recommend you to read it.