Creating Successful SaaS Products

September 24, 2015 Comments


Introducing a new blog series for Product Creators that want to discuss best practices for creating successful SaaS products.

“How do I create a successful SaaS Product?”

If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, you’re not alone. We’ve spent years thinking about this question, and after talking with a lot of very smart people about how they approach it, we decided to create this blog series to look at this question. Every week through the end of 2015, we’re going to share and discuss tactical, scalable best practices for Product Success: a topic that lives at the intersection of Customer Development, User Experience, Customer Success, Product Management, and Customer Support.

SaaS Product Success Best Practices

For the purposes of this blog series, a best practice will always be:

  • Tactical — It will be something you can look at and objectively answer the question “are we doing that?” with a definitive yes or no.
  • Scalable — It will be something that is just as beneficial to a solo founder as it is to a SaaS Product Creator at a 1,000 person company.
  • Hackable — You’ll be able to implement a lot of these best practices by paying a 3rd party to do the heavy lifting, but there are always hacks, and we’ll make sure to show you great ways to get things done on a dime.

The first best practice we’re going to explore in this series is 404 & 500 pages. In that post, we’re going to discuss how most Product Creators are missing out on a golden opportunity when it comes to how they use their 404 & 500 pages to learn from their customers.

Other best practices in this series will include things like:

  1. Mobile-first design for non-mobile reasons
  2. The importance of status pages
  3. Why in-app chat is vital
  4. How Changelogs make customers trust you more

In each post, we will talk about how the best practice is much more than it seems on the surface, and enumerate ways you can easily get started. As you’ll come to see, a common theme among many of these best practices is around establishing higher quality feedback loops (ie. Lean Startup 101: Build -> Measure -> Learn), as raising the level of discourse between customer and product team is at the core of Product Success.

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Why Are We Doing This?

Ever since playing Mammoth Hunter in my dad’s office at age 7, I’ve been enthralled by exploring ever more complex systems in software, technology, product development, and entrepreneurship. I’ve watched, read, and learned as entire categories of thought have emerged, evolved, and matured. Things like Agile, Lean, Customer Development, User Experience, Customer Success, and Growth Hacking. If you’re like me, you’ve read all the books on those topics, turned the last page over, and thought:

“I’m gonna agile-y manage the leanest, most customer-developed product ever!”

If you’re really like me, you then sat at your desk & looked at an empty whiteboard for a few minutes before cracking open a new browser tab:

I can’t believe what a bunch of nerds we are. We’re looking up “money laundering” in a dictionary. -Peter Gibbons in ‘Office Space’.
I can’t believe what a bunch of nerds we are. We’re looking up “money laundering” in a dictionary. -Peter Gibbons in ‘Office Space’.

 

Lean, Agile, and Customer Development are all based on the scientific method, making them virtually unassailable methodologies from a logical perspective. However, their greatest strength — that they can be applied to any department in any business — is also a weakness.

That generality means that the body of work around these topics tends to be fairly strategic. Once you wrap your brain around the methodologies, even the cleverest among us are still left wondering: “So… what do I do now?”

We’re writing this blog because these questions should be discussed in greater depth.

Why Now?

As the size of the software industry expands, what were once edge cases for a few become the status quo for many. As this happens, bodies of work start to pop up exploring these edge-cases-turned-status-quo in ever-increasing depth until they eventually reach the stage of Category.

The image below is a screen capture of Google Trends for a few Categories that are familiar to you. It’s amazing to think that 5 years ago, nobody was talking about “Social Media Management” or “Customer Success”. Even more shocking is the absence of “Growth Hacking” until late 2012.

You think that’s crazy? The iPhone didn’t exist 400 weeks ago. That is still B-A-N-A-N-A-S to me.
You think that’s crazy? The iPhone didn’t exist 400 weeks ago. That is still B-A-N-A-N-A-S to me.

This doesn’t mean people weren’t managing their social media before 2010, or that people weren’t coming up with clever ways to hack growth before 2012. People just weren’t labeling these activities as such yet. Eventually, a critical mass is reached, and these things get labeled. The labeling makes these categories something to be focused on, discussed, debated, and refined.

Over the past couple years, we’ve all seen this happen in categories like User Experience, Growth Hacking, Influencer Marketing, Content Marketing, etc…. There are thousands of blog posts and hundreds of books that tactically address the question “So… what do I do now?” for all of those categories.

But for those of us who continually ask ourselves “How do I create a successful SaaS product?” there isn’t that much going on. Us Product Creators are left to figure that part out on our own.

There is no simple checklist that, if followed, will ensure a successful product. But there is no simple checklist that will ensure Customer Success or a good User Experience either. That doesn’t stop people from talking about best practices. We’re writing this blog now because SaaS has matured to a point where it deserves some attention on this area.

What You Do Now.

If you’re someone who has ever asked the question “How do I create a successful SaaS product?” then sign up below for our newsletter, and say hello in the comments. It’s totally free, and it has nothing to do with being a Ramen customer (but you’re more than welcome to sign up for a free trial).

Through the end of 2015, we’re going to be releasing a new post each week. For each post, I promise the following:

  • Each post will be thoughtful, valuable, tactical, and vetted by a bunch of very smart people.
  • You will never see link-baity “10 things you must be doing right now to get 31 billion sign ups in 9 seconds for your startup” posts.
  • I will always be here in the comments listening to your feedback, answering questions, and — most importantly — learning from you.

If that sounds good, sign up below to get started, and you’ll be hearing from me next week :)

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A Quick Thank You

I was lucky in that a lot of very smart people read drafts of this post before it went live. A big thank you goes out to: Guillaume Cabane, Allan BranchKimberley ByerRand Fishkin, Emeric Ernoult, Joni Klippert, Ben Huh, Niel Robertson, Ben Nunez, Mike Lewis, Joel Longtine, Weston Platter, Matt Switzer, Matt GalliganJonathan Woodard, Sven Hamberg, Steve Klein, and — of course — my mom.

I also want to send out a special thank you to Alex Turnbull of Groove. If you follow Alex’s blog, you might have noticed a few similarities to his. Not only is the Groove blog a great resource for material when starting a SaaS company, it’s also a great blueprint for how to create and launch a thoughtful, thematic, authentic blog. Thanks a ton, Alex.

Between reading my initial ask, reading the draft, and writing the ensuing emails back and forth, each of these people probably gave close to an hour of their time. I’m tremendously grateful to all of them, and I promise to pay it forward.

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