SaaS Development From Scratch: Steps and Tips
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The SaaS business model has a great reputation 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.
But 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 lies a complex SaaS development process.
As a design agency for SaaS, we know that this process is not only about launching good-looking web apps but about building a whole SaaS product from scratch so that the customers can make use of it right after it was introduced. So, let's answer the “ how is SaaS developed?” question and start with the MVP.
Why start with MVP?
When it comes to building SaaS from scratch, starting with an MVP is a smart move. It helps you save time and money as you're not jumping straight into costly development and launching.
The MVP (Minimal Viable Product) is the initial version of your software solution that includes only the most essential feature. An MVP allows you to quickly introduce your product to the public, receive feedback and reiterate on the product when needed. 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 what could be improved. Such a review on the strong and weak sides of your solution will help to fix all the issues shortly and adjust to the customers’ needs.
SaaS platform development can start quite small and simple. For example, one of our clients, Haven Diagnostics, was first making agent-based models for private clients. When they decided it's time to grow, they wanted to minimize the risk of spending too much money on developing something that their target audience wouldn't find valuable. Our work therefore included defining the value proposition, understanding customer problems, brainstorming, competitor analysis, and more.
But what stages does the MVP development involve, exactly? Let's walk through the whole process step-by-step.
What are the steps of SaaS development?
We will discuss the SaaS product development process with all the important points you need to consider when building a cloud product from scratch.
Discover a problem worth solving
There are stages of SaaS development you might be able to skip or interchange, but not this one. 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 goal 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 Prift as an example. Most personal finance apps focus on short-term financial goals and don’t provide long-term savings objectives. Pension platforms forecast the long-term goals, but don’t cover all personal financial assets. And using spreadsheets or hiring a financial adviser is not viable for everyone. So, the problem Prift solved was combining the capabilities and ease of use of a personal finance app while helping people to manage long-term financial goals.
It's okay to build a SaaS that solves a niche problem. 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.
Find your competitive advantage
The next, also inevitable stage of building SaaS products, is conducting 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 better understand what your target audience likes and dislikes, and what they expect to receive from your service.
It is worth paying special attention to the leaders of the market (for example, Shopify for e-Commerce solutions, Salesforce for CRM, Jira or Trello for project management platforms, and so on). 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 ccean strategy for overcoming competition.
Set goals and desired outcomes
It is crucial to establish clear goals and desired outcomes for your product. For instance, you may set objectives such as acquiring a specific number of users or referral customers within the specified timeframe (for example, first three months). These milestones indicate whether you have a product-market fit. Defining such targets helps guide your development process, providing a tangible measure of success.
By having well-defined goals and desired outcomes, you can align your efforts, make informed decisions, and effectively track the progress of your product, ensuring that it remains on the path towards achieving meaningful results.
Build a prototype
Prototype is a stage of SaaS application development which is supposed to showcase the product's functionality to test whether users like it. So, it must be relatively close to the final product in terms of visuals. A UX prototype is a rough version of a product that allows to understand what idea, user flow, and layout it has, and how the future product is going to work. With its help, you can present the idea to investors or your colleagues), test the idea and design, and collect feedback.
To save time and costs, you might want to use ready-made tools, low-code and no-code platforms so at this stage you don't get too wrapped up in tech development.
At this point, you might also want to involve product designers.
Develop monetization strategy
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. There are various SaaS pricing models to consider.
Free of charge (ads 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, and similar.
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 annoying ads.
Companies that use this method: MailChimp, Dropbox, Grammarly.
Subscription-based (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, and such.
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 business evolves, you may change the way of monetization depending on your needs.
Design the product
Design is probably one of the most important aspects 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 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).
Here’s an example of the Slack's sign-up process. 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 Gridle, a client experience platform. They hired our team to redesign their SaaS platform.
We designed the onboarding process so that it gives the customer a clear understanding of what they should do first.
- Navigation. Smooth navigation helps users intuitively find the needed feature or information quickly and easily.
For example, Hootsuite has an expandable side navigation bar that is minimal and intuitive.
- 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.
As a design company, our team has worked with both existing SaaS solutions and helped design brand-new projects from the ground up. You can see our case studies to find out more.
Develop the product
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 making a choice between programming languages that will allow 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.
Software development as a service is quite costly. This stage requires the biggest spendings unless you can do your own programming (then it will cost 0$). That's why, as we said in the very beginning, it's best to start with an MVP to make sure the idea doesn't flop and you don't spend money on nothing.
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.
Improve. Test. Get feedback. Improve. Test again
SaaS development life cycle is not a straight line, but exactly what it says on the tin – a cycle. 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.
After your product has been on the market for a while, time for change comes almost inevitably. For example, Acadeum was already a reputable and established product. However, the support team noticed the growing number of tickets. It turned out, user experience was no longer satisfactory. So, quite a redesign was needed to improve the app, which what exactly what Eleken team did.
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
- Continue improving the product
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 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.
Whether you need to create a product from scratch or redesign an existing one, working with a professional design team is a must. If you're looking for ways to boost your product's UI/UX, drop us a line. As a pragmatic design agency, we at Eleken work with SaaS specifically and we can be a valuable asset at any stage of your journey.
An Overlap! Or? Product Owner vs UX Designer
Imagine this: somewhere in the product world, a product owner Amanda and UX designer Olia work on a SaaS product together. But they both feel there’s some tension building up. Amanda passed Olia’s design to the development team and they started implementing the feature. Olia thinks that she should be the one curating the process. Both women realize that this is not the first time such situations keep happening to them.
What’s the problem here? What are product owners and UX designers? Where do these two roles overlap? And most importantly how to turn frustrating overlap into effective collaboration?
We will answer these questions in this article once and for all. Eleken is a design agency for SaaS businesses, and our UX designers work with product owners day to day. We decided to explain and compare these two roles and also share some tips on avoiding situations like Amanda and Olia have.
What is a product owner?
If you ask Amanda, she’d define the product owner role as a person responsible for defining, prioritizing, and managing the product backlog. The role is typical for Scrum product teams and is usually not separated from the product manager’s role.
Product owner responsibilities cover only a part of the of product manager’s scope. Good product managers are product owners, and usually it’s more effective when one person takes on these two roles. As a great product manager and product owner Amanda has a profound understanding of all product aspects, from technical feasibility to user experience.
Amanda’s role is to "own" the product by managing and facilitating the team’s efforts necessary to build a product. This means she constantly makes sure that everything stays on the product roadmap track throughout the product development process.
Turning the product vision into an actionable backlog is one of the main responsibilities of the product owner. Another one is constant communication with users and generating user stories.
Overall, Amanda works closely with developers, marketers, and business analysts, but most of all with UX specialists to ensure the designs meet real-world needs while aligning with business goals and budgets.
UX designer role
Olia is here to help us define the role of a user experience (UX) designer. She is a user experience specialist who designs products that are easy and enjoyable to use. UX designers are responsible for improving the user experience of software products and services through research, design, and prototyping. Their job is to ensure that everything about your product works well for the people who use it - from the way it looks to how intuitive it is to use.
To achieve that Olia identifies user needs, conducts user research, and creates wireframes or prototypes based on her findings. UX/UI design is her essential responsibility. She works closely with product managers and product owners as well as with developers.
By the way, when you're curious to learn more we have an article explaining UX designer responsibilities.
How do product owners and UX designers collaborate?
Product owners and UX designers collaborate most often in the process of product development. And to be honest, one without another is not effective.
Product owners and UX designers collect and analyze information about user needs and use it to move from ideas to product creation. This is the case with our characters Olia and Amanda, as they constantly cooperate and share information about user needs.
Product owners share product vision with UX specialists to ensure that the design will embody the product goals. UX designers generate ideas about how, based on UX research, the product can look and function.
Both product owner and UX designer participate in Scrum ceremonies like daily standups, sprint planning and reviews, and the like. They both collaborate with developers to understand how the product can be built and keep an eye on implementation.
Now when we see how product management and UX design combine forces, it’s time to look closer at the issue of overlap in their work.
Oops, overlap! Causes and consequences
Amanda runs the product backlog, while Olia researches and designs user experiences. The difference between product pwner and UX designer’s skill sets and scopes seems clear. However, in real life, the overlap happens all the time:
Most of the confusion happens at the product discovery stage or while iterating quickly on a rapid design. Both UX designers and product owners work with user experience and here their efforts can duplicate.
In some teams, UX designers are responsible for UX research, they can also get feedback from real users by running usability tests or conducting surveys during the testing. In other teams, this job belongs to product owners. And in some teams, the responsibilities are not clearly assigned and this can lead to misunderstandings in terms of who’s responsible for what.
Another case is when it is not clear who is responsible for collaboration with developers and who curates the implementation of designs. It can be both a UX designer and a product owner. In this case, you may need to reconsider your organization structure or make some minor changes in the processes.
The problematic situations described above are rather typical. The study from Nielsen Norman Group proves that such overlap is quite common for UX and product management roles. There are several reasons for that. And one of them is how closely both UX designers and product owners work on the product’s user experience.
Both designers and product managers define, create, and optimize UX, so no wonder a similarity in responsibilities is present. The reasons for it according to the Nielsen Norman research are:
- Lack of leadership in the team
- Poor understanding of product owner and UX designer roles and responsibilities
- The belief that team members have the required skills to take others` responsibilities
- The desire of all team members to do the right thing
Respondends report that overlap causes frustration and misunderstandings in the teams.
How to deal with "product owner vs UX designer" overlap?
It's easier to resolve the overlap between product owner and designer roles than you think. Just acknowledge the problem in your team and follow these simple principles:
- Clearly define roles in your product team
- Assign responsibilities to each role
- Make it clear who is to take leadership
- Make team roles and responsibilities explicit for the whole team
- Encourage frequent and effective communication between team members
If there’s a lack of action from the company management in this matter, you can implement the principles above with your team starting from the bottom. Be proactive and you will notice how you and your team will benefit from resolved product and UX overlap and healthy collaboration.
A couple of words from Eleken to sum up
At Eleken, we believe that product management and UX roles and especially their collaboration are the base for the product's success. Together they contribute unique skill sets and perspectives, and develop a holistic view of your product.
In our work, we take a flexible approach and communication as a base for collaboration. Thanks to that our designers easily become part of clients` teams and thrive in various work environments.
Here's what a product owner of Habit app, Kate, says about collaboration with Eleken:
“We communicated every other day and had regular calls with design updates. The workflow was smooth, we worked iteration by iteration in a rhythmic manner. I am really impressed by Eleken designers’ quality of work and their design leadership”.
You can find your dedicated UX designer at Eleken. All our designers are experienced in the product field and know how to collaborate effectively with product owners and product managers. Drop us a line and see it for yourself (we have a free trial)!
Product Lifecycle Management and UX Design: Meaning, Stages, Examples
“The concept of the product life cycle is today at about the stage that the Copernican view of the universe was 300 years ago: a lot of people knew about it, but hardly anybody seemed to use it in any effective or productive way”
Theodore Levitt should've been pleased to see the progress we’ve made in the recent decades. We now have product PLG conferences, product lifecycle management tools on product lifecycle management, and project managers casually use the lifecycle concept to develop the product vision. Eleken UI/UX agency can see the progress from the experience — design decisions that our clients make are often based on their companies’ product lifecycle stages.
PLG has definitely moved from theory to practice. The next shift should be from practice to best practice. The goal of this article is to look at some examples of successful product lifecycle management in the UX context, so you can emulate them.
But before we start, let’s briefly review the concept of the PLM process, to make sure we are on the same page for the stories that would follow later.
What is product lifecycle management (PLM)?
SaaS startups often have either of the two strategic planning pitfalls:
- They concentrate on their vision and forget about market dynamics that influence the business. A planning funnel gets too long and narrow, leading to so-called “tunnel vision.”
- They solve the here and now problems, getting a short and wide planning funnel, also known as “a failure to see the big picture.”
The functions of product lifecycle management are to help companies avoid these two pitfalls.
First, PLM refers to handling a complete journey along a product’s lifecycle and makes managers consider their product over a long perspective.
Second, PLM splits the product development process into four phases:
- Introduction — the point when you get the business off the ground
- Growth — climbing up the curve challenge
- Maturity — a battle for maintaining your position
- Decline — time to innovate or die
The key component of the four phases is agility. You can’t have the same product all the way through — with every new stage, the company faces new challenges that require new approaches.
Effective management of a product's life cycle connects together all the parties involved in product creation. It encompasses product design and development, marketing, sales and more.
As designers, we can't tell you much about the development, marketing, or sales of SaaS products. But if you want to learn about UX design and its role in the product lifecycle management process, you've come to the right place.
Through the introduction stage with a little blood
The introduction stage of product lifecycle management is an endurance game. You don't earn anything yet, but you spend a lot on the product manufacturing process and go-to-market strategy implementation.
Success at this stage depends on the ability to reach product-market fit before the attempts would leave you drained of resources.
Market validation is achieved when you have a product that solves a real problem and know how to get it to the people who need it. So you need to start with the MVP (minimum viable product). And MVP requires a design. Product design, that would be good, fast and cheap at the same time.
The chances to get such a design for a SaaS startup are approximately equal to the odds of meeting a unicorn. No wonder 92% of SaaS startups fail smashed by the introduction stage.
PLM experience with a Habstash MVP
Eleken designers have found a way to help startups with MVP design in a fast, affordable and efficient way. We design MVPs without reinventing the wheel, by using common UX/UI patterns. Let’s take an example of product life cycle management of the MVP design we created for Habstash to see how our approach works.
Habstash is an introductory stage fintech startup that helps people navigate the savings needed to buy homes. The company wanted to test its idea by building a minimum viable product and came to Eleken for an MVP design.
When we started working with Habstash, they already had some prototypes that they were looking to develop into an MVP. We came up with an alternative user flow — more logical and easier to implement.
For instance, our clients wanted to make onboarding in a form of a calculator designed from scratch. But the app required gathering a lot of user information. We understood that placing all the fields in a calculator would result in a confusing user experience.
We suggested using a Wizard design pattern that divides all the parts of the data into steps and shows the sequence of steps on the top. As a result, the client got faster design implementation and a better user experience.
PLM solutions help a growing startup to grow even faster
When the market validation is achieved, the manager’s aim is to reach cruising speed and climb up the lifecycle curve as high as possible. The growth stage is a chance for underdog companies to strengthen their positions in a market.
The difficulty arises when weak product design becomes a bottleneck, limiting the startup’s growth. This problem once made Enroly our client.
Benefits of PLM for Enroly’s redesign case
Enroly is a growth-stage student engagement app. The year 2020 has brought some tectonic shifts to the education sector — and an ocean filled with opportunities for edtech startups. Enroly set themselves ambitious goals: to increase its market share in the UK and expand to Australia and New Zealand.
To gain new opportunities, Enroly needed Eleken designers to work on its outdated UI and design some new killer features. One of the killer features was a reporting tool with no parallel among student engagement apps. The tool had the potential to become Enroly’s competitive advantage that is so essential for startups in the stage of growth.
- We started with feature ideation in a team of designers, developers, and product owners.
- With a list of components ready, we brainstormed how each feature is going to work.
- The next step was restructuring features into pages.
- And a cherry on top — wireframing and visual design of reporting tool’s dashboards.
One of the Enroly’s reporting tool dashboards
Five months since Enroly started its redesign project, they have raised £1.5m in funding to empower its international expansion. Enroly also reports it currently onboards a new university every three weeks. That’s a dynamic that takes the team closer to achieving its ambitious goals.
Refresh to inject new life into a mature product
The stage of maturity is the point where the growth tempo starts to slow down. Your market gets saturated, most of the target audience already uses your product or your competitors’ products.
Refresh to inject new life into a mature product
In a saturated market, customer acquisition becomes harder to achieve. The focus moves toward winning customers from competitors and preventing competitors from poaching your own clients.
In terms of design, the key idea here is to deal with emerging user experience issues and new user requests. Improving product allows to hold the current market share and prolong the maturity stage. This is the essence of the project we did for Ricochet360.
PLM implementation challenges after several years on the market for Ricochet360
Ricochet360 is a cloud phone system. Like most B2B CRMs, sales, or marketing platforms with rich functionality and a high degree of customization, Ricochet360 has grown into a heavyweight app.
It took about a month for our client’s team to help their customers set up the application. Many potential clients abandoned Ricochet in favor of less problematic alternatives. We were asked to redesign the application to make it simpler and more accessible for clients to grasp.
The redesign project was going to take two months, another couple of months developers would need to implement changes. We indicated UX issues that made platform usage painful for Ricochet360 clients and offered to make some minor improvements first, which would take only a couple of hours to put in place.
- For instance, we added tooltips to the potentially confusing areas,
- Introduced standard data formats,
- And indicated required fields with asterisks, so users don’t need to guess which fields they can skip.
Even such small UX fixes instantly impacted the business performance of a mature app. Not to mention a full-fledged redesign that followed several months later.
The decline stage doesn’t mean someone has to die
Sooner or later, all businesses, even the most successful, hit the growth ceiling at some point and start to decline. It happens due to technological advances, new trends, or changing consumer behavior.
That’s what happened to TextMagic, a B2B messaging platform for sending SMS texts. SMS usage declines, replaced by messaging apps like Whatsapp and Viber. The SMS texting market is shrinking, respectively. So TextMagic wanted to innovate and jump into the new product life cycle.
Product transformation for TextMagic
The development of brand new products for new audiences is a promising strategy for companies operating in a declining market. TextMagic came up with an idea to create new email marketing, customer support, and sales features. This is when they turned to Eleken.
- We designed a live chat tool for TextMagic’s new customer support platform,
- The entire functionality for setting up and configuring email campaigns,
- And updated the SMS campaign configuration design to be consistent with emails.
As a result, the SMS texting app turned into an all-in-one digital marketing platform — universal, but at the same time simple from the user perspective. For TextMagic, that opens up new prospects for growth.
PLM: Product lifecycle management wrap-up
For any business interested in continuous growth and profits, a product management responsibility is to predict changes that are coming in the following few years. Those predictions won’t be very accurate, but they will allow responding to product lifecycle changes in a product lifecycle proactively rather than reactively.
As we’ve seen today, UI/UX is often a starting point of those strategic changes responsible for the product’s wellbeing and profits. Design can probably help your product fuel growth or expand its uses and user right now. But we won’t know that unless you get in touch.